When God’s People Live Ungodly.

Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!”

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

And David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house and put them in a house under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.

Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.” So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him. And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he get himself to fortified cities and escape from us.” And there went out after him Joab’s men and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men. They went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. When they were at the great stone that is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was wearing a soldier’s garment, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened on his thigh, and as he went forward it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab’s hand. So Joab struck him with it in the stomach and spilled his entrails to the ground without striking a second blow, and he died.

Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. And one of Joab’s young men took his stand by Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the highway. And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped. And when the man saw that all the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field and threw a garment over him. When he was taken out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. – 2 Samuel 20:1-13 ESV

David had not yet made it back inside the walls of Jerusalem when another disaster struck. He had just eliminated one rebellion, when another one raised its ugly head. The ten disgruntled tribes of Israel, unhappy with what they viewed as David’s favoritism for his own tribe of Judah, decided to throw in their lot with Sheba, a Benjaminite. This “worthless fellow” took advantage of the unstable conditions in Israel and called for another rebellion against David. It is impossible to read this account and not recall the curse God had placed on David as a result of his affair with Bathsheba.

“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” – 2 Samuel 12:10 ESV

There was going to be more bloodshed. And more people were going to die unnecessarily, all as a direct result of David’s sin. The conditions in his kingdom remained unstable and insecure. Even when he finally made it back to Jerusalem, David had to deal with the ten concubines whom Absalom had sexually violated and publicly humiliated. It must be remembered that what happened to them was also tied to David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba. God had told David:

“Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.” – 2 Samuel 12:11-12 ESV

So these women were shamed and forced to remain in a state of widowhood, not because of anything they had done, but all because of the sins of David. The wake of human misery and destroyed lives that David left behind him is unprecedented. He had lost three sons to death. His daughter had been violated by her own brother. Tens of thousands of his own people had been killed in an unnecessary civil war. And the death toll would continue to rise. When David called for his troops to put down the uprising led by Sheba, he put Amasa in command. It’s important to remember that David had replaced Joab with Amasa, as the commander of his army, all because Joab had disobeyed a direct order and had killed Absalom. Now, Joab was going to take the life of Amasa, in an attempt to eliminate the competition and get his old job back. And the day would come when Joab would get what he deserved. But it would not be under David’s watch. Once again, just as we saw with Shimei, David would put off meting out justice and leave it to his son, Solomon, when he took the throne. It would be Solomon who would eventually deal with Joab and his murders of Abner and Amasa.

“Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore.” – 1 Kings 2:31-33 ESV

But there was no peace in Israel. At least not during David’s day. The body count was mounting. The violence was escalating. And the instability of David’s kingdom seemed to be getting worse, not better. All in spite of the fact that David was a man after God’s own heart. David’s relationship with God did not protect him from failure or inoculate him from the ramifications of sin. The people of God are just as prone to bad decision-making as anybody else. Believers can undervalue the wisdom of God and overlook the sins taking place around them. We can surround ourselves with bad counselors, put off making difficult decisions, give in to impulsive desires, and leave God out of our daily lives. And when we do, we can find ourselves facing the same kind of unnecessary outcomes. David loved God. He had a deep-seated desire to serve God. But our desires must who up in our behavior.  His love for God must be accompanied by a commitment to obey God. Any hope he had of serving the people of God as the faithful shepherd of God was totally dependent upon his complete reliance upon God.

As believers, we are God’s people living in a godless environment, surrounded by ungodly people who don’t share our views or our love for God. It is difficult to live as child of God on this earth, but we can make it even more difficult by refusing to rely upon Him. There will always be a temptation to do things our own way and simply assume that our relationship with God will provide us with some kind of invisible force-field, protecting us from the dangers of sin. But our salvation, while it has delivered us from the judgment of sin, does not inoculate us from the temptation to sin. That is why Paul so strongly urged his readers to rely upon the Holy Spirit.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

A man after God’s own heart who refuses to let God have is heart, will find himself surrounded by discord and difficulty. Our ability to survive and thrive on this planet is dependent upon our commitment to remain totally reliant upon God. David would continue to learn that invaluable lesson. He would discover the reality that being God’s hand-picked king meant nothing if he did not live as a God-dependent man.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

How Things Turn Out When God Gets Left Out.

Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim, and he went on with the king to the Jordan, to escort him over the Jordan. Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, “Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.” But Barzillai said to the king, “How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am this day eighty years old. Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king repay me with such a reward? Please let your servant return, that I may die in my own city near the grave of my father and my mother. But here is your servant Chimham. Let him go over with my lord the king, and do for him whatever seems good to you.” And the king answered, “Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you, and all that you desire of me I will do for you.” Then all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over. And the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own home. The king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him. All the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel, brought the king on his way.

Then all the men of Israel came to the king and said to the king, “Why have our brothers the men of Judah stolen you away and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him?” All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is our close relative. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king’s expense? Or has he given us any gift?” And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us? Were we not the first to speak of bringing back our king?” But the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel. – 2 Samuel 19:31-43 ESV

These closing verses of chapter 19 set up was is going to happen next. As David attempted to reestablish his claim to the throne of Israel, he was faced with the task of rewarding those who had stood by his side during Absalom’s short-lived coup, but also of winning back the allegiance of those who had sided with Absalom in his rebellion. There were some, like Barzillai, who had aided David in his escape from Jerusalem. This wealthy octogenarian, had provided food for David and his followers while they were in Mahanaim. Barzillai was from Gilead, a region east of the Jordan River that was divided between the tribes of Gad and Manasseh. We are not told which tribe Barzillai belonged to, but only that he had proved to be an ally to David during those difficult days after the loss of his throne. David’s desire to reward him was gratefully rejected by Barzillai because of his advanced age. Rather than accept David’s gracious offer to return to Jerusalem and live out his days in David’s palace, he preferred to return home and die in his own land. But he offered Chimham, most likely his son, to stand as his proxy. Chimham would return to Jerusalem with David and receive the benefit of the king’s gratitude. 

But there was a storm brewing. David’s return to the throne was not going to be easy. And simply handing out rewards to those who had stood by his side was not going to make the transfer of power any easier. If you recall, one of the first things David did when he received his abrupt wake-up call from Joab and stopped his excessive mourning over Absalom, was to call for the tribe of Judah to come to his aid. He sent a message to the leaders of Judah.

“Why are you the last ones to welcome back the king into his palace? For I have heard that all Israel is ready. You are my relatives, my own tribe, my own flesh and blood! So why are you the last ones to welcome back the king?” – 2 Samuel 19:11-12 NLT

This wasn’t exactly the case. David was a bit optimistic in his assessment of the situation, because the text actually paints a slightly different picture.

Meanwhile, the Israelites who had supported Absalom fled to their homes. And throughout all the tribes of Israel there was much discussion and argument going on. The people were saying, “The king rescued us from our enemies and saved us from the Philistines, but Absalom chased him out of the country. Now Absalom, whom we anointed to rule over us, is dead. Why not ask David to come back and be our king again?” – 2 Samuel 19:9-10 NLT

Not everybody was lining up to welcome David home. The Israelites, representing ten of the other tribes besides Judah and the Benjaminites, were divided in their thoughts regarding David. Many were scared that David would seek retribution against them for siding with Absalom. Others argued that David had been successful against the enemies of Israel, but had fled at the sight of Absalom. The only real vote of confidence in David was that, since Absalom was dead, he was the most obvious choice as a replacement. And yet, David was under the somewhat deluded impression that all of Israel was ready to welcome him back and so he used this thought to goad the tribe of Judah into action. But in doing this, David actually made his problem worse.

We’re told that, “All the troops of Judah and half the troops of Israel escorted the king on his way” (2 Samuel 19:40 NLT). Not everyone was on board with David’s return. Many were in hiding, fearing what David was going to do when he returned to power. And the leaders of the ten tribes expressed to David their concern over what they saw was a case of cronyism. 

But all the men of Israel complained to the king, “The men of Judah stole the king and didn’t give us the honor of helping take you, your household, and all your men across the Jordan.” – 2 Samuel 19:41 NLT

It was important to these men that they have the favor of the king, because they were the ones who had sided against him. So when they saw the men of Judah, David’s own tribe, getting the honor of escorting him across the Jordan, they became jealous and fearful. They knew their actions against David were going to make it difficult to win back his favor, and they were concerned that David’s close ties to his own tribe were going to make reconciliation that much more difficult. So an argument broke out. It is important to remember that these people had just fought a major battle against one another in which 20,000 men had died. There were still emotional and physical wounds to be healed. The civil war that had just taken place, while short-lived, had left deep-seated animosities between the tribes. Every step David took, both literally and figuratively, was going to be hyper-analyzed. His leadership skills were going to be tested like never before. His ability to navigate the stormy and dangerous waters of reunification was going to require a wisdom greater than he possessed. If David ever needed God, it was now. But there is a marked absence of any reference to God in any of this narrative. In so many other times during David’s life, we saw him seeking God. He would turn to God for counsel and refrain from making any decisions until he had heard from God. But here, in the heat of the moment, David seems to be acting out of impulse. Perhaps he was in a hurry to put this nasty episode behind him and get things back to normal. But it appears that every decision he made blew up in his face. He was learning the difficult lessons that come with leadership. Simply wearing the crown did not make him a king. Getting his kingdom back wasn’t going to win his people back. Handing out rewards was not going to heal the wounds that plagued his nation. David needed the wisdom of God. Without His help, David was like any other man, susceptible to outside influences, filled with inner conflicts, motivated by fear and self–preservation, capable of anger, and always subject to sin.

Far too often, we read the stories of the life of David and attempt to make him into an icon of virtue, a model for spirituality and godly leadership. But David was a man. Yes, he was a man after God’s own heart, but that does not mean he always did was God would have him do. The real lessons to be learned from the life of David have to do with the faithfulness of God, not the righteousness of David. His life is a stark reminder of just how much each of us needs God. He was God’s anointed king. He had been hand-picked by God for his role. But without constant reliance upon God, David was an accident waiting to happen. Apart from God, his life tended to end up a train wreck with bodies strewn across the landscape. The good news of the gospel is not just that we have been chosen by God to receive His mercy and grace as made available through His Son’s death on the cross. It is that we have access to His wisdom and power every day of our lives. We have forgiveness for the sins we will inevitably commit. We have His unfailing love even when we fail to love Him consistently or completely. David wasn’t a perfect king, but he was God’s king. And his life provides us with a powerful reminder that our best days will be those in which we recognize our weakness and our need for God’s power. Trying to be king without God would never work out well for David. Trying to be a Christian without God will never turn out well for us either. It is not the title that sets us apart. It is our relationship with and dependence upon God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Leading Wisely and Well.

And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. He had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. And when he came to Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said to him, ‘I will saddle a donkey for myself, that I may ride on it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame. He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you. For all my father’s house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?” And the king said to him, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” And Mephibosheth said to the king, “Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.” – 2 Samuel 19:24-30 ESV

This short little vignette offers another example of David’s seeming inability to deal wisely and decisively with difficult situations. Here, he is confronted with a situation where he must discern the truth between what Ziba and Mephibosheth have told him. If you recall, when David was fleeing from Jerusalem, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth showed up bearing provisions. When David asked him where his master was, Ziba told him, “He stayed in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 16:3 NLT). Then he added a bit of news that would condemn Mephibosheth in David’s eyes. He informed David that when Mephibosheth had heard that Absalom was taking over the kingdom, he had replied, “Today I will get back the kingdom of my grandfather Saul” (2 Samuel 16:3 NLT). In other words, Ziba had inferred that Mephibosheth was siding with Absalom in the hopes of regaining the crown. But none of that should have made sense to David. Absalom was not going to hand the kingdom over to Mephibosheth, just because he was the grandson of Saul. And Mephibosheth had nothing to gain by Absalom becoming king. David had already given him all the land that had once belonged to Saul. Ziba and his 15 sons were ordered by David to care for the land on Mephibosheth’s behalf, while he ate all his meals with David in the palace. You can easily see why Ziba might want to paint Mephibosheth in a negative light and why he had showed up that day bearing gifts to David. And David had taken Ziba’s word concerning Mephibosheth as truth and rewarded him by giving him all of Mephibosheth’s property and possessions.

Then David returned to Jerusalem and found Mephibosheth in a disheveled state. When he questioned Mephibosheth about why he had not fled Jerusalem alongside him, Mephibosheth revealed that he had intended to, but had been betrayed by Ziba.

“My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best. All my relatives and I could expect only death from you, my lord, but instead you have honored me by allowing me to eat at your own table! What more can I ask?” – 2 Samuel 19:26-28 NLT

David was faced with a dilemma. He had already awarded all the property and possessions of Mephibosheth to Ziba, which may explain why Mephibosheth “had not cared for his feet, trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes since the day the king left Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 19:24 NLT). Now David heard the other side of the story and found himself needing to make a determination as to what would be the just and wise thing to do. And David’s decision?

“I’ve decided that you and Ziba will divide your land equally between you.” – 2 Samuel 19:29 NLT

Mephibosheth’s response speaks volumes and should have opened David’s eyes as to what was really going on. Mephibosheth didn’t argue or appear shocked. He simply replied, ““Give him all of it. I am content just to have you safely back again, my lord the king!” (2 Samuel 19:30 NLT).

This whole exchange should bring to mind a similar story that took place during the reign of Solomon, David’s son. Renowned for his wisdom, one day he was confronted with a case involving two women who came to him for justice. It would require Solomon to determine the truth regarding which woman was the real mother of an infant boy. Here are the details provided by the women themselves, just as Solomon heard it:

“Please, my lord,” one of them began, “this woman and I live in the same house. I gave birth to a baby while she was with me in the house. Three days later this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there were only two of us in the house.

 “But her baby died during the night when she rolled over on it. Then she got up in the night and took my son from beside me while I was asleep. She laid her dead child in my arms and took mine to sleep beside her. And in the morning when I tried to nurse my son, he was dead! But when I looked more closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t my son at all.”

Then the other woman interrupted, “It certainly was your son, and the living child is mine.”

“No,” the first woman said, “the living child is mine, and the dead one is yours.” And so they argued back and forth before the king. – 1 Kings 3:17-22 NLT

What would Solomon do? How would he decide which one was telling the truth. Interestingly enough, his initial decision was similar to that of David. He determined to divide the disputed “property” between the two of them.

Then the king said, “Let’s get the facts straight. Both of you claim the living child is yours, and each says that the dead one belongs to the other. All right, bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought to the king.

Then he said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other!” – 1 Kings 3:23-25 NLT

And Solomon’s decision achieved exactly what he was looking for. The real mother, shocked at the thought of her son being put to death, pleaded with Solomon to let him live and to give him to the other woman. The other woman, driven by jealousy and not by love for the baby, callously replied, “All right, he will be neither yours nor mine; divide him between us!” (1 Kings 3:26 NLT). Solomon had heard all he needed to hear. He wisely ruled, “Do not kill the child, but give him to the woman who wants him to live, for she is his mother!” (1 Kings 3:27 NLT).

So, what does this have to do with David, Ziba and Mephibosheth? The responses of the real mother and that of Mephibosheth were evidence of the veracity of their story. Solomon was wise enough to see through the lies of the other woman. But David, having already given all of the land of Mephibosheth to Ziba without giving him the benefit of a doubt or having heard his side of the story, decided to split the difference and give each of them half. But one of them was lying. One deserved nothing. When Mephibosheth told David, “Give him all of it”, he should have known who was telling the truth. He should have reinstated all the lands of Saul back to Mephibosheth. But instead, he rewarded Ziba for his deception.

David was in a conciliatory mood. He didn’t want to offend anybody. He was making peace with everybody. At this point in his life, just getting along was more important than justice. Winning friends and influencing enemies was first and foremost on his mind. But he was the king. It was his duty to dispense justice. It was his God-given responsibility to rule righteously and justly, not based on expedience or convenience. It would be David’s son, Solomon, who would later write these powerful words, that stand in stark contrast to the actions of David.

Give your love of justice to the king, O God,
    and righteousness to the king’s son.
Help him judge your people in the right way;
    let the poor always be treated fairly.
May the mountains yield prosperity for all,
    and may the hills be fruitful.
Help him to defend the poor,
    to rescue the children of the needy,
    and to crush their oppressors.
May they fear you as long as the sun shines,
    as long as the moon remains in the sky.
    Yes, forever! – Psalm 72:1-5 NLT

The prophet, Isaiah, speaks of a future day when a righteous king will reign. He tells of a king who will rule justly and righteously.

Look, a righteous king is coming!
    And honest princes will rule under him.
Each one will be like a shelter from the wind
    and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
    and the shadow of a great rock in a parched land.

Then everyone who has eyes will be able to see the truth,
    and everyone who has ears will be able to hear it.
Even the hotheads will be full of sense and understanding.
    Those who stammer will speak out plainly.
In that day ungodly fools will not be heroes.
    Scoundrels will not be respected. – Isaiah 32:1-5 NLT

That king will be Jesus. He will rule on this earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem. He will not be swayed by the lies of ungodly fools or motivated by the deceptive actions of scoundrels. He will be anything but politically correct. He will not rule selfishly or short-sightedly. He will always be concerned with the glory of God and the good of the people. David would ultimately prove to be a good king, some might even say, a great king. But he was nothing compared to the King to come. He was a man, marred by sin and easily influenced by the falsehood within his own heart and the deceptive motives of those around him. But what we can learn from the life of David is the desperate need we all have of God’s help in leading well. Without His assistance, we are easily deceived, by our own hearts and by the schemes of others. We are easy prey to the enemy. Only God can provide us with the wisdom we need to lead our families, employees, churches, and lives well.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A House Divided.

And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: “Say to the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab.’” And he swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, “Return, both you and all your servants.” So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan.

And Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, hurried to come down with the men of Judah to meet King David. And with him were a thousand men from Benjamin. And Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan before the king, and they crossed the ford to bring over the king’s household and to do his pleasure. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, “Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Do not let the king take it to heart. For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.” Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord‘s anointed?” But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath. – 2 Samuel 19:11-23 ESV

Joab had forced David out his lingering state of mourning over Absalom and demanded that he take back the reins of his fractured kingdom. And the very first thing David did was attempt to win back over his own tribe of Judah. They had backed Absalom during his attempt to take the kingdom from David and now, David was going to have to win back their trust and favor. So he sent the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, with an offer of pardon and restoration if they would only recommit themselves to him as their king. He even offered to replace Joab as the commander of his army with Amasa, the man whom Absalom had made his leading general. We know little about Amasa other than what we are told in 2 Samuel 17:

Absalom had appointed Amasa as commander of his army, replacing Joab, who had been commander under David. (Amasa was Joab’s cousin. His father was Jether, an Ishmaelite. His mother, Abigail daughter of Nahash, was the sister of Joab’s mother, Zeruiah).   – 2 Samuel 17:25 NLT

Whether or not this was a wise move on David’s part is yet to be seen. But it was an obvious slap in the face to Joab and intended as punishment for his role in the death of Absalom, against the explicit orders of David to spare his life. Once again, we see David making judgments that appear to be motivated by emotion rather than logic or reason. It had been Joab who led David’s army against the forces of Absalom and delivered a resounding victory. It had been Joab who spoke words of truth to David and commanded him to stop his mourning over Absalom and start acting like a king again. But David would reward Joab by giving his position to Amasa, Joab’s own cousin and the man who had led the army that had tried to destroy David. Some might say that this was just a case of political posturing on David’s part – an attempt to win back over the opposing side. David was just “reaching across the aisle” in a gesture of good will. But was this a wise move? Better yet, was it a godly move? In his effort to unify his fractured nation, was David going too far? Was he sending the wrong message? It is interesting to note that David does little to punish those who rebelled against him, yet he demotes Joab, his long-time friend and the commander of his army. Just as he never punished Amnon for raping Tamar or Absalom for murdering Amnon, David seems reluctant to mete out any kind of justice for the many acts of treason committed against him. And it is important to remember that each and every person who participated in the coup against David was actually sinning against God, refusing to accept His appointed king and determining to replace him with their own.

David even pardoned Shimei, the man who had cursed and thrown stones at him as he was fleeing from Jerusalem. This disgruntled member of the clan of Saul had publicly berated and chastised David.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

Not surprisingly, it was Shimei who was one of the first to show up on David’s doorstep begging for forgiveness.

As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. “My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:18-20 NLT

And just as on the day when Shimei had hurled rocks at David, Abishai spoke up and offered to take his life, saying, “Shimei should die, for he cursed the Lord’s anointed king!” (2 Samuel 19:21 NLT). But, once again, David rebuked Abishai, and told him, “Why have you become my adversary today? This is not a day for execution, for today I am once again the king of Israel!” (2 Samuel 19:22 NLT). Rather than retribution, Shimei was given a full pardon. David was understandably reticent to mar his return to office with additional bloodshed or acts of vengeance. He wanted to be viewed as a peacemaker, not a vindictive, revenge-seeking dictator who was going to pay back everyone who had wronged him.

But there is an interesting side note concerning David and Shimei that sheds some light on David’s real attitude toward this man. Years later, when David was nearing death and preparing to hand over the kingdom to his son, Solomon, he gave him a series of directives, to be carried out after his death. One of them concerned Shimei.

“And remember Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin. He cursed me with a terrible curse as I was fleeing to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan River, I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” – 1 Kings2:8-9 NLT

It seems that David’s pardon of Shimei was temporary in nature. David would keep his word and not seek revenge against Shimei, but that did not mean his son would not. David was basically commanding Solomon to kill Shimei for him. But Solomon came up with a different plan.

The king then sent for Shimei and told him, “Build a house here in Jerusalem and live there. But don’t step outside the city to go anywhere else. On the day you so much as cross the Kidron Valley, you will surely die; and your blood will be on your own head.” – 1 Kings 2:36-37 NLT

This arrangement would work well for Shimei until he made the mistake of leaving Jerusalem in search of a couple of runaway slaves. When Solomon found out, he had Shimei executed. So David’s revenge against Shimei was ultimately carried out. He paid for his sins. But it seems that David was constantly letting someone else do his dirty business. He had let Absalom carry out justice against Amnon. Then it took Joab to pay back Absalom for his act of treason against his own father. And he assigned Solomon with the task of dealing with the rebellion of Shimei.

There is no doubt that David was in a difficult spot. He had a divided kingdom. His reputation was in a shambles. Absalom had spent years disseminating vicious rumors concerning David’s poor leadership and lack of justice. He had raised questions regarding David’s integrity and undermined the peoples’ trust in him. So David had his work cut out for him. But what he really needed to do was act like a king. He needed to lead decisively and justly. He could not afford to be complacent or to be seen as lacking in conviction. David’s desire to be politically correct and to try and treat everybody with kid gloves was going to blow up in his face. It would seem that David should have spent more time worrying about what God would have him do, rather than obsessing over what was politically expedient. The people wanted and needed a king. Part of the reason they had backed Absalom was that he came across as the kind of leader they had been looking for. He had exposed flaws in David’s leadership. And David continued to allow those very same weaknesses to plague his reign.

God had provided a means by which the kings of Israel were to rule. He had given them His law and statutes. They were to operate based on His will, not what was politically correct or personally convenient. In fact, God had clearly said:

“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NLT

David’s divided kingdom needed a king who had God’s undivided attention. They needed a monarch who was obsessed with doing the godly thing, not the expedient thing. They needed a man after God’s own heart, not a king who spent all his time trying to win over theirs.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Harsh, But Heart-Felt Words.

It was told Joab, “Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people, for the people heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.” Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king.

Now Israel had fled every man to his own home. And all the people were arguing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?” – 2 Samuel 19:1-10 ESV 

David needed a kick in the pants. He may have been king, but he wasn’t acting like one. His faithful followers had just handed him a great victory over Absalom and his forces, returning him to the throne of Israel, but all he could do was weep and mourn over the loss of his son. We are not given the reason behind David’s deep depression and what appears to be excessive grief over the death of his rebellious son. It is impossible to know if David was grieving over the loss of Absalom or his own sins that had set the stage for the whole situation. Perhaps David was mourning over and regretting his less-than-stellar parenting skills that had led to his son’s loss of respect for him and, ultimately, his rebellion against him. But whatever the reason behind David’s ongoing grief, it had become a problem. Since the victory, there had been no celebration, no words of gratitude from David to his troops. In fact, David’s dour mood had affected the entire city. We’re told the people “crept back into the town that day as though they were ashamed and had deserted in battle” (2 Samuel 19:3 NLT). And “the joy of that day’s victory was turned into deep sadness” (2 Samuel 19:2 NLT).
How long would this have gone on? We don’t know. But we do know that one man decided to do something about it. Joab, David’s long-time friend and the commander of his army, could not sit back and watch David squander this great victory and continue to treat his people with contempt. So, he stepped in and spoke up and, in doing so, he took a great risk. After all, David was the king. And Joab is the one who disobeyed a direct order from David to spare Absalom’s life. He had personally thrust three spears into the body of Absalom as he hung defenseless from the branches of a tree. Now, he was going to confront the man who could have him put to death for his insubordination. But for Joab, it was worth the risk. Something had to be done.
The Bible has much to say about the power of a well-intended and well-timed rebuke. It is never something we like to do. But there is no doubt that there are time when it is exactly what we need to do. A rebuke, when done in love, has a curative and restorative quality to it. The apostle James reminds us, “you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins” (James 5:20 NLT). David’s excessive mourning over the loss of Absalom was a sin. He was not only offending the sensibilities of his own people by overlooking all that they had done for him, he was treating God with contempt by refusing to acknowledge His hand of deliverance in all that had happened. God had done what David had refused to do, punish Absalom for his murder of Amnon. God had returned the kingdom of Israel back to David. And all David could do was spend his days crying.
The Proverbs of Solomon have much to say about the topic of rebuke.

Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue. – Proverbs 28:23 ESV

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. – Proverbs 27:5-6 ESV

Solomon would go on to discuss the same topic in Ecclesiastes.

Better to be criticized by a wise person than to be praised by a fool. – Ecclesiastes 7:5 NLT

Perhaps Solomon, the son of David and the God-appointed heir to David’s throne, learned these lessons from David himself. David would later write in one of his psalms:

Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they correct me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it. – Psalm 141:5 NLT

What Joab had to say was difficult for David to hear. His words would have stung. But they were necessary. They were exactly what David needed at this point in his life, because he was blind to the impact his actions were having on all those around him. So Joab was blunt, even harsh, telling David, “You seem to love those who hate you and hate those who love you” (2 Samuel 19:6 NLT). Ouch! That had to have hurt. Those words must have been like a slap in the face to David. But Joab was not done. “It seems that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died, you would be pleased” (2 Samuel 19:6 NLT). Now, we know that this was not true of David. It was not how he really felt, but the exaggerated nature of Joab’s words were intended to be a wake-up call for David. His language was meant to shock and shame David. The king had become oblivious to the impact his actions were having on all those around him. Can you imagine how the rest of David’s children felt about his over-the-top display of sorrow over Absalom? What about his ten concubines who had been sexually humiliated by Absalom on the palace rooftop? David had said nothing to them. He had done nothing for them. David’s behavior had become dangerously destructive. His fractured kingdom and damaged reputation were in need of repair, but instead he was doing more harm than good. Until Joab did what needed to be done. And his efforts worked.

So the king went out and took his seat at the town gate, and as the news spread throughout the town that he was there, everyone went to him. – 2 Samuel 19:8 NLT

Joab took a risk. He put his neck on the line. Why? Because he cared for David. And he knew that if he did nothing, the ramifications would be devastating. He had even warned David, “Now go out there and congratulate your troops, for I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a single one of them will remain here tonight. Then you will be worse off than ever before” (2 Samuel 19:7 NLT). Doing nothing was not an option for Joab. He could not afford to sit back and watch David destroy the kingdom. There was far too much at stake.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Sometimes our words, even when spoken in love, will hurt. But if our intent is their restoration and reconciliation, then it will be worth it. If we are motivated by love and focused on restoring the one to whom we are speaking, then our words, while initially hurtful, will prove helpful in the long run. David was in deep sorrow, but it was a misdirected and unhealthy sorrow. It was destroying all those around him. He wasn’t expressing sorrow over the deaths of the 20,000 Israelites who were killed in the battle between his forces and those of Absalom. He wasn’t regretting or repenting of his role in this whole affair. Not once do we see David confessing to God and admitting his culpability for all that had taken place. And the apostle Paul provides us with a powerful reminder of what godly sorrow really looks like:

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT

Had Joab not spoken up, David might not have ever woken up and seen the devastating nature of his actions. Joab’s love for David was expressed in his willingness to say to David what he needed to hear. To say nothing would have been easier, but it would have been nothing less than an expression of hatred.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Ungratefulness For God’s Faithfulness.

Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, “Let me run and carry news to the king that the Lord has delivered him from the hand of his enemies.” And Joab said to him, “You are not to carry news today. You may carry news another day, but today you shall carry no news, because the king’s son is dead.” Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed before Joab, and ran. Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite.” And Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?” “Come what may,” he said, “I will run.” So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.

Now David was sitting between the two gates, and the watchman went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he lifted up his eyes and looked, he saw a man running alone. The watchman called out and told the king. And the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.” And he drew nearer and nearer. The watchman saw another man running. And the watchman called to the gate and said, “See, another man running alone!” The king said, “He also brings news.” The watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” And the king said, “He is a good man and comes with good news.”

Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “All is well.” And he bowed before the king with his face to the earth and said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.” And the king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.” And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still.

And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “Good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” – 2 Samuel 18:19-33 ESV 

David had sent his troops into battle against the superior forces of his son, Absalom, and he had stayed behind. As the day wore on, he could do nothing but wonder what had happened. This was a winner-takes-all battle that would determine whether David would regain his throne, spend his life in exile, or lose his life to his own son. So, when Joab and his troops had won a great victory over and done away with Absalom, they sent word to David. But Joab knew exactly how David would respond. He had been fully aware of David’s command to spare the life of Absalom, but he had disobeyed. He had personally driven three spears into the body of David’s rebellious son as he helplessly hung from a tree, his hair long hair caught in its branches.
Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok the priest, had already been chosen by David to be a courier, bringing him any news taking place within the walls of Jerusalem. So, he offered to be the one to inform David of the great victory. But Joab knew that this news was not going to be received well by David. Joab knew David well and had seen how he had treated other messengers who bore bad news (2 Samuel 1). As a result, he sent a Cushite, a foreigner, to tell David of the victory and the death of his son. Yet, Ahimaaz was determined to be the one to give David the news and he outran the Cushite. And when he arrived at David’s camp, he only told him of the victory over the Israelites. He pleaded ignorance regarding the physical well-being of Absalom. Perhaps he didn’t know what had happened or he could have lied, desiring to win favor with David by being the first to tell him the good news of the victory. He would let the Cushite be the bearer of bad news. And bad news it was. David’s reaction says it all.
The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.” – 2 Samuel 18:33 NLT
David doesn’t say a word about the victory. He shows no gratitude to either Ahimaaz or the Cushite for bringing him news that his kingdom had been restored. Even these two young men had recognized the hand of God in the day’s events. Ahimaaz had announced to David:
“Praise to the Lord your God, who has handed over the rebels who dared to stand against my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 18:28 NLT

The Cushite had responded in a similar way:

“I have good news for my lord the king. Today the Lord has rescued you from all those who rebelled against you.” – 2 Samuel 18:31 NLT

There is a passage in the book of Isaiah reflects the perspective David should have had when he received the news of God’s miraculous deliverance of his kingdom.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! – Isaiah 52:7 NLT

But rather than celebrate the salvation of God, David mourned the loss of his son. He even wished that he had been the one to die that day, instead of Absalom. This ingratitude toward God was evident to all those around David. It shocked and surprised them. David was taking the divine deliverance of God and treating it with disdain. It was one thing to mourn and regret the loss of his son, but he had an obligation as the God-anointed king of Israel to lead his people by example. This was not to be a day of mourning, but celebration. The kingdom needed to unified. David needed to put aside his personal issues and begin the process of restoring the faith of his people in his ability to lead well. Absalom had undermined David’s integrity and had caused the people to reject his as king. Now that he had his throne back, he need to win back the hearts of the people. But David was too busy mourning.

And this would go on for some time. The opening lines of the very next chapter tell us:

Word soon reached Joab that the king was weeping and mourning for Absalom. As all the people heard of the king’s deep grief for his son, the joy of that day’s victory was turned into deep sadness. They crept back into the town that day as though they were ashamed and had deserted in battle. The king covered his face with his hands and kept on crying, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” – 2 Samuel 19:1-4 NLT

David’s demeanor cast a pall over the entire nation. Rather than displaying a spirit of celebration, there was a somberness and seriousness to the people. They were afraid to express joy because their king was despondent and depressed. And David’s actions would not have expressed confidence in his troops. They would have naturally been upset that the king had turned their great victory into a national day of mourning. They had risked their lives and many of their brothers had lost their lives so that David might be restored to his throne. And all he could do was weep over the death of his rebellious son.

The prophet Isaiah goes on to describe how the king and the nation should have responded to the news of the victory over their enemy:

The watchmen shout and sing with joy,
    for before their very eyes
    they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem.
Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song,
    for the Lord has comforted his people.
    He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has demonstrated his holy power
    before the eyes of all the nations.
All the ends of the earth will see
    the victory of our God. – Isaiah 52:8-10 NLT

How easy it is for us to view life from our limited perspective and to selfishly place our desires over those of God. David had wanted to spare Absalom and somehow return things back to the way they had been before. But God, in His justice, had determined to punish Absalom for what he had done. He was deserving of death. And had David been able to spare him, Absalom would have proven to be a constant threat to his throne. God did what needed to be done. And He had graciously given David back his kingdom. But rather than gratitude and joy, David returned God’s undeserved favor with self-pity and infectious spirit of sorrow.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Will the Real King Stand Up?

Then David mustered the men who were with him and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. And David sent out the army, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the men, “I myself will also go out with you.” But the men said, “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.” The king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands. And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword.

And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king’s son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.

Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them. And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home. Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom’s monument to this day. – 2 Samuel 18:1-18 ESV

Like a modern-day soap opera, there are so many plots and sub-plots going on in this passage that it is difficult to know exactly what the main point may be. You have the battle between the forces of David and those of Absalom. There is Joab mortally wounding Absalom, providing what would appear to be a well-justified sentence for his rebellion. But what Joab did was against the direct orders of David. Which brings up another intriguing sub-plot. Why was David, yet again, unwilling to enact justice against a rebellious son? He had failed to punish Amnon for his rape of Tamar. He had also failed to enact judgment on Absalom for his murder of Amnon, which had eventually led to Absalom’s loss of respect for David and his overthrow of his kingdom.

And finally, we see the interesting side note that tells of Absalom having erected a monument to himself. That part shouldn’t surprise us, because we have seen ample evidence of Absalom’s pride. But what is significant is the statement, “I have no son to carry on my name” (2 Samuel 18:18 NLT). How could that be? According to 2 Samuel 14:27, Absalom had three sons and a daughter. What would possess him to say that he had no son to carry on his name? Perhaps his sons had refused to follow in their father’s footsteps. There is the possibility that they had all died. Or it could be that Absalom had erected the monument before his sons had been born. But whatever the case, Absalom left a lasting memorial to himself by erecting a monument that bore his own name.

Nothing ever seems to be tidy and neat when it comes to the life of David. This section is no different that any of the others we have read. There are so many complications and conflicts going on it can be difficult to keep up. The battle between David’s forces and those of Absalom, as significant as it was, is nothing compared to all the mini-conflicts taking place behind the scenes. David had specifically commanded that Absalom be spared. Yet Joab, the commander of his army and the one who had convinced David to allow Absalom to return to Jerusalem in the first place (2 Samuel 14), would disobey those orders. Easily overlooked in all of this is the fact that more than 20,000 Israelites lost their lives that day. This had been a civil war, an internecine conflict between brothers. David lost a son, but as a result of his failure to deal with Absalom’s original sin against Amnon, David had caused many Israelites to lose their fathers, sons and brothers. There would be 20,000 other graves dug that day. There would be countless mothers, father, wives, brothers and sisters, mourning the loss of someone they loved. And all of this can be traced back to David’s sin with Bathsheba. Absalom would be the third son David would lose as a result of his moral indiscretion.

In Psalm 63, written while he was hiding in the wilderness, David penned the following words:

But those plotting to destroy me will come to ruin.
    They will go down into the depths of the earth.
They will die by the sword
    and become the food of jackals.
But the king will rejoice in God.
    All who swear to tell the truth will praise him,
    while liars will be silenced. – Psalm 63:9-11 NLT

David believed in the vengeance of God, but it seems he had a hard time seeing it apply to one of his own. David’s command that the life of Absalom be spared does not reflect well on David’s leadership. It speaks of his regret and recognition that all of this was his own fault. He is reticent to punish Absalom. But his unwillingness to deal with the rebellion of Absalom would have set a dangerous precedence. He needed to reestablish his authority and nip this thing in the bud. But it took Joab, disobeying a direct order of the king, to do what needed to be done. Joab was forced to go against the king’s wishes and risk his retribution, but he did the right thing. The rebellion had been ended and its leader, eliminated. David’s reign over Israel had been restored. And it is important to note, that David played no part in any of it. On the advice of Joab, David remained behind, safe and sound and out of any danger. Perhaps Joab had known that, had David gone into battle, he would have spared the life of Absalom. So he had recommended that David stay behind and David had readily agreed.

With all that happened in this passage, we must lose sight of the fact that God was in control. The events recorded in these verses are an expression of God’s divine will concerning Absalom and David. From God’s perspective, Absalom was a usurper to the throne. He had no right to claim the kingship of Israel. David was still the Lord’s anointed. All of this was part of God’s plan to deal with Absalom’s sin against Amnon. David may have been willing to overlook and forget what Absalom had done, but God was not. The rebellion of Absalom should have been a wake-up call to David just how dangerous it can be to turn a blind eye toward sin. Absalom’s rebellion, while apparently successful, was destined to be short-lived, because it did not have God’s backing. It was simply a means by which God was going to repay Absalom while teaching David yet another vital lesson in justice.

As the story unfolds, we will see David weep over the loss of Absalom. But we will not see him shed a single tear for the unnecessary loss of life that came as result of Absalom’s rebellion. There will be no mention of the 10 concubines violated by Absalom on the palace rooftop. David would return to power, but over a fractured and divided nation. And his continual mourning over the loss of his son would send a confusing message to those who had fought for him and helped restore his kingdom to him. Absalom was dead, but the difficulties were far from over. David had his work cut out for him, and it was going to take Joab, once again, to help David do the right thing. God would use this faithful friend to speak truth into David’s life, convicting and forcing him to do what God would have him do.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Hand of God.

Then Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, “Thus and so did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and so have I counseled. Now therefore send quickly and tell David, ‘Do not stay tonight at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means pass over, lest the king and all the people who are with him be swallowed up.’” Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were waiting at En-rogel. A female servant was to go and tell them, and they were to go and tell King David, for they were not to be seen entering the city. But a young man saw them and told Absalom. So both of them went away quickly and came to the house of a man at Bahurim, who had a well in his courtyard. And they went down into it. And the woman took and spread a covering over the well’s mouth and scattered grain on it, and nothing was known of it. When Absalom’s servants came to the woman at the house, they said, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” And the woman said to them, “They have gone over the brook of water.” And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.

After they had gone, the men came up out of the well, and went and told King David. They said to David, “Arise, and go quickly over the water, for thus and so has Ahithophel counseled against you.” Then David arose, and all the people who were with him, and they crossed the Jordan. By daybreak not one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.

When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.

Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. Now Absalom had set Amasa over the army instead of Joab. Amasa was the son of a man named Ithra the Ishmaelite, who had married Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab’s mother. And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead.

When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.” – 2 Samuel 17:15-29 ESV

The will of God begins to reveal itself as the story unfolds. His divine strategy becomes increasingly clearer as each detail of the narrative takes place. David had sent Hushai, one of his counselors, back to Jerusalem, with instructions to act as his spy in the court of Absalom. Specifically, Hushai was to act as a counselor to Absalom, countering any advice given by Ahithophel, another one of David’s former counselors who had betrayed him. Hushai had done as David asked and had been able to refute the counsel given by Ahithophel. Had Hushai not been there, Absalom would have listened to the advice of Ahithophel and sent 12,000 men to hunt David down. David would have been severely outmanned, exhausted by his quick departure from Jerusalem, and burdened by the presence of many defenseless women and children. Had Hushai not been there to provide alternative counsel to Absalom, things could have turned out very badly for David. But God was in control. He gave Hushai the exact words to speak that would appeal to the ego of Absalom and do the most damage to the heart of Ahithophel.

Part of Hushai’s advice to Absalom was that he assemble a massive army in order to fight one epic battle with David, and that he personally lead this army. Hushai, under the divine inspiration of God, gave counsel that stroked the massive ego of Absalom and caused him to reject the counsel of Ahithophel. And Ahithophel took this rejection very hard. So much so, that he went out and hung himself. There are those who believe that he did not do so until after the battle between David and Absalom actually took place and he knew that his days were numbered. But the text does not indicate that kind of a delay. It would appear that Ahithophel had betrayed David so that he could be the one and only counselor to the new king. He had helped Absalom plan his coup. He had gone out of his way to ingratiate himself to David’s rebellious son, because he craved power and influence. And when Hushai showed up and proved himself capable of winning over Absalom’s favor, Ahithophel couldn’t take it. So, he killed himself. Once again, God was working behind the scenes, orchestrating events in such a way that the outcomes were in David’s favor.

Even when Hushai attempted to send news to David through their network of spies, and Absalom found out, God stepped in and provided protection Jonathan and Ahimaaz. They were able to find sanctuary in the house of someone favorable to David. And, when Absalom’s men could not locate them, they were able to escape and warn David of Absalom’s plans.

David would have time to prepare for the upcoming battle with Absalom, and one of the first things he had to do was to amass enough men to field an army of his own. But God was on his side and before David knew it, the necessary forces began to show up, unannounced and uninvited. The text lists the names of Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai. These three men come alongside David, providing him with food and support. David was not alone. These men brought David physical refreshment in the form of food, but more important than that, they brought him moral support. They offered him their friendship in one of the darkest moments of his life. God was letting David know that all was not lost. This seemingly bleak period of David’s life was going to have a bright outcome. David did not know what fate the next day held, but he was confident that God was with him. Sometimes, God reveals Himself to us in the little “miracles” of life. Hushai’s counsel had been accepted by Absalom. David’s spy network had worked and God had protected Jonathan and Ahimaaz, so that they could bring David news. Food and moral support had shown up unexpectedly, but at just the right time. And, as we will see in the very next chapter, many others would lend their support to David’s cause, allowing him to field an army that numbered in the thousands.

God was at work. He is not mentioned in this section of Scripture, but His presence and power can be felt. He is at work, unseen by human eyes, but clearly evident in the way the events unfold. You can almost sense the tide turning and the momentum shifting. Absalom has been on a role. Up until this point, everything had been going his way. He could do nothing wrong. He had taken the city of Jerusalem without a fight and stolen his father’s kingdom in a bloodless coup. He had the hearts of the people and the future looked bright. But he could not see the hand of God. He was oblivious to what God was doing and what God had in store for him. Little did he know that his co-conspirator and primary counselor had hung himself. And before long, Absalom would find himself hanging by his hair from a tree. Because the hand of God is greater than the armies of man.

You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lord Had Ordained.

Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.” And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.

Then Absalom said, “Call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he has to say.” And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom said to him, “Thus has Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he says? If not, you speak.” Then Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” Hushai said, “You know that your father and his men are mighty men, and that they are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. Besides, your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the people. Behold, even now he has hidden himself in one of the pits or in some other place. And as soon as some of the people fall at the first attack, whoever hears it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.’ Then even the valiant man, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and that those who are with him are valiant men. But my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, as the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person. So we shall come upon him in some place where he is to be found, and we shall light upon him as the dew falls on the ground, and of him and all the men with him not one will be left. If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we shall drag it into the valley, until not even a pebble is to be found there.” And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom. – 2 Samuel 17:1-14 ESV

It is next to impossible to discern the will of God, unless He chooses to reveal it. All we can do is look at the external circumstances and wonder what it is that He is doing or whether He is doing anything at all. Paul to the believers in Rome, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT). Solomon, David’s own son, would speak of the unfathomable ways of God in the book of Ecclesiastes. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT). Sometimes it is clear what God is doing. Other times, it is almost impossible for us to even sense His presence. But the Bible paints a picture of God that shows Him intimately involved in His creation and within the lives of men. Because of our limited, earth-bound perspectives and our inability to see beyond the physical dimension in which we live, we fail to see God at work. And even when we sense He might be up to something, we question His ways. But He would have us remember:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

So when David found himself being forced to abandon the city of Jerusalem because of a military coup orchestrated by his own sin, he had no idea what God was up to. He was left to wonder if God was punishing him and had chosen to give his kingdom to another. Or perhaps, God had something else in store. David had no idea just what God was up to, but he was willing to believe that God was behind all that was happening to him and around him. He had even sent Hushai, one of his personal counselors, back to the city of Jerusalem, to act as a spy within the administration of Absalom. And this decision, while apparently David’s idea, would be used by God to accomplish His will concerning Absalom.

Ahithophel, another one of David’s former advisors, had betrayed him, having helped Absalom in his planning of the coup that would displace David as king. He had become a close confidant and advisor to Absalom. It was he who had given Absalom the advice to publicly humiliate David by sexually assaulting David’s ten concubines on the palace roof. But it is important for us to recall that this event had actually been foretold by God Himself. He had warned David that this very thing would happen, in exactly the manner it happened (2 Samuel 12:11-12). So Ahithopel’s advice to Absalom had actually been the will of God. The Almighty had used this unfaithful, wicked man to accomplish His will concerning David. And now, Ahithophel came to Absalom with yet more advice. But this time, God would choose to use another source to accomplish His will. Ahithophel most likely felt like he was on a role. He had the new king’s ear and it was to his advantage to make sure David was eliminated as a possible threat. So he asked Absalom for permission to take 12,000 men and hunt David down while he was weak and weary. He swore to kill only David and promised Absalom, “Then you will be at peace with all the people” (2 Samuel 17:3 NLT).
But God had other plans. So, while Absalom was pleased with the advice of Ahithophel, for some reason he decided to seek other counsel and turned to Hushai. It is important to remember that David had been the one to send Hushai back to Jerusalem, having told him, “Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice” (2 Samuel 16:34 NLT). And now, God orchestrated things in such a way, that David’s plan would actually happen. Hushai was able to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel, but only because God gave him the opportunity. The text makes it perfectly clear that this was all God’s doing.
For the Lord had determined to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, which really was the better plan, so that he could bring disaster on Absalom! – 2 Samuel 17:14 NLT
Where did Hushai get the idea for his plan? God. Where had Ahithophel gotten the idea for Absalom to do what he did to the ten concubines of David? God. The Lord had ordained all that had happened. He was behind the events taking place. Absalom’s takeover of the kingdom could not have happened without God’s permission. Even Ahithophel’s betrayal of David was all part of God’s plan. And yet, these very thoughts cause a great deal of discomfort and confusion to many. They wrestle with the idea of God either causing or allowing evil to happen. They struggle with questions regarding the free will of man and seeming fatalism involved in the sovereign will of God. Did God cause Ahithophel to betray David? Was God behind Absalom’s plans to overthrow his father’s government? There are aspects regarding the will of God and how He brings it about that we will never fully understand. The ways of God are beyond our capacity to understand or figure out. The capacity to comprehend how He accomplishes His will is way beyond what our finite minds can handle. And yet, just because we can’t discern or explain the ways of God does not mean we should refuse to see Him at work. Moses would have us remember this important reality concerning God:
He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT
We may not understand the ways of God. We may not even approve of how He does things. But who are we to question God? What right do we, the creation, have to disagree with or disapprove of the ways in which the Creator works? The apostle Paul warns us, “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20 NLT). The prophet Isaiah had a similar warning:
“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT
In our desire for autonomy and self-sufficiency, we have bought into the lie that we are somehow in charge of our own fates. That is what led Absalom to do what he did. He had convinced himself to believe that he was a self-made man and in charge of his own future. But he failed to realize that it is God who directs the affairs of men. God does not cause men to sin, but He uses their sinful dispositions to accomplish His divine will. The prophet Isaiah provides us with yet more helpful insights into understanding how God works.

He boasts, “By my own powerful arm I have done this. With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it. I have broken down the defenses of nations and carried off their treasures. I have knocked down their kings like a bull. I have robbed their nests of riches and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs. No one can even flap a wing against me or utter a peep of protest.”

But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it? Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:13-15 NLT

Our natural tendency is to want to elevate the power of man and to negate the sovereign will of God. Man’s innate desire to be god, is what drives him to reject the power of God. And yet the story of David continues to remind us that our God is in control of all things and at all times. The Lord had ordained the events surrounding David’s life. And He had a perfectly good reason for all that was happening.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Light In the Darkness.

Now Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him. And when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came to Absalom, Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” And Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” And Hushai said to Absalom, “No, for whom the Lord and this people and all the men of Israel have chosen, his I will be, and with him I will remain. And again, whom should I serve? Should it not be his son? As I have served your father, so I will serve you.”

Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel. What shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom. – 2 Samuel 16:15-23 ESV

Absalom entered Jerusalem. His carefully and patiently planned coup had come off without a hitch. Without lifting a sword or shedding a drop of blood, Absalom had stolen his father’s throne and elevated himself to the highest position in the land. And yet, from God’s perspective, nothing had changed. David was still the anointed king of Israel. God had not chosen Absalom to replace David. But God was using Absalom to fulfill the words He had spoken against David for his sins of adultery and murder. The prophet, Nathan, had given David the bad news:

“This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.” – 2 Samuel 12:11-12 NLT

And in keeping with His word, God saw to it that this was exactly what happened. Based on the counsel of Ahithophel, Absalom took the ten concubines who had been left behind by David to maintain the palace, and had sexual relations with them. This was intended to be an insult to David, showing that Absalom had not only taken David’s kingdom and palace, but everything that had once belonged to him. And this final slap in the face to David was done in public view so everyone would know exactly what was happening. A tent was erected on the roof of David’s former palace and the news was of what Absalom was doing was spread throughout the city. But it is essential that we recognize this all part of God’s will. He had warned David this very thing would happen. From that very same roof top, David had spied Bathsheba bathing and lusted after her. He had sent for her and slept with her. Then to cover his sin and the unexpected news that she was pregnant, he would have her husband executed. David’s sin had been done in secret. But God’s discipline of David would be for all to see.

Like so many other times in the Scriptures, God was using an enemy to teach His child a lesson. God was using an unexpected source as a means of discipline in the life of one of his children. And it would seem that the counsel Ahithophel provided to Absalom came directly from God Himself. God was using this former counselor of David, who had treacherously aided Absalom in his overthrow of the kingdom, to accomplish His divine will concerning David’s punishment. This was all part of God’s plan. At no point was God out of control or up in heaven shaking His head in surprise at all that was taking place. God was using these events to accomplish His will and He had more in store for Absalom than his surprising ascension to the throne. While, from a human perspective, all looked lost, God was in complete control of every single aspect of this entire affair. As demoralizing and humiliating as all of this was to David, God was at work. He was simply fulfilling what He had promised and accomplishing all that He had planned. What appeared to be an unmitigated disaster was actually part of God’s sovereign will.

There is an invaluable lesson in this chapter for each of us who claim to be children of God. When we encounter difficulties and trials in our lives, it is so easy for us to automatically assume that God is somehow out of control. We have somehow convinced ourselves that the presence of difficulties in our lives is a proof of the absence of God. When we see our enemies celebrating their victories over us, we jump to the conclusion that God doesn’t care. It would have been easy for David to assume that God was now with Absalom. After all, he had won the hearts of the people. And David could think of plenty of reasons why God would want to replace him as king. But David didn’t have access to the mind of God. He had no idea what God was doing behind the scenes. And one of the hardest things for the child of God to do is to trust God, regardless of what we see happening around us. From a human perspective, it all appeared as if Absalom’s plans had succeeded. But the Scriptures would have us remember that God’s plans trump those of men each and every time.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 NLT

The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has spoken – who can change his plans? When his hand is raised, who can stop him? – Isaiah 14:27 NLT

Absalom believed his plan had succeeded. And it had. But only because God had a greater plan in store for all involved. While Absalom gloated over his victory from the throne in Jerusalem and David mourned over his fate somewhere along the banks of the Jordan, God was working His plan. He was orchestrating affairs in such a way that both men would be in for a surprise as to how this whole affair turned out. God had chosen David to be king, and nothing Absalom did was going to change that fact. He could take over David’s throne temporarily, but not permanently, and only because God had allowed it. David found himself defeated, dethroned, and demoralized, but God was not done yet. He was still God’s choice to be king. His son, Solomon, would be God’s handpicked successor, not Absalom. And while things looked bleak, God was in full control.

When our circumstances create uncertainty and leave us in a state of doubt and confusion, we are to look to God. He is always on His throne. His power is constant. His will is unavoidable. His plans are unstoppable. His love for us is inescapable. It was during this difficult time in David’s life that he penned the words of Psalm 3. They reflect his trust in God’s unfailing love for him – even in the darkest moments of life.

O Lord, I have so many enemies;
    so many are against me.
So many are saying,
    “God will never rescue him!” Interlude

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
    you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
I cried out to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy mountain. Interlude

I lay down and slept,
    yet I woke up in safety,
    for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
    who surround me on every side.

Arise, O Lord!
    Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
    Shatter the teeth of the wicked!
Victory comes from you, O Lord.
    May you bless your people. – Psalm 3


English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson