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Life of David

Heartache

2 Samuel 14-20

 

Of all the tales of the Old Testament, none is sadder than the revolt of Absalom. The picture of David weeping over his beloved - and rebellious - son is one of great tragedy. It is also the source of our lesson today, as we examine the conduct of David's enemies and friends, and then his own. From that we hope to draw some lessons for our own time.

Enemies

David has no shortage of enemies here. We shall consider but three, beginning with the obvious one, his son Absalom.

Absalom

Absalom is the one character here who is most like most of us. We can see this in several ways:

  • Vanity. Think about that hair! He was so proud of his appearance; some commentators hold that this was turned to his downfall, for tradition has it that his hair held him in that tree at such a length that he could not reach the branches. If so, it was a fitting end for so vain a man. But we see it in other actions too. He has sex with his father's concubines - in public. No doubt he thought they were the lucky ones to have him. But the real clue to this vanity is simple: not once, in all this story, does Absalom consult with God. He trusts his advisors, but will not speak to God. It is his downfall.
  • Selfish ambition. How do we see this? It is fairly obvious. The first characteristic comes when he undercuts the king's justice, subverting what is right for his own ambition. The second test of ambition is this: did he do this in secret? Selfish ambition almost always needs conspiracy.
  • Rebellion. This is what makes Absalom most like us. We, as sinners, are in rebellion against God. Rebellion is simply defined: to see legitimate authority and defy it. Legitimate authority comes from God - whether government or parents - and therefore this is a sin directly against God.
Ahithophel

Ahithophel has something of a motivation to strike at David; he's Bathsheba's grandfather. He is esteemed as a wise man - but he is a traitor.[1] He is the Judas of this piece. We see his flaws revealed here, by way of warning to us:

  • First, he is a man who counsels sin to make a point. He's the one who tells Absalom to sleep publicly with the concubines.
  • Next, he's a string puller. He imagines himself as the power behind the throne.
  • His self importance is shown in his suicide. If his strings break, he's finished.
Shimei

He comes across to us as a little man, a man of weak character. Why?

  • He's an opportunist. King David is down - so he kicks him.
  • But when fortunes are reversed, he's the first to kiss hindquarters and beg for forgiveness.

Expect such; they are always around.

Friends

"A thousand friends, it is too few; one enemy, more than enough" (Hafiz, by way of Rudyard Kipling). We shall examine three:

Ittai the Gittite

The funny thing about this guy is that he's from Gath (hence Gittite) - the home town of Goliath. Through some arcane bit of local politics, he's come to David for refuge, and found this mess. Here is a test for the man, and he passes:

  • His key virtue is loyalty. He came to David, with David he will stay. When you find a friend like this, value him highly!
  • David does indeed - he finds Ittai faithful in little, and later will appoint him to be faithful in much, a third of his army.
Zadok the priest

Every one needs at least one "religious" friend - someone who's in tight with the Lord God Almighty. That's Zadok. See how he aids David:

  • He intercedes with God (by way of sacrifices at the ark) for David. Do we pray for our friends in trouble?
  • He will take the ark back to Jerusalem, keeping the things of God where God puts them. This thirst for righteousness is the key to his character.
  • His assistance, however, does not stop with prayer and intercession; he is also able to provide worldly assistance.

Such a friend is a true blessing. Would that we would all be such a friend.

Joab

Joab is a friend of David's of long standing, and a man of contradictions. We will focus entirely on his acts of friendship here.

  • First, he fights for David.
  • More than that, he hears David's heart - what a gift! - and arranges a way to bring Absalom home.
  • When he can, as in the matter of the runners to tell David, he spares his friend as much grief as he can.
  • But when needed - as when David is ignoring his troops for his grief - he rebukes him and brings him back to his duty.

A flawed friend, to be sure, but in these aspects we should imitate him.

Reaction

In David's reaction to these people we can see the heart of Christ, for David is a man after God's own heart. In so doing, we can also see how we, the imitators of Christ, should react to our own adversities.

To his enemies

How does David react to his enemies? Not like we would expect for most of us.

  • He yearns for the return of the rebel - for he loves him. His desire is not to crush the rebellion but to bring the rebel back into the household. He intends to overcome evil with good.
  • He appeals to the sovereignty of God to overthrow the advice of the string puller. In this, he acknowledges that God is in control, and it is his aid that must be sought - not the current powers of the land.
  • He forgives - even the opportunist who cursed him and pelted him with stones.
  • In time of distress, he endures the hardship and insult with the thought that perhaps God has ordained this, and he should willingly accept at God's hand both blessing and disaster.
To his friends

What does David do for his friends?

  • He rewards the faithful, for those who are faithful in little will be faithful in much. God does the same with us.
  • Even if it costs him, he cares for his friends. He tells Ittai the Gittite that the hospitality will be a lot better with Absalom.
  • He listens to those who hear the voice of God, accepting their counsel and asking their aid.
  • Ultimately, he listens to the rebuke of his friends, not reacting in anger but in sorrow - and turns to his duty.

In this way he keeps friends.

Lessons for us

There are many things we could glean from this story. Here are a few to go home with:

  • Forgiveness - we need to be willing and able to forgive our enemies, for this marks us as the children of God.
  • Endurance - as we go through the tough times, we need to count on God to prevail, not the string pullers of the world.
  • Reward - for those who have been good friends, we should be liberal and swift with reward.
  • Rebuke - when our friends come to us with rebuke, we should soften our hearts and listen, for from them may come the word of God.
  • Sovereignty - in all things, acknowledge (and count on) the sovereignty of God.

[1] See Psalm 55:12-14 for David's comment.

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