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.
David has no shortage of enemies
here. We shall consider but three, beginning with the obvious one, his son
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 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.
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.
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
"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
- 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
Such a friend is a true blessing.
Would that we would all be such a friend.
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
- 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.
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
- 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
To his friends
What does David do for his
- 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
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.