Monday, August 28, 2023

Absalom's rebellion against King David

Right now in this season of growing politics, we see various candidates political office beginning again to vie for the affections of the people. They make promises, they give their policies, and they fight for the support of the people of the United States. Similarly, in the time of David and Absalom we see a battle for the hearts and affections of the people of Israel.

David's own beloved son Absalom, begins to plot a nefarious conspiracy against his own dad. Let's dive into how that plays out...

From 2nd Samuel 15:1-4: “In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. 2 He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” 3 Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” 4 And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.”

Absalom, son of king David, begins to wait out on the way to the kings court. People would be coming to meet with the King and Absalom would call them over and find ways to help them with whatever problem they were facing. So he begins to receive the care and support of the nation.

He showed a great deal of compassion and kindness to the people as well. 

It says in verses 5-6, “Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.”

The people would come and bow down before Absalom, and Absalom would take them by the hand and kiss their head and treat them kindly. I’m sure Absalom seemed like a great leader, so kind, so gentle, so caring, so compassionate, or so it seemed.

Absalom did this for four years. And the word of God says that he stole the hearts of the people. The people began to speak well of Absalom, talk about his kindness, his loving nature, his hugs, and help, and pretty soon the whole nation is saying from door to door that Absalom is a great leader, and David, not so much.

Absalom has public support. I’m sure if you took a poll of citizens of Israel, Absalom would have a high favorability rating, probably 80 or 90 percent. David would probably be down around 50 percent, or less.

Now that Absalom has public opinion on his side. So next he plans to gather his followers in Hebron. He goes to King David for permission to visit Hebron.

In verses 7-9: "At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the Lord. 8 While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: ‘If the Lord takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron.’” The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he went to Hebron.”

It’s ironic that David said “go in peace” because Absalom’s actual purpose was to make war.

Absalom goes off to Hebron. In verses 10-12: "Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” 11 Two hundred men from Jerusalem had accompanied Absalom. They had been invited as guests and went quite innocently, knowing nothing about the matter. 12 While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, to come from Giloh, his hometown. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom’s following kept on increasing.”

If you recall, the first place where David became king was Hebron. So this would be a familiar story to the people of Israel. For the nation, they probably thought something similar was happening, as to when Saul’s house slowly declined and David’s authority grew.

They might think to themselves, maybe this is like Saul, and David, And Absalom is going to replace David! I’m sure that seemed to be a familiar story in their minds. But it wasn’t true. It wasn’t God’s will. This was the work of Absalom. Absalom is very intelligent though. He’s carefully working things together, gathering a group of leaders, gathering everyday people to his side, spreading word about this trumpet call that would signify the call for rebellion, and even gaining a wise advisor in Ahithophel.

The conspiracy gained strength. It’s gaining momentum. Momentum is very important in life, in business, and in ministry. If you have forward momentum you’re moving and gaining strength, gaining followers, gaining support and funds. If you’re sitting still, well you aren’t growing, you aren’t reaching new people. You’re kinda stuck. For Absalom his rebellion is gaining momentum.

I return again to the comparison between David and Absalom and God and Lucifer. Did Lucifer’s rebellion occur something like that? Did Lucifer quietly gather support, and begin to turn the minds of many of the angels against God and toward himself? I think we get a picture here again of Lucifer’s rebellion against God in heaven and how it may have played out.

So you have this sinister rebellion gathering power in Hebron. I’m sure it feels like there is a dark cloud over the nation. There are rumors of trouble. And eventually word reaches King David.

In verse 13, “A messenger came and told David, “The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.””

This sinister rebellion is taking hold across the nation and David can sense it. I’m sure God is giving him a sense that he will have to retreat for the time being.

Similarly in our own lives God will give us a sense of the situation. What should we do next? God will guide us if we seek his counsel. And if we have wise people around us to give us good advice.

In verses 14-15 it says, “Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.”

15 The king’s officials answered him, “Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.”

It’s interesting to me that David chose to leave immediately. You might think he would try to fortify Jerusalem, put troops on the walls, gather his forces, but David is very wise. He’s not prideful at all. I would want to stay and fight on the city walls.

But guess what? David knows that Absalom has turned the people even of Jerusalem against him. Many of his troops would not remain loyal. And citizens might plot to let Absalom’s troops in at night or something.

David’s humility guides him to leave the city. This is a very humbling move for him. Sometimes we have to make humbling moves in our lives as well.

We have to humble ourselves and say, well, we need to try something else. This didn’t work. We need to admit that it didn’t work out, and we need to change our strategy. If we’re stubborn and refuse to change, because of pride, then, we may end up harming ourselves and our cause greatly.

Then in verses 16-18, “The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace. 17 So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city. 18 All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king.”

Can you imagine this moment in history? They pause at the edge of Jerusalem, the king himself and his leaders, having to flee the city. I wonder what time of year it was? I wonder if it was autumn, and it was a bit cold, and cloudy, and the leaves were falling from the trees. That would fit well, wouldn’t it?

King David stopped and his men marched past him line by line as he watched.

I can’t imagine how devastated I would feel at this moment. I would feel like a failure. I would feel so embarrassed, so confused, what is going on God? I’m leaving my own capital city. What a failure I am as the king.

But I’m sure David remembered the judgment God had made against him, and said, “One of your own household will rise up against you.” Maybe David starts to see the pieces fitting together, and maybe, just maybe, he accepts that this is all connected back to what happened between him, and Uriah and Bathsheba.

I don’t know if much of the army had deserted David, I get that sense though it doesn’t say that in the word. But it does say that 600 men, the Gittites (from Gath) stayed loyal to David.

David notices their leader Ittai. So he speaks to him, verses 19-20:

19 The king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. 20 You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the Lord show you kindness and faithfulness.”

David invites Ittai to go back. But in verse 21 we find his reply…

21 But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”

22 David said to Ittai, “Go ahead, march on.” So Ittai the Gittite marched on with all his men and the families that were with him.”

It’s ironic that troops from another country are the ones that stay loyal to Ittai. Though I’m sure much of the nation is still loyal to David. But they’re being taken by surprise by Absalom’s rebellion.

That’s often what happens even in national conflicts and politics. The rebellion, the dangerous movements gain vast connections as they move quietly, then they come out into the open, and gain more ground, but eventually average everyday people become fed up with the rebellion, and they gather together across the nation, and defeat the rebellion and restore order to the nation.

But in this case, the rebellion has happened fast, and David is on the run. But many of the people are still with him in their hearts.

It says in verse 23: 23 The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the wilderness.

As David’s group of loyal troops and counselors move past the homes and cities, the sound of crying and tears is heard throughout the land, it’s echoing through the valleys and the hills and the flatlands, down through the streets, people are mourning over this disaster. And as they should.

So you have King David, his various court officials and department heads, and his counselors and advisors, probably a few hundred men, then the six hundred troops of Ittai’s brigade.

Not only that, the high priest and the ark of the covenant is there as well.

It says in verses 24-26:

24 Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city.

25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. 26 But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”

This is a powerful moment. King David is refusing to use the ark of the covenant as a good luck charm or as a some banner under his own personal cause. He says no, take the ark back into the city.

If I find favor in God’s eyes, and he will bring me back. And let me see it. And his dwelling place.

David sees God as above this. God is judge over this. David abandons himself to God’s judgment and evaluation.

He refuses to use the ark of the covenant as a rally cry to his cause. He refuses to use his religion to push people to support him. No, he instead recognizes God’s sovereignty. He knows God is over him.

David abandons himself to God.

Next in verses 27-29: "The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Do you understand? Go back to the city with my blessing. Take your son Ahimaaz with you, and also Abiathar’s son Jonathan. You and Abiathar return with your two sons. 28 I will wait at the fords in the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the ark of God back to Jerusalem and stayed there.”

So David says listen, go back to Jerusalem. But I’ll stay along the dead sea. And you come and inform me when it’s safe to return.

Next, in verses 30-31: “But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. 31 Now David had been told, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” So David prayed, “Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.”

This is such a dark moment for David. As he leads his men in retreat, he cries, and he covers his own head, this was a sign in ancient times of mourning. He was also barefoot. So you have this picture of poverty, no shoes, no sandals, another sign of mourning and lostness. The people followed David’s example and also covered their heads in mourning and I’m sure couldn’t help but weep, seeing their own king so grieved.

It’s interesting that David comes upon the mount of olives. That is the place where Jesus would one day come and sit, and say, "be cautious of false messiahs."

From Matthew 24:3-5:  “Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. The followers came to Him when He was alone and said, “Tell us, when will this happen? What can we look for to show us of Your coming and of the end of the world?”

Jesus said to them, “Be careful that no one leads you the wrong way. Many people will come using My name. They will say, ‘I am Christ.’ They will fool many people and will turn them to the wrong way.” 

Jesus was the true messiah, but he knew false messiahs would come.

Similarly, David was the true king, but a false king had come, Absalom.

David also asks God to disrupt Ahithophel’s advice. Ahithophel was a brilliant man. His advice was pure gold, as far as the king was concerned. So he knew it was a danger. So David prays that something will happen to disrupt that good advice to Absalom.

David gets an instant answer to his prayer, in verses 32-37:

32 When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘Your Majesty, I will be your servant; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,’ then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Won’t the priests Zadok and Abiathar be there with you? Tell them anything you hear in the king’s palace. 36 Their two sons, Ahimaaz son of Zadok and Jonathan son of Abiathar, are there with them. Send them to me with anything you hear.”

37 So Hushai, David’s confidant, arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.”

Hushai was one of David’s closest advisors and friends. He just so happens to meet Hushai at the mount of olives, and sends him back to Jerusalem to frustrate Ahithophel’s advice to Absalom. God has set this up to cause events to favor David, despite everything that has happened.

So in conclusion today, all of this was prophesied by Nathan over David, because of what David did long ago, with Bathsheba and Uriah. But, despite all that, God is still with David. David has not been left alone. All this is happening, but, somehow it’s going to be OK.

In our lives it’s hard to remember that when things are going crazy. Because our emotions are going crazy. Don’t believe everything you feel. Feelings change. But God remains the same. David abandons himself to God. He gives himself over. He takes some actions, but in the end, he gives himself to God.

That is what we must do, if we hope to survive. We must give ourselves to Christ Jesus our savior, who died for our sins on the cross. If we give ourselves over completely to Jesus and just surrender to Him, and accept His free gift, we will find that God is with us, even when things seem to be going crazy.

King David has fled the capital. Absalom is moving in with his rebellious forces to claim the city. But the story isn’t over yet. God bless you today.