2 Samuel Chapter Fifteen
2 Samuel 15
Absalom's ambition. (1-6) His conspiracy. (7-12) David leaves Jerusalem. (13-23) David sends back the ark. (24-30) He prays against Ahithophel's counsel. (31-37)
Commentary on 2 Samuel 15:1-6
(Read 2 Samuel 15:1-6)
David allows Absalom's pomp. Those parents know not what they do, who indulge a proud humour in their children: many young people are ruined by pride. And those commonly are most eager for authority who least understand its duties.
Commentary on 2 Samuel 15:7-12
(Read 2 Samuel 15:7-12)
See how willing tender parents are to believe the best concerning their children. But how easy and how wicked is it, for children to take advantage of good parents, and to deceive them with the show of religion! The principal men of Jerusalem joined Absalom's feast upon his sacrifice. Pious persons are glad to see others appear religious, and this gives occasion for deceptions. The policy of wicked men, and the subtlety of Satan, are exerted to draw good persons to countenance base designs.
Commentary on 2 Samuel 15:13-23
(Read 2 Samuel 15:13-23)
David determined to quit Jerusalem. He took this resolve, as a penitent submitting to the rod. Before unrighteous Absalom he could justify himself, and stand out; but before the righteous God he must condemn himself, and yield to his judgments. Thus he accepts the punishment of his sin. And good men, when they themselves suffer, are anxious that others should not be led to suffer with them. He compelled none; those whose hearts were with Absalom, to Absalom let them go, and so shall their doom be. Thus Christ enlists none but willing followers. David cannot bear to think that Ittai, a stranger and an exile, a proselyte and a new convert, who ought to be encouraged and made easy, should meet with hard usage. But such value has Ittai for David's wisdom and goodness, that he will not leave him. He is a friend indeed, who loves at all times, and will adhere to us in adversity. Let us cleave to the Son of David, with full purpose of heart, and neither life nor death shall separate us from his love.
Commentary on 2 Samuel 15:24-30
(Read 2 Samuel 15:24-30)
David is very careful for the safety of the ark. It is right to be more concerned for the church's prosperity than our own; to prefer the success of the gospel above our own wealth, credit, ease, and safety. Observe with what satisfaction and submission David speaks of the Divine disposal. It is our interest, as well as our duty, cheerfully to acquiesce in the will of God, whatever befalls us. Let us see God's hand in all events; and that we may not be afraid of what shall be, let us see all events in God's hand. David's sin was ever before him, Psalm 51:3; but never so plain, nor ever appearing so black as now. He never wept thus when Saul hunted him, but a wounded conscience makes troubles lie heavy, Psalm 38:4.
Commentary on 2 Samuel 15:31-37
(Read 2 Samuel 15:31-37)
David prays not against Ahithophel's person, but against his counsel. He prayed this, in firm belief that God has all hearts in his hand, and tongues also. But we must second our prayers with endeavours, and David did so, else we tempt God. But we do not find wisdom and simplicity so united in any mere man, that we can perceive nothing which needs forgiveness. Yet, when the Son of David was treated with all possible treachery and cruelty, his wisdom, meekness, candour, and patience, were perfect. Him let us follow, cleave to, and serve, in life and in death.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 2 Samuel》
2 Samuel 15
 And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.
Prepared — As being the king's eldest son, now Amnon was dead; for Chileab, who was his eldest brother, 2 Samuel 3:3, was either dead, or incapable of the government. And this course he knew would draw the eyes of the people to him, and make them conclude that David intended him for his successor.
 And Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate: and it was so, that when any man that had a controversy came to the king for judgment, then Absalom called unto him, and said, Of what city art thou? And he said, Thy servant is of one of the tribes of Israel.
Early — Thereby making a shew of solicitude for the good of the public, and of every private person.
Called him — Preventing him with the offers of his assistance. And as if he were ready to make particular enquiry into the state of his cause.
 And Absalom said unto him, See, thy matters are good and right; but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee.
See — Upon some very slight hearing of their cause, he approved it, that he might oblige all.
No man — None such as will do thee justice. The other sons and relations of the king, and the rest of the judges and rulers under him and them, are wholly corrupted; or, at least not careful and diligent as they should be: and my father being grown in years, is negligent of publick affairs. It is the way of turbulent, aspiring men, to reproach the government they are under. Even David himself, the best of kings, could not escape the worst of censures.
 And it came to pass after forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the LORD, in Hebron.
After forty years — From the change of the government, into a monarchy, which was about ten years before David began to reign. So this fell out about the thirtieth year of his reign.
 And the king said unto him, Go in peace. So he arose, and went to Hebron.
Hebron — This place he chose as being an eminent city, and next to Jerusalem, the chief of the tribe of Judah, and the place where his father began his kingdom, which he took for a good omen. And where it is probable he had secured many friends. It was also at a convenient distance from Jerusalem.
 And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.
Called — Such as Absalom had picked out as fit for his purpose; such as were of some reputation with the king and people, which would give a countenance to his undertaking, and give occasion to people at first to think that this was done by his father's consent, as being now aged, and infirm, and willing to resign the kingdom to him. It is no new thing, for good men to be made use of by designing men to put a colour upon ill practices.
 And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.
Sacrifices — Which he did not in devotion to God; but merely that upon this pretence he might call great numbers of people together.
 And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.
Let us flee — For though the fort of Zion was strong, and he might have defended himself there; yet he had not laid in provisions for a long siege; and, if he had been once besieged there, Absalom would have got speedy possession of his whole kingdom; whereas if he marched abroad, he might raise a considerable army for his defence. Besides, the greatest part of Jerusalem could not be well defended against him.
 And the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten women, which were concubines, to keep the house.
After him — Or, on foot, which the king chose to do, to humble himself under the hand of God; to encourage his companions in this hard and comfortless march; and to move compassion in his people towards him.
Concubines — For he supposed that their sex would protect them, and their relation to David would gain them some respect, or at least, safety from his son.
 And the king went forth, and all the people after him, and tarried in a place that was far off.
Far off — At some convenient distance, tho' not very far.
 And all his servants passed on beside him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men which came after him from Gath, passed on before the king.
Gittites — Or rather strangers, as Ittai their head is called, verse 19, and they are called his brethren, verse 20. Probably they were Philistines by birth, born in the city or territory of Gath, as the following words imply, who by David's counsel, and example, were won to embrace the true religion, and had given good proof of their military skill, and valour, and fidelity to the king.
 Then said the king to Ittai the Gittite, Wherefore goest thou also with us? return to thy place, and abide with the king: for thou art a stranger, and also an exile.
Thy place — To Jerusalem, where thy settled abode now is.
The king — With Absalom who is now made king.
An exile — Not much concerned in our affairs, and therefore not fit to be involved in our troubles.
 Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I may, return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee.
Brethren — Thy countrymen the Gittites, verse 18.
Mercy, … — Since I am now unable to recompense thy kindness and fidelity to me, my hearty prayer to God is, that he would shew to thee his mercy, in blessing thee with all sorts of blessings, and his faithfulness in making good all these promises which he had made, not to Israelites only, but to all true hearted proselytes, such as thou art.
 And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.
Will thy servant be — He is a friend indeed, who loves at all times, and will cleave to us in adversity. Thus should we cleave to the Son of David, that neither life, nor death may separate us from his love.
 And David said to Ittai, Go and pass over. And Ittai the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones that were with him.
Little ones — For being so deeply engaged for David, he durst not leave his little ones to Absalom's mercy.
 And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness.
Kidron — Or, Cedron, which was near Jerusalem. The very same brook that Christ passed over when he entered upon his sufferings, John 18:1.
Wilderness — Which was between Jerusalem and Jericho.
 And lo Zadok also, and all the Levites were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God: and they set down the ark of God; and Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city.
Went up — From the ark to the city, which was on higher ground, that so he being high-priest, might use his authority with the people, to persuade them to do their duty; and there he staid until all those whom he could persuade were gone forth.
 And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me again, and shew me both it, and his habitation:
Carry back — Out of care and reverence to the ark, which though it might be carried our to a certain place; yet he might justly think unfit to carry it from place to place he knew not whither, and out of respect to the priests, whom, by this means, he thought he should expose to the rage of Absalom, as he had before exposed them to Saul's fury.
Habitation — That is, the tabernacle which David had lately built for it, chap. 6:17, in which the ark, and God, by means hereof, ordinarily dwelt.
 But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.
Let him do — That we may not complain of what is, let us see God's hand in all events. And that we may not be afraid of what shall be, let us see all events in God's hand.
 The king said also unto Zadok the priest, Art not thou a seer? return into the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz thy son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar.
A seer — A seeing, discerning, or observing man: for so the Hebrew verb raah is often used. And this suits well with David's mind: Thou art a wise man, and therefore fit to manage this great business, which requires prudence and secrecy.
 And David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.
Barefoot — In testimony of his deep sorrow, and humiliation and shame for his sins.
 But if thou return to the city, and say unto Absalom, I will be thy servant, O king; as I have been thy father's servant hitherto, so will I now also be thy servant: then mayest thou for me defeat the counsel of Ahithophel.
And say — That is, as faithful to thee, as I have been to thy father. David's suggesting this crafty counsel must be reckoned amongst his sins. Nevertheless God was pleased to direct this evil advice to a good end.
 Behold, they have there with them their two sons, Ahimaaz Zadok's son, and Jonathan Abiathar's son; and by them ye shall send unto me every thing that ye can hear.
There — Not in Jerusalem, but in a place near it, to which they could easily send upon occasion.
 So Hushai David's friend came into the city, and Absalom came into Jerusalem.
Absalom came, … — How soon do royal cities and royal palaces change their masters? But we look for a kingdom which cannot be moved.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 2 Samuel》
15 Chapter 15
Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.
Absalom; or, the fast young man
The Bible resembles a portrait gallery adorned with the faces of remarkable historic men, where every variety of feature and every type of character may be found. An imaginative person, visiting such a gallery, and gazing at the silent faces which look down upon him from the walls, until lost in the thoughts and reflections awakened by them, may fancy at length that they are alive. As we study the characters of the people there portrayed, we recognise in them permanent, types of different classes. As such they live again to us. We have known such persons; they have lived in our time; they have acted anew the parts, and displayed the qualities which of old distinguished or disgraced them. They reappear in every age. It is this typical character of the Bible that gives such value to this ancient book. In reading it, we forget that it is an old book. It seems a new book, from exhibiting the latest phases of human conduct, from setting before us moral qualities and actions which we recognise as familiar, and, connecting with them timely lessons for our instruction and warning. Such reflections are awakened by the perusal of the story of Absalom. It is a typical story, and he was a typical character and representative of what is called the fast young man.
I. It teaches the vanity of personal beauty and outward show apart from moral worth. In the pictures of Hogarth, and other painters of society, we find that such superior beauty is the common heritage of the fast young man. It has been called a “fatal dower.” It is so regarded because it is apt to make the possessor the petted darling of parents and friends, and liable to be spoiled by the thoughtless admiration and flattery lavished upon him. Thus an exaggerated estimate is placed upon mere physical charms. Beauty of face and form is set above the higher excellence of character, whereby vanity and frivolity of mind are engendered, and amiability of disposition and goodness of heart sacrificed. But there is truth in the homely adage that “Handsome is who handsome does,” and all beauty which is not united with fair doing is only a poor sham.
II. The story of Absalom reveals the type of character that is most dangerous and dreadful. His was not an impulsive nature, hurried away by gusts of passion into sin. There is much allowance to be made for such hot-tempered spirits. The misdemeanours of which they are guilty are not, as a rule so reprehensible as those which are perpetrated by their authors in cold blood. They are more likely than the latter to be only escapades from virtue--exceptions to a course that is ordinarily straightforward and well-meaning. Absalom’s wickedness was deliberate and studied. His character is evinced in the way he avenged the outrage done by Amnon to his sister.
III. This fast young man, of desperate type, becomes an intriguing politician. Absalom is the earliest specimen on record, we believe, of a finished demagogue. As we consider the subtle arts by which he courted popularity and wound himself into the favour of men--his attendance at the gate, where the king’s judgment seat was, his affability and condescension towards the people who brought causes for adjudication, and his pretended sympathy for their grievances on account of the delay of justice, we seem to have come upon the original model after which the modern opposition candidate has shaped himself It agrees with the character to be forever arraigning those in power for neglect of duty and malfeasance in office, and to promise a complete reformation in case the party of the critic is entrusted with the conduct of affairs. When the outs are in, and the ins are out, all wrong shall be righted, and the millennium will come. So Absalom laboured to make the flattered people believe.
IV. Another aspect in which Absalom appears is that of a wayward, undutiful son. The fast young man causes agonising heartache to his aged father or distressed mother. In the eyes of the Jews, with their traditions of the patriarchal period and its form of government, where the father was both priest and ruler of his household, such a child was a monster of depravity, worthy only of death. Hence the emphasis put upon the fifth commandment, “the first commandment with promise;” hence the sternness of their legislation with respect to unfilial conduct, and the fearful denunciation their proverbs utter against it. “The eye that mocketh at his father,” says Agur, “and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.”
V. The story of Absalom contains another lesson, without which it would be incomplete, namely, the lesson of sin’s retribution. It is a striking example of the declaration: “As righteousness tendeth to life, so he that pursueth evil, pursueth it to his own death.” The last act of the tragedy is short and impressive. David and his adherents stayed not in their flight until they found shelter behind the walls of Mahanaim, in the land of Gilead. There opportunity was given to recover from panic, and organise their strength; and thither Absalom and his forces leisurely pursued them. (A. H. Charlton.)
David and Absalom
I. In how many ways men serve themselves in serving others.
1. We may serve ourselves, strengthen our position, advance our temporal interests, when we are truly serving others, But when we are doing them disservice, encouraging them, helping them, to evil, we are our own enemies as well as theirs. We have something higher than temporal interests to think of. Gold is far from everything. In the protest of conscience how the fine gold becomes dim! And when conscience is seared, and the heat dead to all sensibility, at what a cost has anything, how-ever desired by men, been secured.
2. We truly befriend ourselves by unselfishly serving others. And this we can do as we make everything a Divine service. Sometimes we may seem on the vanquished side, like true-hearted Ittai, staunch to David in his flight, but the end will justify us. To be on the side of honesty, truth, purity, is ever at the last to be on the side that wins. So he who forgets himself in doing the things right in the sight of God will be vindicated in the sight of the world as “good and faithful servant,” as having “well done” for himself as well as others.
II. In absalom we see how the motive determines the value of conduct. This appears in his bearing towards Amnon. Similarly with Absalom’s conduct when seeking to ingratiate himself with the people. The animating motive of what we do should be tested by us. Could we read others as God reads us, could we “look at the heart” as He does, with what rejection would we meet much that is now welcomed by us! But if we cannot appraise the lives of others by their motives, and if they cannot thus appraise ours, there is One ever thus testing us. There is One who pierces every mask of hypocrisy. There is One who looks through our outward appearance of truth, purity, devotion, and sees whether there is a corresponding inward reality. With Him the motive makes the act.
III. In Absalom we see to what cruel lengths unchecked ambition will lead a man. That was his ruling passion; the explanation, I think, of his long-delayed stroke at Amnon. Ambition goaded Absalom from crime to crime till lie had wrapped the land in the horrors of civil war--of all wars the most prolific in misery--and nerved him to assail a father’s life that he might, over his dead body, step up into the throne. It win not do for us to say that in all this there is no beacon to us. There are many thrones. Some of us, it may be, eager to get into one--to be over others; kings and queens of influence in our little kingdom. There can be ambition in a cottage as well as in a court. There may be wretched envy, the evil eyeing of an imagined rival, the wicked gladness that hears, and that with pretended reluctance retails the disparaging slander; the sty persistence that insinuates itself, or the rough resolution that tramples its way into the petty throne. God save us from such ambition! In His kingdom the thrones are for the lowly.
IV. In David we see the threatened punishment for his sin. Penitent for his great wickedness in the matter of Uriah, his life had been spared, but the sword was not to depart from his house. Sin has broken him, even forgiven sin. A thing to be remembered. He may never have been wisely firm enough in the training of his children. But that feel transgression of his loosened the filial bond that bound his children to obedience, and encouraged them to crimes that laid his kingly head in the dust. Sin finds men out, even godly men. “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” He who sows to the flesh, though he be a David, shall of the flesh reap corruption. Well, then, for us to “stand in awe and sin not.”
V. In the darkness of calamity the better David shines to us. In the bowed, barefooted man weeping his way across the Kedron, and up Olivet, it is a king we see. It is David again. A Divine permission he recognises in all that is befalling him. He has no superstitious trust in the ark--let Zadok and Abiathar carry it back to Jerusalem. In God was his trust. “Let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him.” So on--one of the most pathetic figures of all history--goes weeping David-on towards the plains of the wilderness. And as he passes out of our sight do you not hear such words as these? Sorrow by sin! Peace by pardon! Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven! “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (G. J. Coster.)
Absalom: a study
Untrained, except in self-admiration and self-indulgence, imperious, ambitious, quick to take offence and slow to forgive, hot with the riot of youthful blood, the young man--so fathered, so mothered, so brought up--is suddenly flung upon the world, and exposed to the temptations of a court in which the Uriah and Bathsheba scandal is being discussed in all its forms and incidents. And the first grave adventure he meets in it is the intolerable wrong and shame inflicted on his beautiful sister by the heir to the throne! Will not the king avenge so dreadful a crime? No; David is very wroth with Amnon, but does not care “to vex his spirit, because he is his first-born.” By all Eastern as well as by Hebrew law, then, public justice having failed, Absalom is the goel, the avenger of his sister; it is no crime, bug a duty, to wipe out her shame with blood. But as David will not “vex the spirit of Amnon, his son”--and there is a world of weak unfatherliness in that fatherly phrase--so neither will he suffer it to be vexed. Hence Absalom is left to brood over the wrong in silence for a couple of years, till, by a treacherous ruse, he makes way for his revenge, and Amnon is stabbed as he sits at his brother’s table and drinks his brother’s wine. We blame the deed, and, above all, the manner of the deed: but can we very severely blame the man? Not if we remember what the wrong was which he avenged, and how the world has always allowed a certain latitude to the avenger of such wrongs. Not if we remember that the justice, which the king ought to have been forward to execute, had been deliberately refused, and how imperative were the duties imposed on the goel both by Eastern custom and Hebrew law. Amnon was his half-brother, indeed--a thought which might well have given him pause; but have we yet to learn that brothers born in the harem are born enemies, rivals from the first to the last? And it was not Absalom’s fault that harem manners and jealousies had been introduced into Israel. If “beauty is a gift,” “beauty is also a snare.” To few has the gift been so largely accorded as to Absalom; to few has it proved a snare so deadly. In him the personal comeliness and vigour of Jesse’s line seems to have culminated. Of Absalom we are told simply that his beauty was without blemish and beyond compare; but it seems probable that it may have been of that rare type in the Hebrew race which stirs even them to an unwonted admiration. It may have been because of his rare and superb beauty that, while still a child, he was celled Absalom, “father of peace,” though he proved to be a “father of strife” rather than of peace; for it may not unnaturally have been thought that a child so exceptionally lovely would kindle smiles and win a kindly welcome wherever he went. It adds the last touch to our conception of his beauty if we note that it sprang from the most vigorous physical health, as his magnificent fell of hair indicates. For, then, we can only think of him as quick with life and energy, and accomplished in all the exercises of peace and of war. Now if we think of this young prince with his hereditary bias, his defective training, never taught to rule or deny himself, coming out into a lax world--tall, graceful, strong, his blue eyes swimming in light, his fair locks failing thickly on his broad shoulders--we shall understand that his very beauty may have been a fatal gift to him. Met with smiles, welcome, and an easy compliance with his whims and desires, on every hand, hardly any one saying “No” to him, he never saying “No” to himself, what wonder if he became wilful, bold, insolent? What wonder if, his will once thwarted, he should kindle into a blaze; or, If he hid his fire, he should nurse and feed it till it found vent, and swept him beyond all bounds of law and duty? Is it not plain that position, training, temperament, habits, gifts, even the gift of beauty, all worked together to make him self-willed, capricious, restless, imperious, and, if crossed, violent and revengeful? Even in the brief space he occupies in the Sacred Record, we have many proofs that there was something reckless and desperate in the man, that he was apt to throw the reins on the neck of his lusts, and let them carry him where they would. That David and his men had some such suspicion of him, that they held him to be at least capable of an excessive and criminal violence in order to serve his ends, is proved by the fact that whoa an exaggerated report, of Amnon’s assassination reached them, when they were told, “Absalom hath slain all the king’s sons, there is not one of them left,” they found nothing incredible in the horrible rumour, but rent their clothes and cast themselves on the earth, and wept for the goodly young men cut off in their prime (2 Samuel 13:30-31.) If the tale were not true, it was only too likely to have been true. A touch of the same recklessness and desperation comes out in the manner in which he jogged the drowsy memory of Joab (2 Samuel 14:23.) It was by the intervention of Joab that Absalom was called back to Jerusalem from his three years’ banishment in Syria. It was on Joab’s intercession that he relied for an entire reconciliation with the king, who for two years after his return, refused to see his face. Joab may have been doing his best, or he may not. In any case he did not move fast enough for the imperious prince. He sends for Joab, therefore; but, Joab having no good tidings to give him, will not come. He sends a second time, and still Joab will not come. Whereupon he sends servants into Joab’s farm to fire his standing barley, and so compels the old warrior to wait upon him, and to listen to his complaint that he would rather die than continue to live such a life as his. But, of course, it, was in his long-planned and artfully prepared rebellion against his father and king that all that was vehement, self-willed, unrestrained in the man found full vent. With Absalom’s tragic end the bolt of retribution flew right home. And yet the pity of it! For, had Absalom been reared as hardily and piously as David was, in the home and on the hills of Bethlehem; had he been snubbed, laughed at, kept down, as David was, by a band of tall, stalwart brothers; had he, like David, been tried by stroke on stroke of adversity and undeserved reproach through all the opening years of manhood, there seems little reason to doubt that he might have been no worse a man morally than his father was; or, at least, no room to doubt that, by such a severe and pious training in duty and obedience, he might have been saved from the crimes by which his life was stained, and from the shame by which his memory is oppressed. In him, too, the spiritual man might have conquered the natural man at the last, and stilled and controlled the fever of his blood. As it is, we can but use his name “to point a moral,” for we can hardly add “and to adorn a tale.” And that moral is, of course, the immense danger of suffering the animal man in us to overget the spiritual man. The bias of our blood and temperament may not jump with his; our training may have been better than his; our faults, our passions, our gifts, may not resemble his; and certainly we arc not, most of us tempted to an indolent self-indulgence and self-will by a splendour of personal beauty and charm which makes it hard for any one to resist us. And yet no one who knows himself will doubt that the brute is strong in him; that he, too, has inherited cravings, passions, lusts, which must be subdued if he is to be saved from sins as fatal, if not as flagrant, as those of Absalom. And the flesh is not to be subdued and starved in any of us save as we feed and cherish the spirit. We can only overcome evil as we follow after that which is good. But if we seek to subdue the flesh by nourishing the spirit, whether in ourselves or in our children, He who makes large allowance for us all will largely and effectively help us all. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The monument to Absalom in the valley of the Kidron is buried deep in stones, cast against it by the Jews, as through generations they have passed, in token of their execration of this unatural prince--the counterpart, in the Old Testament, of Judas in the New. These stones are the true monument of Absalom. Let us add our tribute to make it a prominent and permanent landmark in religious history. This instructive example is held up before us in great detail. It is a warning, especially to young men. The methods by which it was secured are carefully stated. The instance is particular; but the application is as general as mankind.
I. Absalom perverted his natural advantages. He was a gifted and handsome young man; he came of a well-favoured stock, and he was its flower. He had a fine head of hair; he paid strict attention to it. It became a matter of national interest when Absalom cut his hair. He had a sheep-farm. We do not know the particulars of his clip of wool; but the weight of his annual poll of hair is carefully noted as two hundred shekels, or more than three pounds. The hair of Absalom represents all natural advantages. For personal gifts play an important part in securing success in this world.
II. Absalom had a perverse energy of character. He had persistency of purpose in a high degree--a masterful trait. He was calculating and deep. He was a tenacious man. Many men of fine powers fail through want of tenacity. The good man in the famous ode of Horace was tenacious of his purpose. So our bad man, Absalom, did not fail here. When Amnon wronged his sister Tamar he concealed his resentment for two years. He bided his time. When he determined to undermine David’s throne he showed a like steadfastness of resolution. He rose promptly in the morning. David rose early to pray; Absalom rose early to plot. This course of patient, insidious plotting Absalom continued for months, perhaps for years, until he was known throughout the kingdom as the poor man’s friend.
III. Absalom perverted the study of human nature. He studied the weaknesses of men. This is called by men of his base aims the study of men. The vices and the foibles are noted; the theory being that for one who would play effectively on this fine instrument what is especially necessary is a Wagnerian mastery of discords. The adventurer, the opposition politician, the quack doctor, the fortune-seeker, give themselves to men have succeeded as Absalom succeeded--in politics, in professional life, in Absalom’s study of human weakness. Upon this knowledge their success depends.
IV. Absalom had unlimited and perverted self-assurance. With all his shrewdness in measuring others, he had no proper sense of his own weaknesses. To scrutinise the weaknesses of others he closed, so to speak, one eye--that one whose outlook was upon his own heart. Exaggerated self-confidence is typical of this class of men. To the ordinary man with his misgiving and fear of himself it is surprising, dazzling. His own modesty prepares him to yield to the most audacious and preposterous claims of another. Perhaps the wonderful physician can work a cure of the incurable. He says he can. And what hair he hast Perhaps the politician can redress the evils of society which have baffled the wisest statesmen. He says he can. He is a remarkable-looking man. Perhaps one can be safely given a place of trust, though it would seem as if he can have had no experience to fit him for its delicate duties. He says he is competent. There is a degree, and, it is an amazing degree oftentimes, to which men will give confidence to bare pretension. Absalom’s pretension was most shrewdly calculated.
V. Absalom Perverted The Choice Of Counsellors. He chose sagacious, but evil advisers; masterly, but unprincipled. Ahithophel was the oddest statesman in the nation. Absalom improved the opportunity. He sent for Ahithophel. The bad old man came to him--a man after his own heart. We must recognise the dangerous wisdom of the councils of this world. This wisdom is necessary to worldly success. If one heeds it, he greatly increases his prospects of accomplishing all worldly aims.
VI. Absalom perverted the use of religion. It has been suggested here that when David rose early to pray he and Absalom may have met. It may be that the crafty prince first shared his father’s devotions on the way to the gate. He saw the hold which religion had upon David and upon the nation. It would not answer for him to have the reputation of being irreligious; he must guard his religious standing. He made a religious excuse for visiting Hebron. It was a natural one. He had made a vow, he explained, while he was in Geshur in exile for the murder of Amnon. It was a nicely-calculated excuse. David believed in vows. He would look upon the handsome prince with heightened tenderness, touched by his manifest sensibility. Religion, in all times, is one of the readiest and most serviceable of cloaks. It especially serves the purposes of one who would win success in a religious community. Thus Satan comes among us disguised as an angel of light.
VII. Absalom studiously secured the support of good men, with the same steady perseverance. He valued them. They could help him. He wanted the approval of such men at large in the nation. He despised them. He wanted them only as tools. But he knew the value to his cause of having men of character associated with his followers. The rebellion triumphed without a blow. It war one of the best considered and most brilliant enterprises in history. Absalom seemed to be repaid for all his self-denial, his unsavoury wiles, his clever hypocrisy, his long patience. He had reached his goal. He was king. Many society. You may be tempted to cherish the low aim. But look at Absalom at the goal of his hopes, in tile full flush of success! Even then who would take his place? What had he accomplished but the fatal perversion of a life capable of greatest things. Look into his heart, and try to conceive the thoughts which must have been there in the very exaltation of his triumph. Then look again upon that sombre background, the forest of Ephraim, the figure of a man dripping with blood from many wounds, hanging and swaying in the awful twilight in the terebinth tree, suspended by his beautiful hair. Ah! this, then, is a part of what Absalom was planning--that part of which he was all unconscious, but the inevitable end! Learn from this history how the noblest gifts may be perverted, industriously, painfully, fatally, to secure the false success. How are you using your life? your fine natural advantages? How are you treating the privileges of religion? Who are your chosen counsellors? For what aim of life are you fostering deep, tenacious, self-sacrificing purposes? What a man Absalom might have been with a right aim I What a man you may become if you set your heart on the one end worthy of a Son of God--to be a prince of the kingdom of tight; in love and loyalty and honour, to be one of the pillars of His temple. (Monday, Club Sermons.)
The rebellion of Absalom
I. Absalom’s conduct began in the exercise of the basest ingratitude. He assassinated Amnon at a banquet, and then fled to his grandfather’s city Geshur for a refuge. There he remained for some years; the popular soldier Joab caused the woman of Tekoa to go to David with a parable and an entreaty; and the king reluctantly permitted his son to return to Jerusalem, but he would not meet him in the palace. That gave Absalom a chance again. And now we have two lessons to learn at once.
1. One is this: what a man sows he must also reap. David’s boys divided up David’s crimes between them, and repeated his guilt there under his own roof. That was an instance of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind. It is wise to remember that harvests are greater than seed.
2. The second lesson is, there is no gain in discipline unless it leaves behind it a better heart. “Even after a shipwreck,” the old philosopher Seneca remarks, “there are hosts who still wilt seek the sea.” It is not for any man to say that affliction sanctifies; of itself it sours a heart which is not sanctified beforehand. And he has lost much who has lost a discipline at God’s hand; he has had all the weary pain of it without any of the good; he has had the roughness of the ploughing without any of the fruit from the furrows.
II. This rebellion disclosed itself in the mere show of personal vanity. That is the only significance of such gorgeousness of equipage, and a half a hundred men to run before this conceited creature Absalom’s chariot. There is not a sign of patriotism in his course. So here we have another lesson to learn: all true leadership is taught by the discipline of endurance under fierce distress. It was with David as with Jesus Christ; he that is to be a Captain of salvation unto God’s people must consent, as our Divine Saviour consented, to be made “perfect through suffering.”
III. This outbreak of Absalom was conducted with the hypocrisies of malicious deceit. How plausibly the man talked; how venomous were his insinuations; how false were his kisses; yet thus it was that he won the people’s hearts and undermined his father’s throne. The lesson that comes to us just here is: there can be no dependence on mere personal advantages unless they are put to a serviceable use. The record which is familiar to us all reminds us of the old commendations of Saul in the day when he came out before the people a head and shoulders above any one of those who cried “God save the king!” We have a kindling picture of Absalom’s attractions of person and form. The old honest historian of the Greeks says with a creditable frankness that Themistocles was able to make his insipid son, Cleophantes, a good horseman, but he failed in every particular when he endeavoured to make him a good man. And that same failure has been reached a great many times since.
IV. That this insurrection was relentlessly continued through a long period of time. Not “forty years,” surely, as one of the verses seem to say; such a chapter can be found neither in David’s nor in Absalom’s biography. It is impossible to put the reckoning anywhere. Josephus states the time, with the authority of the Syriac and the Arabic version behind him, as being four years instead of forty. And that is long enough certainly for an ungrateful son to continue mischievously to plot against his father is so villianous a way. There can be no value in a noble lineage unless the position is employed nobly. Absalom had nothing to do with the item of his birth; it would be a credit to him or a shame according to what he should do with it. Honour and wealth from no condition rise. The Bible makes short work with primogeniture; in almost every instance the chieftainship goes away from the sons earliest born. Later history is suggestive. Cleanthes lived by watering gardens; Pythagoras was the child of a silversmith; Euripides was brought up to help his brothers till the fields; Demosthenes was the son of a cutler; Virgil’s father was a potter. There is no pretension more impertinent than that which is forcing itself forward on the merits of mere parentage and position:
V. That this wild rebellion is consummated at last with a lie in the name of religion. This was at once the meanest and the shrewdest of all Absalom’s subterfuges. In order to cover his absence from suspicion, and put David off his guard in Jerusalem, he trumped up this pretext of an old vow. God sometimes leaves wicked people to the retribution of apparent success. Absalom comes to Jerusalem, is actually crowned as king, has a few military victories; then his downfall is swift and heavy; the triumph of traitors is short. In a part of one year is dissipated all the fortune of the four years the treacherous son had plotted against his father. Ahithophel closes his career with a suicide, and ere long the rebellion is ended; David sits in his throne and sings brighter songs even while he mourns in his heart.
VI. We mention a few reflections concerning the death which this rebel prince died.
1. There is a limit beyond which patience, both human and Divine, cannot be expected to go. When the heart of this royal ingrate became fixed in his wickedness, the Lord simply withdrew from all interposition; so he was left to his fate; he died the rebel he had lived. Here is an inspired warning: “Some men’s sins are Open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after.”
2. When a false leader falls, he drags down his favourites in the failure. The most interesting feature of this story has always been the immediateness with which the rebellion subsided when those darts went through Absalom’s heart: What ultimately became of those who had perilled all their fortunes upon his success we are not informed. Their hopes failed; they had attributed many excellences to that young and beautiful prince; possibly they had not studied the future carefully, into the abysses of which they land now plunged. Hereafter they were outlaws and wanderers.
3. There can be no advantage in having “a fair chance” in life unless one hastens to improve it for the good of others. The fact is, we instinctively hold this man Absalom responsible all the more sternly because he had opportunities so fair and abused them so basely. His sin was the more heinous on account of his conspicuous position.
4. The hour of retribution is likely to be an hour of melancholy review. Confidence in the successful issue of evil purposes only deepens the humiliation of defeat. There is even to this day pointed out in the valley close by Jerusalem a lofty structure of stone called “Absalom’s Tomb.” The Scripture has given us a hint concerning its true origin, but not of its date: “Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king’s dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom’s place.” That particular structure is perhaps replaced by this: tradition says it is not a sepulchre, but a monument; and Josephus goes so far as to insist that it was called Absalom’s Hand,” and bore at its summit a hand as the symbol of power and victory. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
After domestic broils and the violent death of Amnon in circumstances full of horror and disgrace, and after Absalom’s banishment and return, this adroit and unscrupulous man, impelled by his own ambition, and having no idea of co-operation with Deity in the punishment of evil, sets about dethroning his own father and, if possible, possessing himself of the crown. When one thing is radically wrong, other Wrong things follow in the train of it. Like woes, sins cluster. The city-gate was the place for the administration of justice (Ruth 4:1), and those who were charged with dispensing it held court early in the day. On the approach to the court an anxious litigant is greeted with frank courtesy by the handsome and stately Absalom, who with the deepest interest inquires about his residence and his business. Won by the affability of such a distinguished and exalted questioner, the man tells his place and his grievance. The hollow courtier has the same story for each. He reaches a verdict without the trouble of a hearing of the case or the appearance of the other side. The man is delighted. He is at rest. And when the simple provincial, in addition to such intelligent sympathy with his wrongs, found himself taken by the hand and kissed by the handsome pretender, he was sure to go back to his own town and say that David had become useless as a king and was neglecting his duties, and that things never would be right until Absalom, who was as wise as he was elegant, filled the throne. Alas, poor human natural It is the same to-day that it was in David’s time. “Ambition,” as a word, comes from the Roman politicians going about in their canvass for votes, fawning upon and flattering the people. English ladies of rank have gone and coaxed and caressed butchers whom they scorned to secure their votes for their husbands or their proteges. Members of legislatures have kissed the children and hobnobbed with their parents to make reputation among them. Doctors have sat as “friends” by the bedside of the wealthy, hinted their regrets that more vigorous measures were not adopted and more hopeful views taken by the physicians in attendance, only dropping their smooth generalities when the device succeeded and they were called into consultation, and regard for their reputation compelled them to agree with the rest. It is all in the same line with the policy of the mean, smooth-mannered traitor who (v. 6) “stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” It took three years to carry out his schemes, make his party and arrange for his being proclaimed. So he made a pretence of going to Hebron, the old capital; which probably resented the loss of its prestige, where friends of his youth probably lived and could be counted upon, and where his father had been crowned. It is not needful to ask if his vow were a reality. He was now at his ease in lying, and could readily supply the details of v. 8. To keep up the show of things, Absalom offered sacrifices, in which all who partook were to be held as pledged to his support. Men of this sort will use religion for their own ends. History since the Reformation has many a sad case of rulers shaping their religious courses so as to secure popular sympathy. Meanwhile, and in order to have him at the banquet, Absalom invites Ahithophel, a man of influence, whose adhesion would carry great weight, as he was David’s counsellor. Absalom probably knew his feelings of discontent and dissatisfaction with David. Absalom’s plans now seemed sure to succeed. “The conspiracy was strong.” He had many friends throughout the tribes. The fascination of his personal approaches, the fair promises he had informally made, the relation he sustained to royalties already--all these things influenced the people, and his following “increased continually.” Ill-news will commonly travel fast. “A messenger”--from some friend perhaps--to David announced the extent of the movement, no doubt with details of Absalom’s plans as far as they were known or inferred. The afflicted king realised the danger, and at once decided upon flight. There were two good reasons for this: No preparation had been made for the defence of Jerusalem, and an attack on it would have been disastrous in the extreme. But such an assault would have been the natural and politic course of the rebels if David remained there and attempted to hold the city. It was both humane and politic to quit the capital. At the same time, the flight must be prompt and rapid, “lest he overtake us suddenly and bring evil upon us.” This suggests the second reason: Flight gave time for the development of events and for calm reflection on the part of the people, This shrewd view was held, it will be noticed, by Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:1-2), and also by Hushai the Archite (2 Samuel 17:7-13). They looked at it simply as managers and political observers. The following points may be emphasised with profit:--
1. The home and the public welfare are inseparably linked. Samuel’s sons took bribes and proved unfit for continuing the system of judges. David’s family-life was not as it Ought to have been, anal murder, widespread rebellion and slaughter, with indescribable dishonour and disgrace and danger to the kingdom, are the results. The suffering, too, falls on the sinning family first of all.
2. Bad morals on the part of rulers relax the ties of obedience and make government contemptible. The plausibilities of the rebel son drew their force from real faults of David’s administration. We may well pray for just and pure men in places of power.
3. But over and above these natural effects we have the just rule of Jehovah. David in his misery and penitence owns this. There is a difference between him and an enemy of God (2 Samuel 15:25-26). Hence his language regarding the cursing of Shimei (2 Samuel 16:11).
4. The life of Absalom speaks to both parents and children, setting in a clear light the weakness, folly, and sin of unreasoning parental indulgence, and on the other hand the atrocious character of ingratitude, selfishness and disobedience on the part of a child. Vices go in groups. They deaden sensibilities; one prepares for another. The impure and lustful will be ready for dishonesty, violence, and unnatural crime. (J. Hall, D. D.)
An ungrateful son
Everyone recognises that ingratitude is a grievous defect in a character. The ingrate is invariably condemned by the opinion of his fellows and by posterity. Who, for example, has not sympathised with poor Beethoven, when at the close of a laborious, self-sacrificing life his heart was broken by the knowledge that the boy to whom he had given all he possessed had repaid his love with cold selfishness and cruelty? There can only be one opinion as to the blameworthiness of the pampered ingrate. Ingratitude is all but universally regarded as one of the worst of faults. (J. R. Campbell.)
A struggle for a crown
“A man will venture a knock that is in reach of a crown.” The ambitious will run all risks of cruel wounds, and death itself to reach a throne; the prize hardens them against all hazards. Even so will every wise man encounter all difficulties for the crown of life; and when, by faith, he sees it within reach, he will count all afflictions light through which he wades to glory. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The brilliant, but erratic, Marie Bashkertsheff, wrote in her diary: “It is the New Year. At the theatre, precisely at midnight, watch in hand, I wished nay wish in a single word, ‘Fame!’” This is frank, but tragic. Yet if men were equally honest with themselves and at New Year’s breaking, or any time of solemn impression, spoke their candid feelings, one would cry “Pleasure,” another “Gold,” another “Fame,” another “Power,” and, thank God, not a few would cry “To me to live is Christ.” Ambition in itself is not evil; all depends on its quality, its supreme aim. Paul had three ambitions, and each of them was noble and worthy of a Christ-purchased and Christ-possessed soul.
And Absalom rose up early in the morning.
Courtesy wins hearts
Lady Montague, speaking of gentle manners, remarked: “Civility costs nothing, but buys everything.” Said Burleigh to Queen Elizabeth: “Win hearts, and you have the brains and the purses of all.”
Compare the description of Bolingbroke’s behaviour which Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Richard II.:--
“Ourself and Bushy, Bagel here and Green,
Observed his courtship to the common people;
How he did seem to dive into their hearts
With humble and familiar courtesy,
What reverence he did throw away on slaves,
Wooing poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles.”
King Richard II., Acts 1:1-26, Sc. 4.
(A. F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)
I pray thee let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the Lord.
Of royal dissemblers like Absalom history records numerous parallels, notably Charles II., who, in his dealings with the Scots, solely to win them over to his cause, took the Covenant with all the solemnity of a pious Covenant, also Napoleon Bonaparte, who, when in Egypt seeking to reconcile the people to his rule, announced: “We Frenchmen are true Mussulmans. Have not we destroyed the Pope, who called upon Europe to make war upon the Mussulmans.” After the capture of Cairo this adept at diplomatic insincerity was to be seen “ seated in the great mosque at the feast of the prophets, sitting cross-legged as he repeated the words of the Koran, and edified the sacred college by his piety.” (Charles Deal.)
Arise and let us flee.
The motive for the flight was probably a patriotic one. David would not, let the city be destroyed by civil war. Like Louis Philippe, he could: not hear to shed his people’s blood. This tenderness of disposition, so unlike the spirit of the times, is characteristic of him. (1 Chronicles 21:17.)
1. Notice the different classes of people who went out with the king, displaying different aspects of loyalty.
The special lessons he teaches. True service must be voluntary. (Psalms 40:8; Deuteronomy 28:47.) “Whose service is perfect freedom.” It becomes so in proportion as we know and love the one served. (2 Corinthians 5:14; Song of Solomon 1:4.) Duty a lower motive-power than love. (Duty would have constrained Ittai to fight well, but not to endure exile.) All soul-satisfying religion centres round a person, not a system, or a doctrine. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” not only in His work for you. A man the real object of love and trust. The God-man--Emmanuel. (R. E. Faulkner.)
David retires from the capital to the east of the Jordan
David is evidently taken completely by surprise. The reasons for his hasty resolution to leave his fortified capital are not clear from the narrative before us. Had he grounds for suspecting the loyalty of the population, perhaps still predominantly Jebusite? Of no single day in the whole course of the recorded history of the Hebrews have we so detailed a record as we have of the day on which David fled before his undutiful son. From the time when, in the morning hours: he passed in haste through the eastern gate until, before the next day dawned (2 Samuel 17:22),. he and all his following had safely crossed the Jordan, every hour is crowded with life and incident, and every line of the narrative is instinct with the emotions and impulses, good and bad, that mould the lives of men. (Century Bible.)
A king’s flight from his capital
James II. was fleeing from his English subjects. At three in the morning of Tuesday, the 11th of December, James rose, took the great seal in his hand, laid his commands on Northumberland not to open the door of the bed-chamber till the usual hour, and disappeared through a secret passage . . . Sir Edward Hales was in attendance with a hackney coach. James was conveyed to Milbank, where he crossed the Thames in a small wherry. As he passed Lambeth he flung the great seal into the midst of the stream, whence, after many months, it was accidentally caught by a fishing-net and dragged up. (Macaulay’s England.)
And the king went forth and tarried in a place which was far off.
Far up and far back in the history of heaven there came a period when its Most Illustrious Citizen was about to absent Himself. He was not going to sail from beach to beach. He was not going to put out from one hemisphere to another hemisphere. But He was to sail from world to world, the spaces unexplored and the immensities untravelled. Out and out and out, and on and on and on, and down and down and down He sped, until one night, with only one to greet Him when He arrived, His disembarkation so unpretending, so quiet, that it was not known on earth until the excitement in the cloud gave intimation to the Bethlehem rustics that something grand and glorious had happened. Who comes there? From what port did He sail? Why was this the place of His destination? I question the shepherds. I question the camel-drivers. I question the angels. I have found out. He was an exile. But the world had plenty of exiles. Abraham, an exile from Haran; John, an exile from Ephesus; Koscinsko, an exile from Poland; Mazzini, an exile from Italy; Victor Hugo, an exile from France; Kossuth, an exile from Hungary. But this One of whom I speak had such resounding farewell, and came into such thrilling reception--for not even an ostler went out with his lantern to light Him in--that He is more to be celebrated than any other expatriated exile of earth or heaven.
1. I remark that Christ was an imperial exile. He gob down off a throne. He took off a tiara. He closed a palace gate behind Him. His family were princes and princesses. Vashti was turned out of the throne-room by Ahasuerus. David was dethroned by Absalom’s infamy. The five kings were hurled into a cavern by Joshua’s courage. Some of the Henrys of England and some of the Louises of France were jostled on their thrones by discontented subjects. But Christ was never more honoured, or more popular, or more loved than the day He left heaven. Exiles have suffered severely, but Christ turned himself out of throne-room into sheep-pen, and down from the top to the bottom. He was not pushed off. He was not manacled for foreign transportation. He was not put out because they no more wanted him in celestial domain, but by choice departing and descending into an exile five times as long as that of Napoleon at St. Helena, and a thousand times worse; the one exile suffering for that he had destroyed nations, the other exile suffering because He came to save a world. An imperial exile. King eternal.
2. But I go further, and tell you He was an exile on a barren island. Christ came to this small Patmos of a world. When exiles are sent out they are generally sent to regions that are sandy or cold or hot. Christ came as an exile to a world scorched with heat and bitten with cold, to deserts simoom-swept, to a howling wilderness. It was the backdoor yard, seemingly, of the universe.
3. I go further, and tell you that He was an exile in a hostile country. Turkey was never so much against Russia, France was never so much against Germany as this earth was against Christ. It took Him in through the door of a stable. It thrust Him out at the point of a spear.
4. I go further, and tell you that this exile was far from home. It is ninety-three million miles from here to the sun, and all astronomers agree in saying that our solar system is only one of the smaller wheels of the great machinery of the universe turning around some one great centre, the centre so far distant it is beyond all imagination and calculation, and if, as some think, that great centre in the distance is heaven, Christ came far from home when He came here. Have you ever thought of the homesickness of Christ?--I have read how the Swiss, when they are far away from their native country, at the sound of their national air get so homesick that they fall into melancholy and sometimes they die under the homesickness. But oh I the homesickness of Christ. You have often tried to measure the other pangs of Christ, but you have never tried to measure the magnitude and ponderosity of the Saviour’s homesickness.
5. I take a step further, and tell you that Christ was in an exile which He knew would end in assassination. Holman Hunt, the master painter, has a picture in which he represents Jesus Christ in the Nazarene carpenter-shop. Around Him are the saws, the hammers, the axes, the drills of carpentry. The picture represents Christ as rising from the car-pouter’s working-bench and wearily stretching out His arms as one will after being in contracted or uncomfortable posture, and the light of that picture is so arranged that the arms of Christ, wearily stretched forth, together with His body, throw on the wall the shadow of the cross. Oh! that shadow was on everything in Christ’s lifetime. Shadow of a cross on the Bethlehem swaddling clothes. Shadow of a cross on the road over which the three fugitives fled into Egypt. Shadow of a cross on Lake Galilee as Christ walked its mosaic floor of opal and emerald and crystal. Shadow of a cross on the road to Jerusalem. Shadow of a cross on the brook Kedron, and on the Temple, and on the side of Olivet. Shadow of a cross on sunrise and sunset. Constantine, marching with his army, saw just once a cross in the sky, but Christ saw the cross all the time. For this royal exile I bespeak the love and service of all the exiles here present, and, in one sense or the other, that includes all of us. All of us exiles. This is not our home. Heaven is our home. Oh, I am so glad when the royal exile went back lie left the gate ajar, or left it wide open! “Going home!” That is the dying exclamation of the majority of Christians. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Ittai the Gittite.
Ittai the Gittite
Ittai of Gath was not only a heathen but a heathen of the heathens, a member of a race the most malignant of all the foes of the Church. Yet among the events of this day--a day over which the historian fondly if sadly lingers, more minutely and at greater length described than any other day of Old Testament history--an episode of which he is the hero finds a prominent place. It is not much we can know about him; but what we can that we desire to learn. Let us look at his environment and at himself; his People, his Position, and his Personality.
I. His people. Probably in a degree in which it can be said of no other country, Palestine has been the meeting-place and battleground of nations. From earliest historical times we find wave after wave of conquerors breaking upon, settling down, or passing over it; and there are not wanting indications that long before history began to be written the monotonous process had commenced. The shadowy forms of the earlier races can be dimly discerned, ghost-like, before the rising of the historic sun. Amongst the many pre-Hebrew arrivals and settlers--and, historically, the most important of them all--was the people to whom Ittai belonged, the Philistines. Concerning their origin, the events which led to their migration into Palestine, and the development of their power there, we know almost nothing--barely sufficient to suggest a few guesses. A reference to the genealogical table in Genesis (Genesis 10:14) suggests an Egyptian origin, whilst the Book of Deuteronomy and the Prophets Amos and Jeremiah speak of them as “Caphtorim out of Caphtor”; but the endeavour to fix a site for Caphtor has not yet been attended with success. Cappadocia, Cyprus, and Crete are all claimants; but the balance of opinion seems to incline in favour of the last-mentioned of the three. From whatever race they sprung, from whatever quarter they came, we find a tribe of them at the extreme southern limit of Palestine, on the route down to Egypt, as far back as the time of Abraham, though their very name--“strangers,” or “emigrants”--indicates that they were arrivals in the country, and not aboriginals. We shall probably not be far wrong if we suppose a small swarm of “Caphtorim from Caphtor” (say, Cretans from Crete) hiving off and settling down upon the southern border of Palestine, where the fertile land shades off into the desert on the way to Egypt; there multiplying their number and developing their genius for war; civilising, casting off nomadic habits, and acquiring those of dwellers in cities; and in due course acquiring a greater proficiency in the arts and arms than any of the rude tribes around them. Then comes the great commotion to the North consequent upon the invasion and conquest by Joshua and his Israelites. The Philistines are too far off in their southern corner to feel the shock in any direct way; but their next-door neighbours, the Avites--who occupied the great plain lying between them and the new-comers, and on whose rich corn-fields they had doubtless cast many a longing eye--are shaken to their centre. Already three of their principal towns have fallen; the great Tribe of Judah, under the hero son-in-law of Caleb, presses sore upon them; half of the plain (“Shefela”) is no longer theirs. We can then conceive of them, in their extremity and desperation, invoking the aid of their warlike and rising rivals along their southern side, who had already begun to intermarry and mingle with themselves. Nothing loth, the desired assistance is given, and soon Philistine swords--for the first time, but not for the last, by many a score--cross and crash with Hebrew spears. Four results follow:--
1. The first is a decided stop to Hebrew extension in that quarter. The captured cities are regained, and for many a day are thorns in the side of Judah, Dan, and Simeon.
2. The next is a permanent occupation by the Philistines of the territory into which they had come as allies. It was the richest part of all Palestine, excelling even the beautiful Esdraelon, and, moreover, its coast embraced the two best harbours between Egypt and Phoenicia.
3. Another result is a new name for that portion, and eventually for the whole, of Canaan. Henceforth the Plain is known from them as “Philistia”--a name which, thus derived from a heathen tribe in its south-western corner, has, curiously enough, in a slightly altered form, spread over, and to this day covers all of the Holy Land. It is an illustration of the irony of history that a name which we fondly cherish as a name holy and revered, should be thus a child of a pure heathen parentage. In vain Israel cultivated exclusiveness; ever and anon God compelled an indication of the universalism that was wrapped up in His Call. The very name which the Holy Land bears is a standing memorial of that “making of both one,” which, being one of the counsels of God from the beginning, became realised in Him in whom Jew and Gentile find their meeting-place with one another and both with Him.
4. The fourth result is a great and rapid development of the Philistine power. The supposition of a second migration from Crete, though quite possible, does not seem to be necessary. The fertility of their new possessions--the granary of Palestine--their commercial advantages, the great increase of numbers through the absorption of the Avites, Anakim, and possibly other tribes, including an influx of fugitive Amorites and Canaanites, and the separation of the dominant race as a warrior or fighting castle to the art and practice of war--these are considerations quite sufficient to account for such rapid development of power as the facts of the narrative require. With the institution of the monarchy and the establishment of a central authority in Israel, implying some amount of national cohesion in place of tribal isolation, the tables were turned. Saul inflicted many grievous defeats upon them; and after the accession of David and the perfecting of his military system they had small chance of success, in aggressive warfare at least, against their mere numerous foes. But, cooped up within their narrow borders, and forbidden aggressive war, this nation of soldiers seeks an outlet for its superfluous manhood in foreign service. As it was with Scotland and Switzerland three centuries ago, so was it with Philistia in Ittai’s time. What the Scottish and Swiss Guards were at the Court of France, what the Varangian Guard was to the Greek Emperors at Constantinople, what the “Free Companies” were to the cities and princes of Italy, that was the Philistine guard at the Court of Pharaoh and the Court of David--a reliable body of mercenaries, whose duty it was, in a general way, to fight the sovereign’s battles, and, in a special way, to guard the royal person. The nucleus of this guard appears to have been enlisted by David during his sojourn at Gath, where for a time he found a refuge from the persecuting jealousy of Saul.
II. Ittai’s position. He was captain of these mercenaries, the Philistine guard, “the Cherethites and Pelethites,” in David’s service. We must conceive of him as a stranger among strangers, a soldier in a foreign employ, an exile from home and country--either voluntarily, through a desire to push his fortunes, or by necessity, because of some disagreement or quarrel with the “Lords of the Philistines.” He is among those who, however much they may appreciate his sword, hate himself, his race, and his religion. He and his comrades belonged to a people who, possessing the qualities of strength and pertinacity, were by temperament sluggish, heavy, and dull-witted. Such is the character everywhere implied in the pictures of them given in Scripture: “They were almost the laughing-stock of their livelier and quicker neighbours--the easy prey of the rough humour of Samson, or the agility and cunning of the diminutive David” (Stanley’s “Jewish Church.”) In the city, and at the Court of Jerusalem, he and they would feel and would be regarded very much as Hereward and his Varangians felt and were regarded in the City and at the Court of Constantinople, as conceived by the historic imagination and pictured by the faithful pen of Scott in his “Count Robert of Paris.” Ittai and his guard would be the objects and the butts at once of the contemptuous civility of the courtiers, and the stinging spite of the citizens. Almost inevitably, they would draw off, isolate themselves, and as a caste, hated and hating, live there lives by themselves, reserving all their sympathies for those within the limits of their own order. Thus were these “Cherethites and Pelethites”--outside the sympathy of the people and remote from the gossip of the bazaar--when the shameful rebellion of Absalom bursts upon the astonished guard as a bolt out of a clear sky. Meanwhile David and Ittai have met. The king looks into the face, illumined with the light of the noblest feelings that shine out from the heart through the windows of the eyes: nobility meets nobility; magnanimity accepts what magnanimity offers. Two great souls meet, embrace, and grapple each to each with hooks of steel. The simple acceptance of the service proffered; the delicate recognition that further remonstrance would have been almost an outrage; the tacit treatment of the question as closed; and the renewed enrollment into a service that is to last for life--all this and much more is enwrapped in the “Go, and pass over.” The king’s son was a rebel, his counsellor a traitor; how heart must have swelled and eye filled in the presence of devotion so unselfish and so strong in the stranger.
III. The Personality That Is Here Presented To Us. We know nothing concerning him save what we gather from these scenes. We see him only twice: once as, beside the brook Kedron, within stone-cast of Gethsemane, he vows the fealty he kept so well, and once as he marches out of Mahanaim at the head of his well-drilled corps. But as the naturalist from a single typical bone can construct the whole physical frame of the animal, so from these scanty yet typical facts the moralist can give the whole moral build of the man. We experience no difficulty in the endeavour to reproduce Ittai’s moral structure. He is simplicity, fidelity, and affection embodied.
1. Simplicity, for there was no double purpose in his mind, nor double speech in his tongue; he had one loyalty and one only, a soldier’s surrender to the king whose soldier he was; one aim and one only, a servant’s service to the master whose man he was.
2. Fidelity, for selfish views and considerations seem to have found in him no place at all; he never asked, “Where is the sunny side of fortune, that I may seek it?” or, “Where the shady side, that I may shun it?” but, “Come weal or woe, be it life or be it death, I follow where faith leads.”
3. Affection, too, for manifestly this wondrous poet-king had won his love and held his heart. There was about this David a marvellous power of attracting, subduing, and holding men. (G. M. Grant, B. D.)
A specimen of nobleness
It is the darkest period of David’s life. He is fleeing, barefooted, in fear of Absalom’s approaching army. Yet he is not altogether alone. A few loyal hearts cling to him. And, amid the desolating sorrow, appears this Ittai. He is not a Hebrew; he is a Gittite--that is, a Philistine. But he is among those who will cast in their fortunes with the fleeing king. Only recently he seems to have come to Jerusalem. David sees the resolve of splendid devotion in Ittai. It will be useless to try to dissuade him further. The noble devotion of Ittai teaches these lessons:--
I. That such devotion i should show toward Jesus Christ. There must have been a singular attractiveness and winningness about the personality of David inspiring devotion to him. There is more attractiveness in Jesus Christ, and to Him, therefore, I ought to be more devoted than Ittai was to David.
1. Think of the purity of Jesus. Tennyson wrote: “I am amazed at Christ’s purity and holiness, and at His infinite beauty. The forms of religion may change, but Christ will grow more and more in the roll of the ages. His character is more wonderful than the greatest miracle.”
2. Think of Christ’s sympathy. I have read how, before they knew of mines of diamonds there, a boy in South Africa flung a stone at a stranger. The man picked up the stone, and found it diamond, and it became his treasure. So Christ finds the diamond in us. Whom others cast away He regards, receives, redeems. Matthew the publican; the woman taken in her sin, etc.
3. Think of the sacrifice of Christ. His atoning cross tells it. This Christ of purity, sympathy, sacrifice, is worthy limitless devotion.
II. What does devotion mean and involve?
1. Definite decision for its object. Ittai decided for David. There were no ifs or buts, about his decision. It was downright. So I should decide for Christ.
2. Confession. “And Ittai answered the king and said.” A real devotion does not hesitate about telling itself forth.
3. Marching under the standard of its object. Ittai followed David’s flag. If I have real devotion to Christ I will join and march with His church and people.
4. Persistence. Ittai went the whole way with David in that long march from Jerusalem to Mahanaim. So I should persistently follow Christ.
5. Service. Ittai was one of the commanders for David in the subsequent battle with Absalom. So I should give myself to service for Christ. Christ will accept my devotion as David did that of Ittai. And the object of one’s devotion is the discriminating and deciding test for life. The ignoble life has other than the highest object of devotion. (Homiletic Review.)
Ittai of Gath
Heartbroken and spiritless, David leaves Jerusalem. And as soon as he has got clear of the city he calls a halt, in order that he may master his followers and see on whom he may depend. Foremost among the little band come six hundred men from Gath--Philistines--from Goliath’s city. These men, singularly enough, the king had chosen as his bodyguard; perhaps he was not altogether sure of the loyalty of his own subjects, and possibly felt safer with foreign mercenaries, who could have no secret leanings to the deposed house of Saul. Be that as it may, the narrative tells us that these men had “come after him from Gath.” Here they are, “faithful among the faithless,” as foreign soldiers surrounding a king often are--notably, for instance, the Swiss guard in the French Revolution. It is a beautiful nature that in the depth of sorrow shrinks from dragging other people down with itself. Generosity breeds generosity, and this Philistine captain breaks out into a burst of passionate devotion, garnished, in soldier-fashion, with an unnecessary oath or two, but ringing very sincere and meaning a great deal. As for himself and his men, they have chosen their side. Whoever goes, they stay. David’s heart is touched and warmed by their outspoken loyalty; he yields and accepts their service. Ittai and his noble six hundred tramp, on, out of our sight, and all their households behind them.
I. What grand passionate self-sacrifice may be evolved out of the roughest natures.
1. A passionate personal attachment; then, that love, issuing as such love always does, in willing sacrifice that recks not for a moment of personal consequences.
2. And we see in these words a supreme restful delight in the presence of Him whom the heart loves. And wherever, in some humble measure, these emotions are realised, there you get weakness springing up into strength, and the ignoble into loftiness. Astronomers tell us that, sometimes, a star that has shone inconspicuous, and stood low down in their catalogues as of fifth or sixth magnitude, will all at once flame out, having kindled and caught fire somehow, and will blaze in the heavens, outshining Jupiter and Venus. And so some poor, vulgar, narrow nature, touched by this Promethean fire of pure love that leads to perfect sacrifice, will “flame in the, forehead of the morning sky,” an undying splendour, and a light for ever more, You have all that capacity in you, and you are all responsible for the use of it. What have you done with it? Is there any person or thing in this world that has ever been able to lift you up out of your miserable selves? Is there any magnet that has proved strong enough to raise you from the low levels along which your life creeps? Have you ever known the thrill of resolving to become the bondservant and the slave of some great cause not your own? Or are you, as so many of you are, like spiders living in the midst of your web, mainly intent upon what you can catch in it? You have these capacities slumbering in you. Have you ever set a light to that inert mass of enthusiasm that lies in you? Have you ever woke up the sleeper?
II. These possibilities of love and sacrifice point plainly to God in Christ as their true object.
III. The terrible misdirection of these capacities is the sin and the misery of the world. I will not say that such emotions, even when expended on creatures, are ever wasted. And I am not going to say that when men love each other passionately and deeply, and sacrifice themselves for one another, or for some cause or purpose affecting only temporal matters, the precious elixir of love is wasted. God forbid! But I do say that all these objects, sweet and gracious as some of them are, ennobling and elevating as some of them are, if they are taken apart from God, are insufficient to fill your hearts: and that if they are slipped in between you and God, as they often are, then they bring sin and sorrow. And so let me gather all that I have been saying into the one earnest beseeching of you that you would bring that power of uncalculating love and self-sacrificing affection which is in you, and would fasten it where it ought to fix--on Christ who died on the cross for you. Such a love will bring blessedness to you. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Loyal to the core
If Ittai, charmed with David’s person and character, though a foreigner and a stranger, felt that he could enlist beneath his banner for life--yea, and declared that he would do so there and then--how much more may you and I, if we know what Christ has done for us, and who He is and what he deserves at our hands, at this good hour plight our troth to Him and vow, “As the Lord liveth, surely in whatsoever place my Lord and Saviour shall be, whether in death or life, even there also shall His servant be.”
I. In what form and manner was this declaration made?
1. It was made at a time when David’s fortunes were at their lowest ebb, and consequently it was made unselfishly, without the slightest idea of gain from it. To take up with Christ when everybody cries up His name is what a hypocrite would do, but to take up with Christ when they are shouting, “Away with him! away with him!” is another matter. There are times in which the simple faith of Christ is at a great discount. It is such a season that we must stand out for God’s.
2. Ittai gave himself up wholly to David when he was but newly come to him. David says, “Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us?” But Ittai does not care whether he came yesterday or twenty years ago, but he declares, “Surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether In death or life, even there also will thy servant be.” It is best to begin the Christian life with thorough consecration. Have any of you professed to be Christians, and have you never given yourselves entirely to Christ? It is time that you began again. This should be one of the earliest forms of our worship of our Master--this total resignation of ourselves to him.
3. Ittai surrendered himself to David in the most voluntary manner. No one persuaded Ittai to do this; in fact, David seems to have persuaded him the other way. David tested and tried him, but he voluntarily, out of the fulness of his heart, said, “Where my lord, the king is, there also shall his servant be.” If you believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is yours, give yourselves up to him by a distinct act and deed. Feel that one grand impulse without needing pressure or argument “The love of Christ constraineth me.”
4. Ittai did this very solemnly. He took an oath which we Christians may not do, and may not wish to do, but still we should make the surrender with quite as much solemnity.
5. And this Ittai did publicly. At any rate, he so acted that everybody saw him when David said, “Go over,” and he marched in front--the first man to pass the brook.
II. What did this declaration involve?
1. He was henceforth to be David’s servant, Of course, as his soldier, he was to fight for him, and to do his bidding, What sayest thou, man? Canst thou lift thy hand to Christ and say, “Henceforth I will live as thy servant, not doing my own will, but thy will. Thy command is henceforth my rule?” Canst thou say that? If not, do not mock him, but stand back. May the Holy Ghost give thee grace thus to begin, thus to persevere, and thus to end.
2. He was to do his utmost for David’s cause, not to be his servant in name, but his soldier, ready for scars and wounds and death, if need be, on the king’s behalf. That is what Ittai meant as in rough soldier-tones, he took the solemn oath that it should be so. Now, if thou wouldst be Christ’s disciple, determine henceforth by His grace that thou wilt defend His cause.
3. His promise declared that he would give a personal attendance upon the person of his master. That was, indeed, the pith of it. “In what place, my lord, the king, shall be, even there also will thy servant be.” Brethren, let us make the same resolve in our hearts, that wherever Christ is, there we will be.
4. He intended to share David’s condition. It David was great, Ittai would rejoice. If David was exiled, Ittai would attended his wanderings. Our point must be to resolve in God’s strength to keep to Christ in all weathers and in all companies, and that whether in life or death. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And all the country wept with a loud voice.
The way of the Cross
Notice the weeping people. (Luke 23:27-31.) David’s experience at this time contains many foreshadowings of the passion of our Lord, but also some contrasts, as the conduct of the priesthood. (Verse 24 compared with John 18:13; John 18:24.)
I. The ark sent back. In this incident David’s character rises to its height of moral grandeur. The ark was the symbol of God’s presence. (1 Samuel 4:1-11.) The Israelites in Eli’s time had degenerated into trust of the symbol, instead of that which it symbolized. (Jeremiah 7:1-4; Matthew 3:9.) David understood the spiritual truth underlying, but not inseparable from, the outward sign.
II. His motives in sending back the ark seem to have been:
1. An expression of his unworthiness, as one who had deeply sinned, and was suffering the consequences of sin, to enjoy the consolation of religion.
2. Trust in Jehovah Himself apart from ordinances and symbols. “If I shall find favour, then I shall be restored to the sanctuary and its blessings; and if not, then what good will the ark do me? “Without God’s favour it will only be a useless responsibility.” This teaches us a deep spiritual lesson, needed in all ages, that mere outward forms of religion can never profit a heart not at peace with God. And in these expressions. David manifested strong faith. (Numbers 14:8; Daniel 3:17-18; 1 John 5:4.)
4. Besides this, he doubtless feared to imperil the ark itself, remembering the awful lesson of Uzzah’s death.
III. A prayer immediately answered. (2 Samuel 15:31; 2 Samuel 16:23; 1 Corinthians 3:18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.) Ahithophel’s treachery specially alluded to. (Psalms 41:9; Psalms 55:12-15.) (R. E. Faulkner.)
And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God unto the city.
Taking David’s conduct as an example to ourselves, we have brought before us the following truths:--
true Godliness engages the soul’s supreme attention, even in time of trial.
1. It draws the thoughts away from self. Dwelling on sorrow increases its bitterness. It grows with observation. We concentrate our mind upon a thing until it becomes far larger than it really is.
2. It fills the void in the heart with consolation. Of all subjects religion is the most powerful thing in the world to occupy the attention, and in its presence every temporal affair sinks into the meanest insignificance.
II.--true Godliness places God’s honour ever before selfish ease. When David left the city in flight, Zadok, the High Priest, brought the ark of God to follow the King.
1. David rejected mere outward symbols and signs. The symbolism of the temple had its proper place and use. It was to accomplish a great, and mighty, and mysterious purpose. But if religion has its public representation and form, it has also its private and individual functions as well.
2. God could help him just as welt without the help of priest, or tabernacle, or service as He could with. Time and place are nothing to God. The tears of the prisoner are as precious to him as the orison of a pope. David was very well content to leave himself in the hands of God without any extraneous help.
III. True religion identifies man’s interests with god’s purposes. We learn practically that the part for us to perform is,
David and the ark
I. His spiritual mindedness. He looked beyond the outward symbols to Him who had appointed the use of those symbols as a means of good. “Carry back,” he says, “the ark of God into the city.” He felt that it alone could do nothing for him in his banishment. Here was spirituality of mind, brought, it may be, into livelier exercise by trial, but evidently forming a part of David’s character. And it would be well for us to inquire, How far are we of the same mind with the sweet psalmist of Israel?
II. The simplicity of David’s faith. “If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me again and show me both it and His habitation.” Here was an unwavering confidence in the power of God to bring good out of evil; and a conviction that if the Lord saw fit He would do so. And here we may mark the peculiar and proper office of faith. It leads to effort; it encourages in duty while it prevents a departure from the way of God’s commandments. We beseech you to cultivate more of this spirit, which appeared so conspicuously in the man after God’s own heart; view every turn in your history as appointed by the Lord, and seek to have continually a lively apprehension of His overruling providence.
III. David’s humble resignation to the divine will. That Christian is much to be envied, who, happen what may, can exclaim with sincerity of heart, “It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good”; I desire to acquiesce in the Divine appointments, because “I know in whom I have believed”; I know, that though deep are the water-floods that roll over me, the wisdom of God is deeper than them all. Let us keep in mind, that the sources from whence we look for comfort may become the fruitful springs of bitter anguish. Let us not forget that the most secure of all our earthly comforts are in reality insecure. (S. Bridge, M. A.)
Acquiescence in the will of God.
I. His estimation of divine means and ordinances. The ark and the tabernacle were much mere to him than his throne and his palace. And therefore he only mentions these. “Carry back,” says he, “the ark of God--if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again”--he will bring me again, ands “show me both it and his habitation”--the ark and the tabernacle. Not that he undervalued the privilege of a safe return. Religion is not founded on the destruction of humanity. We are not required to contemn the good things of nature and providence.
II. His faith in divine providence. David views his defeat or his success, his exile or his return, as suspended entirely on the will of God. He does not balance probabilities. Not that he acted the part of an enthusiast, and despised the use of means. This appears obviously from the measures he devised, especially his employing the counsel of Hushai. David knew it was easy for him to take wisdom from the wise, and courage from the brave; and to confound all his devices. He knelt also that it was equally easy for God to turn again his captivity.
III. He professes a full acquiescence in the disposal of the Almighty. “But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee: behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good to him.” Here are no imprecations of vengeance against seditious subjects, and a rebellious son; no bitter complaints of instruments; no “charging God foolishly”; no “teaching God knowledge.” He falls down at his feet wishing to be raised up, but willing to remain. He mourns, but he does not murmur. What helped to produce this disposition in David? There were two things in himself.
There were also two things in God which aided this acquiescence.
1. It will be very advantageous to yourselves. Now this acquiescence in the will of God is the preparation of the Gospel of peace, with which you are to be shod: Thus prepared, you may travel on through the wilderness. To vary and enlarge the metaphor--impatience turns the rod into a scorpion. While the yoke presses the neck, patience lines it with down; and enables the man to say, It is good for me to bear it.
2. Nothing can be more honourable to religion. To surrender ourselves to the Divine disposal is the purest act of obedience: to subdue our unruly passions is the greatest instance of heroism. It ennobles the possessor. It renders him a striking character. (W. Jay.)
When God’s will is ours
That is the perfection of a man’s nature when his will fits on to God’s like one of Euclid’s triangles super-imposed upon another, and line for line coincides. When his will allows a free passage to the will of God, without resistance, as light travels through transparent glass; when his will responds to the touch of God’s finger upon the keys, like the telegraphic needle to the operator’s hand; then man has attained all that God and religion can do for him, all that his nature is capable of. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The trial-bearing force of spiritual religion
In this chapter David and Absalom appear as the embodiments and representatives of two opposite principles of action:-love of power, and love of God. In Absalom you have the one, and in David the rather. The love of power is an element in our spiritual constitution, implanted for benevolent purposes; and when properly directed, like all other native principles, subserves the most important ends. Like fire or water, as a servant it is a great blessing, but as a master, a great curse. When it grows into a passion, ascends the throne, and grasps the sceptre, it puts down conscience, and turns the man into a ruthless tyrant; ever ready to violate all the laws and trample on all the rights of his species. It has gained this power now in the breast of Absalom; and four evils of character are here developed as the consequence:--
1. Filial rebellion. Inspired by this ambitious impulse, Absalom now east off the authority of David, not only as his sovereign, but as his parent.
2. Mean-spiritedness. In order to gain his ends see what mean manoeuvres he adopts; he rises early in the morning, he goes “beside the way of the gate,” where men resorted to have their social disputes settled by the judgment of the king; and here he clandestinely endeavours to undermine his father’s authority with the people, and to insinuate himself into their affections. Oh! the weakness of the people to be thus cajoled. Yet it has ever been so. Let a prince shake the people by the hand, as Absalom did, and they will forget their own self-respect, their grievances, and even his tyrannies, and follow him. The people must have a higher moral education” before they can obtain a better govermnent.
3. Religious hypocrisy. Under the pretence of paying a vow which he had promised to render unto the Lord in Hebron. “I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow,” &c. (2 Samuel 15:7-9.) Wicked men have often sought and won their wicked ends in the holy name of religion.
4. Underhanded cunning. “And Absalom sent spies throughout all tribes of Israel,” &c. (2 Samuel 15:10-12.) In striking and glorious contrast with this, we have the principle of love of God, or spiritual religion, developed in the character of David, before us.
I. Spiritual religion engages the supreme attention of the soul under trial. Two facts will illustrate this.
1. That whatever subject has the most power to draw away the mind from itself, will always be effective in supporting it under trials. The depressing influence of a trial depends greatly upon the amount of attention which the man gives to it.
2. Of all subjects, religion has the most power to draw sway the mind from itself. David felt more interest in the ark now than he felt in the loss of his throne, the wreck of his kingdom, the peril of his life. And so the good man ever feels in his religion.
II. That spiritual religion recognizes God’s superintendence under trial.
1. He regarded it as personal. If “I shall find favour.”
2. He regarded it as being sovereign. If “I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me again.”
3. He regarded it as being adequate. If it is agreeable to His rains, “He will bring me again.” He has the power to do so. All that is required is His will.
III. That spiritual religion identifies man’s will with God’s, under trial. But if He thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let Him do to me as seemeth Him good.” A thorough surrender of oar being and will to God is the first duty of all intelligences, and the necessary condition of all true progress in power and blessedness. (Homilist.)
Meek submission to Divine chastisement
“Before corn can be ripened it needeth all kinds of weather. The husbandman is glad of showers as well as sunshine; rainy weather is troublesome, but sometimes the season requireth it.” Even so the various conditions of man’s life are needful to ripen him for the life to come. Sorrows and joys, depressions and exhilarations, have all their part to play in the completion of the Christian character. Were one grief of a believer’s career omitted it may be he would never be prepared for heaven: the slightest change might mar the ultimate result. It is our wisdom to believe in the infallible prudence which arranges all the details of a believing life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Faith in troublous times
Not when the sun shines, but when the tempest blows and the wind howls about his ears, a man gathers his cloak round him, and cleaves fast to his supporter. The midnight sea lies all black; but when it is cut into by the oar, or divided and churned by the paddle, it flashes up into phosphorescence. And so it is from the tumults and agitations of man’s spirit that there is struck out the light of man’s faith. There is the bit of flint and the steel that comes hammering against it; and it is the contact of these two that brings out the spark. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
O Lord, I pray Thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.
Unfortunately for mankind the time of religious conspirators is not at an end. Under the fair robe of Christianity, there are men who are plotting to take away from us the liberty of conscience. There is steadily growing in number and power a party whose object is to play into the hands of that church which proclaims itself to be infallible. Let us mention that great conspirator whose name is temptation. Mr. Ruskin says that the human soul is not a machine, the wheels of which you can scrape and polish, and set it going at the rate of, twenty or thirty miles an hour. The human soul is not a machine; it is a living thing which has to grow. Converts who begin to turn over a fresh leaf and to serve the Lord Jesus are often much distressed because they are still inclined to their old sins. Let all such young believers bear in mind that they are not a perfected machine, but are rather like a seed which has to grow, or a child that has to be trained. Like the conspirators who would hand our free country over to the chains of Rome, so the tempter in your heart, is working very gradually. When I was a boy I tried to light a thick piece of wood with a match, but failed to do so. Had I taken some shavings and lit, them, and then a few chips and placed them against the log it would soon have been in a blaze. So the inward conspirator works on, little by little. If we could see the devil in every temptation, no doubt we should act as old Dunstan is said to have done; but we have a tendency to sin, and when the inward conspirator makes our besetting sin very tempting, none of us can resist it without the grace of God. (W. Birch, jun.)
Prayer for the defeat of Chose who attempt to subvert good government
I. Briefly describe a good government. Some suppose that one form of government is as good as another, provided it be equally well administered. If this opinion could be admitted all observations upon this head would be entirely superseded. But there is no foundation to imagine that the goodness or badness of any government depends solely upon its administration. It must be allowed that the ultimate design of civil government is to restrain the corruptions of human nature. And since human nature is the same at all times and in all places, the same form of government which is best for one nation is best for all nations, if they would only agree to adopt it. Hence politicians may arrive at as great perfection in the art of government as in any other art which is founded on the principles of human nature. A civil constitution ought to resemble a good time-piece: A good clock, for instance, will constantly and regularly move of itself, if it be only wound up, from day to day, or from week to week. So a good constitution will support itself, without requiring anything more of the people than barely their setting it in motion, and choosing their own rulers, at a prescribed time, and in a prescribed manner.
II. To inquire who may be said to be aiming to overthrow a good government, There is such a great diversity in the natural abilities, acquired knowledge, local situations, and temporal interests of mankind, that it is not to be expected they should be perfectly agreed in their political sentiments. Individuals, therefore, may be good subjects of a good government, though they should really think that its constitution is not so perfect as it might be; or that those in administration do not in all cases conduct public affairs so well as they might conduct them. But we may justly consider those as aiming to subvert the government, who endeavour to alienate the affections of the people from it. This was the method which Absalom pursued, in order to take the kingdom out of his father’s hands into his own. Accordingly, when we find any description of men insidiously endeavouring to alienate the affections of the people from their government, we have no room to doubt of their malevolent and traitorous designs. They are certainly seeking the power of bringing about a revolution of government; and should they attain that power, we may presume they will employ it for that purpose.
III. The propriety of praying that God would disconcert the counsels of such designing and dangerous men. And this will appear, if we consider,
1. That the subversion of a good government is one of the greatest calamities than can fair upon a people. A good government is the security of everything which they hold most dear and valuable in life. It protects their persons, their property, and all their civil and religious privileges. And if this foundation of their public safety and happiness should be taken away they would be completely ruined. Hence David demands, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
2. It is the prerogative of God to frustrate the most secret and destructive counsels of men. He knows their down-sittings and up-risings. He understands their thoughts afar off. He looks on their hearts and ponders all their purposes. They cannot conceive an evil thought nor concert a malignant design which he cannot perfectly penetrate and comprehend. He is able therefore to discover and disconcert the most subtile and secret counsels against the peace and prosperity of any people. This the inspired writers firmly believed and abundantly taught.
3. That God has often defeated the most destructive and deep-laid designs of men, in answer to prayer. David entreated God to confound the designs of Ahithophel. “O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” This prayer was graciously heard and answered. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Hushai the Archite came to meet him.
Hushai, the king’s friend
Contemplate the character of the king’s friend. Like other models of friendship--John the Baptist, Jonathan, Ruth--he is conspicuous for sympathy and unselfishness. But there was a special feature in the story of Hushai which teaches us a great and important lesson. He was used as a counteracting influence among the king’s enemies.
I. Where they met. The top of Olivet, where David was worshipping. The use David made of his first halt. When we moan and lament, and go about seeking sympathy in our sorrows, we seldom get it. But God sends comfort to the trusting, accepting heart. Worship is the right way to receive chastisement. (Job 1:20; 2 Samuel 12:19-20.) So angels came to Bethel and Mahanaim. (Genesis 31:54; Genesis 32:1-2.) Horses and chariots of fire at Dothan (2 Kings 6:13-18.) Jonathan at Ziph. (1 Samuel 23:15; Acts 9:17,.) Angels in Gethsemane. When a soul in sorrow can worship there is no sting left. David might have been looking down on his forsaken capital now possessed by his enemies, but instead he looked up to his covenant God. What is the highest worship? Conformity to God’s will, the worship of Jesus Himself. (Luke 22:42-43.)
II. True sympathy from hushai.
1. It goes to meet sorrow and suffering that it may bless and comfort. Apply this in two cases.
III. A mark of true friendship. To live, and speak, and judge, and act for God in an ungodly world. It is a harder thing than dying, but it profits the cause. Some day we shall welcome back the King. Another feature of it. (Verses 35, 36.) Be the King’s remembrancer. Report everything to Him. Use others in this work. Teach young disciples to “tell Jesus.” (Matthew 14:12.)
Hushai, the Archite; or a fateful meeting
Hushai strongly wished to accompany David, to whom he was deeply attached. He was troubled greatly at the calamity which had overtaken the king, and the latter was equally troubled to think of the pain and inconvenience Hushai must suffer for his sake in following his changed fortunes. David knew also that Hushai could do better service for him by remaining in the city and counteracting by judicious counsel some of the evil intentions of Absalom. He has great difficulty in persuading Hushai to remain, and has to appear almost rude and even ungrateful in the effort to accomplish his desire. He could bear anything for himself, but he could not permit another to undergo such exhausting experiences for his sake. Hence he puts as his final argument this strong sentence, “If thou passest over with me thou wilt be a burden.” David suggested that Hushai should assume the character of a friend of Absalom.
I. The meeting. There is in the account of this meeting an illustration of how sometimes we may find unexpectedly useful guidance. Hushai might have been a useful guide, but Absalom Is bent on evil, and Ahithophel helps him in his wickedness. Hushai only seeks to defeat the evil counsel of the latter. This he attempts for David’s sake, as well as Absalom’s. Absalom could, if he had been true, have had a most valuable counsellor in Hushai, but, under the circumstances, all Hushai can do is to endeavour to help David, or to give him time to escape, by counselling delay on the part of Absalom. Life is like a many-tracked common or heath; so many paths run side by side or cross each other at different angles. We pass numberless wanderers like ourselves, but here and there we meet casually with some one who is most useful, because he chances to know the direction of the paths, and a word at a perplexing juncture is invaluable. For such guidance we are thankful. Absalom had in Hushai one who would have done his best to counsel him for good, but his heart was set on evil, so that Hushai’s influence was unavailing.
II. A warning also came to the rebellious son in that, meeting. If David yesterday was followed, loved, and trusted, and is to-day forsaken and hunted, so might he be served when the flush of success has faded. Absalom needed the warning just then, for he was contemplating most dastardly crimes. Just as Hushai meets him unexpectedly, so retribution may meet him also, at the point where he seems to have reached the full extent of his expectation of success. There is indeed that which a French writer calls force cachee, or hidden power, checking us often at the very moment of success wrongly gained. It is not always noticed, but sometimes it comes, startling us with its suddenness. Ahab goes down to seize the vineyard of Naboth, and at the door Elijah meets him with the sentence, “In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine” The courtiers who wrought against Daniel were themselves doomed to the death they designed for him. If in secular history we discover the operation of this force cachee, how much more in sacred. There the working of the law is laid down thus: “The wicked shall fall by his own naughtiness;” the ungodly falls into the net he spreads for his neighbour’s feet. Absalom in meeting wish Hushai comes in contact with one who will lead him into the pit be had dug for his father and king. There was a Divine hand in this, and in the after consultation, when the advice of Ahithophel failed, and that of Hushai was taken. God worked through words. (F. Hastings.)
Hushai’s conduct is certainly no model of Christian uprightness. It is therefore curiously instructive to see it made the warrant of a similarly questionable act in modern times. Sir Samuel Morland, Secretary of State to Cromwell, in describing his betrayal of his master to Charles II. says: “I called to remembrance Hushai’s behaviour towards Absalom, which I found not at all blamed in holy writ, and yet his was a larger step than mine.” (Dean Stanley.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》