by Arthur W. Pink
There are few incidents in the checkered life of David more pathetic than the one which is now to engage our attention, illustrating as it does the providential ups and downs and the alternating spiritual prosperity and adversity which is the lot of God’s people on this earth. All is not unclouded sunshine with them, nor is it unrelieved gloom and storm. There is a mingling of both—joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, assistance from friends and injuries from foes, smiles from the Lord’s countenance and the hidings of His face. By such changes opportunities are afforded for the development and exercise of different graces, so that we may, in our measure, “know how to be abased and how to abound . . . both to be full and to be empty” (Phil. 4:12). But above all, that we may, amid varying circumstances, prove the unchanging faithfulness of God and His sufficiency to supply our every need.
David was called to leave the lowly plains of Bethlehem to participate in the honours of Saul’s palace. From tending the flock he became the conqueror of Goliath and the popular hero of Israel. But soon Saul’s friendship was changed to enmity and David had to flee for his life, and for many weary months he was hunted as a partridge on the mountains. Subsequently his fortunes were again greatly altered and from being an outcast he was crowned king of Israel. Then he was enabled to capture Jerusalem, the stronghold of Zion, which became “the city of David” (2 Sam. 5:7). There he established his court and there he “brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the voice of the trumpet” (2 Sam. 6:15). But now we are to behold him fleeing from Jerusalem and being separated from the holy ark: a fugitive once more, in humiliation and deep anguish.
Ah, my reader, if you are one of God’s elect, expect not a smooth and easy path down here, but be prepared for varying circumstances and drastic changes. The Christian’s resting place is not in this world, for “here have we no continuing city” (Heb. 13:14). The Christian is a “pilgrim,” on a journey; he is a “soldier,” called on to fight the good fight of faith. The more this is realized, the less keen will be the disappointment when our ease is disturbed and our outward peace rudely broken in upon. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous,” and if they come not to us in one form, they most certainly will in another. If we really “appropriate” this promise (!) then we shall not be so staggered when afflictions come upon us. It is written that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), and therefore we should make up our minds to expect the same, and to “think it not strange” (1 Peter 4:12) when we are called upon to pass through “the fiery trial.”
Affliction, tribulation, and fiery trial were now David’s portion. “And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom” (2 Sam. 15:13). Visualize the sad scene: the dark clouds of a threatened revolt had been steadily gathering, and now the storm bursts on the king’s head. By this time David was some sixty years of age, with health and strength greatly impaired. Ahithophel, his trusted counselor, had deserted him. Absalom, his favourite son, was now risen in rebellion against him. Not only his throne, but his very life was in danger, together with the lives of his wives and their little ones—Solomon was scarcely 10 years old at this time. What, then, does the king do? Nothing! There was no calling of a counsel, no effort made to provision Jerusalem for the withstanding of a siege, no determination to stand his rightful ground and resist his lawless son.
“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” (2 Sam. 15:14). Now that at last the blow falls, David passively acquiesces in what he evidently felt to be God’s righteous chastisement upon him. When the awful news arrives that Absalom had set up the standard of revolt at Hebron, David’s only thought was immediate flight. The intrepid warrior was now almost cowardly in his eagerness to escape, and was prepared to give up everything without a blow. It seemed as though only a touch was needed to overthrow his throne. He hurries on the preparations for flight with nervous haste. He forms no plans beyond those of his earlier wish to fly away and be at rest.
That David had good reason to conclude the situation which now confronted him was a just retribution upon his own crimes is quite evident. First, the Lord had declared, “I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house” (2 Sam. 12:11), fulfilled here in the insurrection of his favourite son. Other evidences thereof will come before us later, but at this point we will consider, second, Ahithophel’s joining hands with the rebel. No sooner had Absalom determined to execute his daring plan than he looked to Ahithophel. He appears, for some reason not specifically mentioned, to have confidently counted upon his cooperation; nor was he disappointed. “And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city, even from Giloh” (2 Sam. 15:12). It is to be carefully noted that immediately after Ahithophel’s coming to Absalom, we are informed, “And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom” (v. 12)—intimating that Ahithophel was a host in himself.
“And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counseled in those days, was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom” (2 Sam. 16:23): in view of this statement we need not be surprised that his joining heart and hand with Absalom so greatly strengthened his cause. There is no doubt that he was the chief instrument in this conspiracy, and the prime reason why so many in Israel turned from the king to his traitorous son. His official status and the great influence which he possessed over the people made Absalom glad to avail himself of his help, both to sink the spirits of David’s party and to inspire his own with confidence, for Ahithophel was commonly regarded as a prophet. But what was it that made Ahithophel to respond so readily to Absalom’s invitation, and cause him to find still greater favour in the eyes of the people, as one who had been grievously wronged and deserved to be avenged of his adversity?
To answer this question the Scriptures must be searched and passage carefully compared with passage. In the second half of 2 Samuel 23 the names are given of the thirty-seven men who formed the special body “guard” (v. 23) of David. Among them we find “Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite” (v. 34) and “Uriah the Hittite” (v. 39). Thus Eliam and Uriah were fellow-officers and would be much thrown together. Hence, we need not be surprised to learn that Uriah married the daughter of Eliam (see 2 Samuel 11:3). Thus Bathsheba, whom David so grievously wronged, was the granddaughter of Ahithophel; and Uriah, whom he so cruelly murdered, was his grandson by marriage! Does not this fact explain why David’s “familiar friend” (Psa. 41:9) become his deadly foe, and account for this readiness to aid Absalom—thus seeking to avenge the dishonour brought upon his house?
Some years had passed since this dishonour had come upon the family of Ahithophel, and during that interval it appears that he had turned his back upon David and the court, and had quietly retired to his birthplace (15:12). Brooding over the grievous wrongs which David had done to his family, the spirit of revenge would rankle in his heart. It seems that Absalom was well aware of this, and perceived that Ahithophel was only waiting for a suitable opportunity to give vent to his feelings and execute his meditated wrath upon the head of David. Does not this explain why Absalom approached him with confidence, made known to him his treason, and counted on him welcoming the news and becoming his fellow-worker? Does not this also account for so many of the people transferring their allegiance from a throne which they knew to be defiled with adultery and murder to the rebellious son?
Not only does Ahithophel’s blood-relationship to Bathsheba explain his readiness to take sides with Absalom against the king, and account for the common peoples’ transference of loyalty, but it also supplies the key to David’s own attitude and conduct at this time. It was additional evidence to him that God was now dealing with him for his sins. And most blessed is it to observe him bowing so meekly to the Divine rod. David felt that to withstand Absalom would be to resist the Lord Himself; therefore, instead of strengthening his forces in Jerusalem and maintaining his ground, he flees. We cannot but admire the lovely fruit brought forth by the Spirit at this time in David’s heart, for to Him, and not to mere nature, must be attributed that which is here presented to our view.
Long before this we had occasion to admire the beautiful spirit evidenced by David when suffering for righteousness—now we behold it again when he was suffering for transgressions. Then we saw him as the martyr in the days of Saul, bringing forth the fruits of meekness, patience, and confidence in God, willing to be hounded by Saul day after day, and refusing to take vengeance into his own hands and smite the Lord’s anointed. But here we see David as the penitent: his sin has found him out, brought into remembrance before God, and he submissively bows his head and accepts the consequences of his wrong-doing. This is very beautiful, manifesting again the workmanship of the Spirit of God in David. He alone can quieten the turbulent heart, subdue the rebellious will, and mortify that innate desire to take matters into our own hands; as He alone can bring us to humble ourselves beneath the mighty hand of God, and hold our peace when He visits our iniquity “with stripes” (Psa. 89:32).
Yes, it is, as we said in our opening paragraph, changing circumstances that afford opportunity for the development and exercise of different graces. Some graces are of the active and aggressive kind, while others are of a passive order, requiring quite another setting for their display. Some of the traits which mark the soldier on a battlefield would be altogether out of place were he languishing on a bed of sickness. Spiritual joy and godly sorrow is equally beautiful in its season. It would be most incongruous to mourn while the Bridegroom was present, but it is fitting for the children of the Bridechamber to fast when He is absent. As there are certain vegetables, fruits, and flowers which cannot be grown in lands which are unvisited by nipping winds and biting frosts, so there are some fruits of the Spirit which are only produced in the soil of severe trials, troubles and tribulations.
“And the king’s servants said unto the king, Behold, thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my lord the king shall appoint” (2 Sam. 15:15). What we have just said above is equally pertinent to this verse; the sad situation confronting David revealed plainly the state of heart of those in his immediate employ. The revolt of Absalom and his stealing the hearts of so many of the people afforded an opportunity for these servants of David to manifest their unswerving loyalty and deep devotion to their master. Very blessed is this, supplying as it does the sequel to what was before us in verse six. There we saw that Absalom was a man well-calculated to captivate the multitude. But let it be duly noted that he possessed no attractions for those who were nearest to David. That illustrates an important principle: while we maintain communion with Christ, the antitypical David, the baits of Satan will have no influence over us!
Let us observe, too, that changing circumstances are necessary in order to test the loyalty of those who are on intimate terms with us. Not only did this revolt of Absalom’s provide an occasion for the manifestation of David’s subjection to the will of God, but it also served to make unmistakably evident who were for and who were against David. Prosperity is often a mixed blessing, and adversity is far from being an unmixed calamity. When the sunshine of Providence smiles upon a person, he is soon surrounded by those who profess great attachment to him; but when the dark clouds of Providence cover his horizon, most of those fawning flatterers will quickly take their departure. Ah, my reader, it is worth something to discover who really are our friends, and therefore we should not murmur if it takes the shaking of our nest and the disrupting of our peace to make this plainly evident to us. Adversities are a gain when they expose to us the hypocrisy of an Ahithophel, and still more so when they prove the loyalty and love of the few who stand by us in the storm.
“And the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten women, which were concubines, to keep the house” (2 Sam. 15:16). The writer feels his heart awed as he reads the second half of this verse—a very prosaic statement, yet one possessing depths which no human mind can fathom. Apparently David acted quite freely when he made this simple domestic arrangement, yet really he could do no otherwise, for he was being directed by the unerring and invincible hand of God, unto the outworking of His own counsels. David’s object in leaving behind the ten concubines was “to keep the house,” that is, to maintain the palace in some order and cleanliness; but God’s design was to make good His own Word.
A part of the punishment which the Lord had announced should fall upon David for his evildoing was, “I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel” (2 Sam. 12:11, 12). The execution of that threat is recorded in, “So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel” (16:22). The connecting link between the two is seen here in our present passage: “And the king left ten women, which were concubines, to keep the house” (2 Sam. 15:16). Again, we say David’s object in leaving them behind was that they should “keep the house,” but God’s purpose was that they should be publicly insulted, raped by Absalom. Unspeakably solemn is this fact: God directs those actions which eventuate in evil as truly as He does those which terminate in good. Not only all events, but all persons, and their every action, are under the immediate control of the Most High.
“For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever” (Rom. 11:36). Yet this neither makes God the “Author of sin” nor man an irresponsible creature; God is holy in all His ways, and man is accountable for all his actions. Whether or not we perceive the “consistency” of them, each of these basic truths must be held fast by us—nor must one be so maintained that the other is virtually negated. Some will argue, If God has foreordained our every action, then we are no better than machines; others insist, If man is a free agent, his actions cannot be directed by God. But Holy Writ exposes the vanity of such reasonings; so far as David knew it was a voluntary act on his part when he decided to leave ten of his concubines in the house, nevertheless he was Divinely “constrained” in it for the accomplishment of God’s purpose.
“And the king went forth, and all the people after him, and tarried in a place that was far off. 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” (2 Sam. 15:17, 18). No, “fair weather friends” were these. They had enjoyed with him the calm, they would not desert him in the storm; they had shared the privileges of Jerusalem, they would not abandon him now that he had become a fugitive and outcast. It is striking to note that while Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel,” all the Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites remained steadfast to David—a foreshadowment of Christ, for whereas the Jewish nation despised and rejected Him, yet God’s elect among the Gentiles have not been ashamed to be His followers.
Originally edited by Emmett O'Donnell for Mt. Zion Publications, a ministry of Mt. Zion Bible Church, 2603 West Wright St., Pensacola, FL 32505. www.mountzion.org