Due to problems with my Internet connection and some out of state company, I have been unable to post a lesson the last couple of weeks. The company has returned home, and I am back on line. Therefore I can post a lesson this morning.
Our study for today is 2 Samuel 15:1-16:14, which reports Absalom’s rebellion and David’s subsequent flight from Jerusalem. In the last study Absalom returned to favor at David’s court, but with no reconciliation between him and his father, the king.
With David’s restoration of Absalom to favor at court, Absalom once again had the freedom to act the part of the king’s eldest son. And in verses 1-6 we see him immediately beginning to do so in style and with a sinister purpose.
The horse-drawn carriage and the fifty men were for show. They were intended as a display of princely pomp; and it succeeded. Absalom made a big impression on the minds of the people in Jerusalem. But he did much more than that.
Every day he spent time talking with the people from all over Israel who came to David’s court seeking justice. He engaged them in friendly conversation, and took the opportunity not only to sympathize with them, but also to feed their fears and grievances. Since he didn’t have to render any actual decisions, he easily could lead everyone to believe they were in the right. If only I were the judge, he would tell them, then you would get your justice.
Of course David could not personally hear every complainant; nor could his judges procure justice for everyone, no matter how hard they tried. It also is possible that the judges were not always as hardworking as they needed to be, or their judgments as just as they needed to be. So in this way Absalom was able to win the support of the people.
In addition to that, the people soon began to treat Absalom in kingly ways, bowing before him. And when they did that, Absalom would kiss their hands. Thus Absalom endeared himself to people by being personal with them. He stole their hearts, says verse six.
It’s hard to believe that David was unaware of Absalom’s activities. But as you well know, David never did anything to restrain his sons. After four years of this underhanded gathering of support, we see in verses 7-12 that Absalom was ready to make his move for the throne.
It is uncertain why Absalom chose Hebron as a base of operations. Perhaps the percentage of dissatisfied Israelites there was greater than other places. Perhaps he saw irony in beginning where David himself had begun many years before. Or perhaps it simply was because Hebron was the place of his birth.
At any rate, Absalom went to Hebron on the pretense of fulfilling a vow he supposedly had made to God while in Geshur. By getting David’s prior approval to go there, Absalom raised no suspicions and gave himself time to organize the revolt. David’s last words to his son are filled with irony. “Go in peace,” said David, as Absalom left to plan a war against him. So off to Hebron Absalom went; and there he began gathering sympathizers to himself.
Two specific things that Absalom did in Hebron are mentioned. One, he sent messengers, literally “spies,” into all of Israel. They are called “spies,” because they were to spy out the feelings of the people and to make the announcement that Absalom was king at a given signal so that all the tribes would think it was useless to resist the coup. And two, he sent for Ahithophel, a counselor of David’s whom he apparently previously had enlisted into his scheme. Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:3 compared with 23:43).
The coup was so well planned that Absalom had 200 of David’s key people in Jerusalem involved with Absalom’s feast at Hebron, and thus they were unavailable to help David. Moreover a large number of people whom Absalom previously had enlisted in the rebellion knew to come to Absalom at Hebron. This meant that a large force gathered quickly.
In verses 13-23 we see that David was informed about the coup attempt. Details of the report to David are not given, but David clearly understood that the situation was grave, because he made no attempt to defend Jerusalem, but instead fled to provide time to organize a resistance. All of David’s family, his officials and all others loyal to him fled with him, including of course his bodyguards, the Cherethites and Pelethites. The only people left behind were ten concubines, who were to care for the palace.
Notice that one man is singled out for special notice, namely, Ittai the Gittite. It is uncertain whether the 600 Gittites were Ittai’s men recently come with him from Gath, or that they were the faithful 600 men who had gathered around David at Gath in the early days when David was fleeing Saul (1 Sam. 27:2-3). In any case, Ittai apparently recently had allied himself with David; and so David gave him the option of returning to Jerusalem, where he could serve whomever turned out to be king at the end of the war. But Ittai was fiercely committed to be loyal to David to the death. So he stayed with David.
In verses 24-29 David sent Abiathar, Zadok, and the Levites who had come along carrying the Ark of the Covenant, back to Jerusalem. It was part of his strategy against Absalom. He instructed them to be his “eyes and ears” in Jerusalem, and their sons were to be messengers who would bring him information about Absalom’s activities.
We see in verses 30-31 that the adversity of Absalom’s rebellion humbled David. After sending the priests back to the city, David made the long climb up the Mount of Olives. But he didn’t just go up the mountain. He covered his head, removed his shoes, and wept as he made the climb, in a demonstration of grief and mourning. And the people joined him in the mourning.
Then word came to David of Ahithophel’s involvement with Absalom. He did the only thing he could—pray. He prayed that the Lord would “turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” And as we shall see, the Lord answered that prayer in a positive way.
In verses 32-37 David sets the rest of his strategy in place. At the top of the mountain, where there was a place of worship, an elderly advisor of his named Hushai came to join David. I say “elderly,” because that would be the only reason Hushai would have been a burden to David, as David says in verse 34.
David suggests that Hushai return to Jerusalem and pretend to join the conspiracy. Then he could work against the counsel of Ahithophel in Absalom’s camp, and work with the priests Zadok and Abiathar to get intelligence to David.
In 16:1-4 we find David still moving away from Jerusalem. He was just past the summit of the Mount of Olives when Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth, or your translation may have Merib-baal, came to him. As you see he came bearing many gifts and a story. His story was that Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, had taken advantage of David’s woes and stayed in Jerusalem, thinking that he, Mephibosheth, as Saul’s only remaining heir, might get the crown back.
David believed Ziba; and he awarded Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s property on the spot. Now we are going to see later, in chapter 19:24-30, when Mephibosheth came to David, that Mephibosheth had a totally different story. So it may have been that Ziba was angling for the property from the beginning. But we will deal with that when we do chapter 19.
In verses 5-14 we see an interesting event. When David, as he traveled along, came to the village of Bahurim, a man named Shimei, also of the house of Saul, accosted him in a rather strange incident. When Shimei saw David and his company coming by, he came out of his house and began to curse and throw stones at David and his servants.
Joab’s brother, Abishai, immediately volunteered to take off the man’s head, but David would have none of it. David was willing to believe that the Lord himself may have inspired the man to curse him; and whether he did or not, the Lord might reward David for remaining humble. So David ordered the man left alone.
In verse 14 we find David and his group finally arriving at a safe place; namely the Jordan River. Once they managed to cross the Jordan, which they do in chapter 17, they would be safe. And there they could prepare themselves for war against Absalom.
Turning to application, I suggest you think about the key individuals. First, we note the characteristics exhibited by Absalom in chapter 15. He exhibited pride, cunning, disloyalty, and in the end, betrayal. All of these characteristics are negative and sinful. Therefore Absalom becomes a negative role model for us.
David, on the other hand, as always (apart from relations with his family) was at his best under duress. In this situation, we see his good characteristics emerging once again. He was gracious with Ittai. He exhibited good strategy by sending the priests and Hushai back to Jerusalem to be his eyes and ears. And more important, he once again exhibited humility. He took of his shoes in an act of penitence, wept, mourned, prayed, and worshipped before God as he left Jerusalem. And he took a humble attitude towards the cursing aimed at him by Shimei. In addition David expressed appreciation to Ziba, though in the end that appreciation may have been misguided. Therefore in these ways David is a good role model for us.