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February 11, 2018

And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” (2 Samuel 15:13)

Please open your Bible at 2 Samuel 15. We are following the trail of troubles that came into David’s life as a result of his own sin. David committed the sins of adultery and murder and he came under the discipline of God. God said, “I will raise up evil against you out of your own house” (2 Samuel 12:11).

We have seen how evil swept through the house of David. First, there was the terrible abuse suffered by David’s daughter Tamar at the hands of her stepbrother. Then there was the murder of Amnon by Absalom his brother, a sin of which Absalom never repented.

Absalom fled after the murder, but David brought him back. Last week we ended with David forgiving his unrepentant son, and today we see an account of what followed.

We are looking at the story of Absalom’s rebellion. David was still the king anointed by God. But Absalom wants to be the king in his place. In order to make himself king, he had to overthrow the Lord’s anointed.

The story today revolves around three characters: the deceiver — Absalom, the deserter —Ahithophel, and the disciple — Ittai.

The Deceiver: Absalom

Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel. (2 Samuel 15:6)

This man Absalom worked a massive deception on the people of God. David was God’s anointed king, but this man stole the hearts and the loyalty of the men of Israel! How did he do that? He pursued three tactics: posing, promising, and charming. Here we have a profile of how people are deceived.

1. Posing

After this [after he was pardoned without repenting] Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. (2 Samuel 15:1)

One commentator [Woodhouse] suggests that this may have been the very first time a chariot was ever seen on the streets of Jerusalem. [1] There were certainly chariots later in the history of Israel, but up to this time, chariots belonged to the enemies of God’s people. David said, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).

But Absalom got himself a chariot! And when he went out he had and entourage of 50 men who ran in front of him. We saw last time that Absalom was given to promoting his own image, and his hair was only the beginning! With his chariot and his entourage of 50 men, Absalom looked like a king, which of course was exactly what he intended. He is posing.

The way of the world never changes — find a way to attract attention to yourself, make an impression, build your platform, and gain a following. This is exactly what Absalom does.

2. Promising

Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. (2 Samuel 15:2)

 

Absalom put enormous energy into this campaign of self-promotion. He is up early in the morning, and he put himself out there among the people.

When any man who had a dispute came before the king for judgment, Absalom would reach out to him and engage him in conversation. Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?”

Remember, he is standing by the city gate. Every day there were people who came from cities, towns, and villages across the length and breadth of the country. If they had a grievance or a lawsuit they would come to Jerusalem to bring it to the king.

This would not have been the only way of getting justice, but the king acted as a kind of a “one-man Supreme Court.” It was a regular part of the king’s role to hear disputes. We see this in Nathan telling David his story about the rich man who stole the poor man’s lamb, or the woman of Tekoa and her story about her son, or the very famous story of Solomon and the two women who came to him both claiming to be the mother of a child (see 1 Kings 3).

So every day people would arrive in Jerusalem from north, south, east, and west with some grievance that they wanted to bring before the king. And when they arrived, Absalom was there to greet them. “Hey, welcome to Jerusalem. My name is Absalom. Nice to meet you. Where are you from? You must have had a long journey. Now what is the issue that has brought you here?”

Then Absalom would say, “See, your claims are good and right…” (2 Samuel 15:3). Absalom agreed with everyone he met. Whatever you were for, Absalom was for; whatever you were against, Absalom was against. Your claims are good and right!

Then Absalom would say, “But there is no man designated by the king to hear you” (2 Samuel 15:3). “You really have a good case there, but I am sorry to tell you that the whole legal process is pretty messed up here in the capital. The system of justice is broken and the needs of the people are not being met.”

Clearly there was some breakdown of the normal process for hearing cases that Absalom was able to exploit for his own purpose. The question is: Why?

It may be that this was a time when David endured a prolonged illness that prevented him from fulfilling his normal duties. At the end of the first book of Psalms, there are several Psalms [35-41] grouped together that all seem to relate to this period in David’s life.

Psalm 37 is especially interesting because it reminds us of David’s stage of life. “I have been young, and now am old…” (2 Samuel 37:25). David died at the age of 70, and at the time of Absalom’s rebellion he would have been in the last ten years of his life. So a period of illness would not be a surprise at this point in his life.

Psalm 41 clearly relates to the time of Absalom’s rebellion. David describes the man who is blessed by the Lord: “The Lord protects him and keeps him alive… You do not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health” (Psalm 41:2, 3).

Then David describes some of the people who came to visit him during his illness. “When one comes to see me, he utters empty words” (2 Samuel 41:6). Be careful not to utter empty words to someone who is suffering from a serious illness!

These visitors not only uttered empty words when they came, they spread false rumors when they went! They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him; he will not rise again from where he lies” (2 Samuel 41:8).

So here you have David languishing in a prolonged illness. The normal system for hearing grievances has broken down. People are saying that the king will not recover, and Absalom plays it to his own advantage.

“You have a really good case! But I am sorry to tell you that the king is in bad shape and there is no one to hear you!” Then Absalom got to his punch line. “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice” (2 Samuel 15:4). Literally, “I would decide in his favor.” Woodhouse comments: “What a promise! Every litigant would get the decision he or she wanted.” [2]

3. Charming

And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him… (2 Samuel 15:5)

Hugs and kisses for everyone from Absalom except for his father — the king! This was an all-out charm offensive to win the hearts and minds of God’s people. It revolved around cultivating an image, making promises that no one could possibly keep, and wooing everyone with his charm.

This carried on for a period of four years (2 Samuel 15:7). Over time, people who came to Jerusalem from across the country would go back home and talk to their friends. And their friends would inevitably ask: “How are things in Jerusalem?”

“Things are in bad shape in the capital. The king seems to be at death’s door, and the whole system of justice seems to have broken down. But we did meet the king’s son, Absalom. What a good man he is — so understanding and supportive! He was the first one to greet us at the city gate. We’d all be better off if he was king!” How easily even God’s people are taken in!

Absalom spent four years fostering discontent with the king and building a following for himself, and then he made his move. He comes to the king and says, “Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron” (2 Samuel 15:7). He explains that while he was in Geshur, he made a vow, “If the Lord will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to the Lord” (2 Samuel 15:8).

What a strange vow this is! “If God gives me what I want, then I will worship him.” That tells you a great deal about Absalom. He knows nothing about the love of God in his heart. One writer points out that this was the last time (in the Bible) that Absalom ever mentions the name of God. He used the name of God as a means to an end and that, of course, is blasphemy. Blasphemy is to misuse the name of the Lord your God.

Hebron was the ancient home of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was the place where David was first crowned as king (2 Samuel 2:4). And far from going there to fulfill a vow and worship God, Absalom went to Hebron to launch a rebellion against God’s anointed king.

David said to Absalom: “Go in peace” (2 Samuel 15:9). This was David’s great weakness. He always gave Absalom what he wanted.

“So he arose and went to Hebron. But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying ‘As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, Absalom is king at Hebron!’” (2 Samuel 15:10)

Absalom took with him 200 invited guests, who no doubt were very flattered to join the king’s son on a pilgrimage to Hebron. But they had no idea of what they were getting swept up in — the naivety of these 200 people! “They went in their innocence and knew nothing” (2 Samuel 15:11). They were completely deceived.

One way you know a deceiver is that he presents himself as the answer: “I am your answer. Oh, that I were judge in the land!” (2 Samuel 15:4). The godly person will always point to the Lord Jesus as the answer. Beware of the person who pretends to be what they are not, affirms every grievance, promises what they cannot deliver, and presents him or herself as the answer.

Now we come to the second main character in this story, a man by the name of Ahithophel.

The Deserter: Ahithophel

And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. (2 Samuel 15:12)

This man Ahithophel was very significant in this story because he was David’s most trusted adviser. “Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God…” (2 Samuel 16:23). This man was a fountain of biblical wisdom. When he spoke, it was consistently an expression of God’s truth. But even he was deceived into joining Absalom in his great rebellion.

Why did Ahithophel go over to Absalom? Ahithophel had a son whose name was Eliam (2 Samuel 23:34). And Eliam had a daughter whose name was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah (2 Samuel 11:3). So Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba.

It seems that one effect of David’s sin was that he lost the confidence and support of his most trusted adviser. When Absalom called on Ahithophel, he was not in Jerusalem with David, but had returned to his hometown of Giloh. And when Absalom called, Ahithophel responded, and the king’s trusted counselor got swept up in this great rebellion.

Ahithophel’s support seems to have brought a tipping point in Absalom’s great uprising. When he joined up we read that, “the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing” (2 Samuel 15:12). People reasoned, “If Ahithophel is with Absalom, we should be with him too.” Ahithophel had great influence. People followed his example.

Here is the responsibility that comes with leadership: The greater your influence, the greater your responsibility. When people look to you as a leader, or counselor, or teacher, or mentor, the choices you make will shape the lives of others as well as your own.

What follows in the story is a scene of great pain and sadness. A messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom” (2 Samuel 15:13). That must have been a dagger to David’s heart. David knew what this meant. His own son would come after him seeking his life.

David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom” (2 Samuel 15:14). So, “the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness” (2 Samuel 15:23). David went up the Mount of Olives, weeping, with his head covered (2 Samuel 15:30) — the head that once held a crown.

At this point, we see the faithfulness of those who were loyal to God’s anointed king. The king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides” (2 Samuel 15:15).

But special attention is paid to the loyalty of one man — Ittai the Gittite. A Gittite was an inhabitant of Gath, one of the five Philistine cities, so Ittai was not an Israelite. But Ittai had pledged his loyalty to David along with 600 others, of whom he was the leader, and had followed him from the time David was in Gath years before.

David speaks with great kindness to this man. “Ittai, why don’t you take your men back home to Gath? Don’t risk your lives with us here when you don’t need to. Go home and God bless you” (2 Samuel 15:19-20).

But listen to the words of this faithful disciple.

The Disciple: Ittai

But Ittai answered the king, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” (2 Samuel 15:21)

Ittai says to David, “I am with you and for you, whatever it costs.”

Think about the position David was in as he leaves Jerusalem, and how hard it must have been for those who loved him and followed him. David had lost his home and his job. He was pushed out of the work that God had called him to do. He had lost the affection of his son, and the support of his people. He had to flee from his own city to save his own life.

The story of David, clearly anticipates in great detail another story, the story of David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ. That story also involved a deceiver, a deserter, and disciples.

Christ was opposed by the great deceiver who, from the beginning, sought to destroy him.

He too was betrayed by a trusted friend from his inner circle. Ahithophel’s desertion brought great pain to the heart of David: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). He is referring to Ahithophel.

If these words sound familiar it is because Jesus quoted them at the Last Supper with reference to Judas: “The Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted up his heel against me…’ After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me’” (John 13:18, 21).

After Jesus spoke these words at the Last Supper, he crossed the brook Kidron (John 18:1). A little farther was a garden called Gethsemane. He too walked on the Mount of Olives. He too was rejected by his own people. And he too wept over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:37, 41-44). He was weeping not because of what his rejection meant for him, but because of what it would mean for the people who rejected him.

As striking as the parallels are, and they are extraordinary, there is even greater significance in the contrasts. Ittai and the others were faithful to David and they stood by their word, but when Jesus faced his darkest hour, all of his disciples forsook him and fled (Mark 14:50).

David abandoned the city to save his own life. But after he had wrestled in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus went back into the city. And when he was condemned, he laid down his life for us.

David lost everything because he came under the discipline of God for his own sins. Jesus lost everything because he came under the judgment of God for our sins that were laid on him.

When You Face Your Darkest Hour

When David faced his darkest hour, he did four things, all of which we see in Jesus. What can you do when you face times of great darkness and loss?

1. Weep

David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went. (2 Samuel 15:30)

Times of darkness and loss come to every Christian. If you are facing a great time of sorrow and loss, do not think that a strange thing is happening to you. Those who followed the rejected king know what it was to weep. You can weep.

2. Trust

“If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place.” (2 Sam. 15:25)

David knew that his future was in the hands of God. “If I come back, it will be because God wants me back. And if God wants me back, he will bring me back.”

3. Pray

It was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” (2 Samuel 15:31)

For David to lose the support of Ahithophel was bad enough, but for Ahithophel to go over to Absalom was a terrible blow. Here is where David finds his confidence: God is greater than Ahithophel. And David trusts the friend who has turned against him into the hand of God.

4. Worship

While David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped… (2 Samuel 15:32)

David came to the place of worship. Matthew Henry comments: “Weeping must [never] hinder worshiping.” [3]

The heading to Psalm 3 tells us that David wrote this psalm when he fled from Absalom his son. It may be that David spoke the words of Psalm 3 at the place of worship on top of the Mount of Olives.

“O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.’ But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:1-3).

The finest worship is offered in the darkest place, and Psalm 3 is a remarkable testimony to the strength God gave to David in this time of great darkness and loss.

“Lord, when I come under attack, you are my defense. When every honor I have enjoyed is stripped away — there is no crown now, no robe on my back, no shoes on my feet — you are my glory! When my heart is heavy and the future seems bleak, you are the one who lifts up my head.” That is the worship that he offered at the top of the Mount of Olives, recorded for us.

And on this basis, David says, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.

I will not be afraid of many thousands… who have set themselves against me…” (Psalm 3:5-6).

There are deceivers, there are deserters, and there are disciples. If you are a disciple of Jesus, then even on your darkest day you will be able to say with David, “The Lord is my shield. He is my glory. He lifts up my head. The Lord will sustain me. I will not be afraid.”

[1] John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, p. 240, Crossway, 2015.
[2] Ibid., p. 382.
[3] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 367, Hendrickson, 2008.

© Colin S. Smith

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