Scripture: 2 Samuel 14-16
We are not going to read the first half of chapter 14, but I need to summarize the story. Joab is the commander of David’s army. Absalom is David’s son. Absalom is living in exile because he killed his brother Amnon.
After three years, Joab comes up with a plan to bring Absalom home. He tries to hide his intentions from David by involving a widow, but David sees through it and the widow confesses. She says:
20 In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this.
Even so, David shows Joab mercy and allows Absalom to return to Jerusalem, on one condition:
24 And the king said, “Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence.” So Absalom lived apart in his own house and did not come into the king’s presence.
This was David’s way of saying – you can come home, but we’re not ok. It was also a way to limit Absalom’s power. Most historians think that David has already announced Solomon as the next king. That sets up the conflict we are about to read.
25 Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.
Do you remember the last man in the Bible to be described in this way? It was Saul and that’s important. The writer wants us to make that connection. In the next two verses, we learn that Absalom had long flowing hair, three sons, and a beautiful daughter.
But then the story quickly takes a turn. Absalom was a handsome man with a wicked heart.
28 So Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence. 29 Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but Joab would not come to him. And he sent a second time, but Joab would not come.
30 Then he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. 31 Then Joab arose and went to Absalom at his house and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?”
32 Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent word to you, ‘Come here, that I may send you to the king, to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.” Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.’”
33 Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.
The irony in this chapter is how badly Joab’s plan backfires. Remember what the widow said? In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this. And Joab got more than he bargained for. Absalom was a threat, not an ally.
There’s a practical lesson in this. Very often, we think we know what is best and we try to make it happen. And very often, our efforts to “change the course of things” will make things worse. Joab got involved in a conflict that had nothing to do with him.
“Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” – Proverbs 26:17
In other words, Joab should have stayed in his lane. And now, the fox is in the henhouse.
15:1 After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him.
He’s trying to look the part of a warrior. This is the ancient equivalent to a man driving an expensive, flashy vehicle only to be seen in it.
2 And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,”
He’s networking. Absalom knew everyone and everyone knew Absalom.
3 Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4 Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.”
Notice, he’s telling every man that his claim is good and right, which can’t possibly be true. And it’s easy to say what you would do if you had the power to do it. He sounds like most politicians, right?
5 And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.
This man was a smooth operator. This was a man on a mission. This was an ambitious man. And it’s obvious what he wanted… he wanted to be king.
7 And at the end of four years Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron. 8 For your servant vowed a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram, saying, ‘If the Lord will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to the Lord.’”
9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron. 10 But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, ‘Absalom is king at Hebron!’”
11 With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem who were invited guests, and they went in their innocence and knew nothing. 12 And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.
The most wicked thing about Absalom’s conspiracy is that he does all this under the false pretense of worship. He’s using God to get what he wants. He’s making fake sacrifices!
And I think there is another practical lesson here, especially for modern pastors and ministry leaders. Beware of any man who would use the church to get power, money, or fame for himself. In today’s culture, this is a constant temptation. Celebrity pastors really shouldn’t be a thing.
But notice also – the fault doesn’t lie only with Absalom. The people were also to blame. They fell in love with this handsome devil. And we still do it. Our culture elevates charisma and success above everything else. We create famous people and then worship them, but people weren’t created to be famous because we are not meant to be worshipped.
Do you remember what God said to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16, when Samuel was looking for the king to replace Saul?
The LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
Far too often, we look at appearance and we ignore character. There were warning signs along the way. Absalom had proven himself to be a man who would do anything to get what he wanted. But the people saw what they wanted to see.
13 And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” 14 Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.”
15 And the king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.” 16 So the king went out, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house. 17 And the king went out, and all the people after him.
The rest of chapter 15 tells us about some of the people who remained loyal to David. But there is one section I want to focus on. This is the moment when David shows us his character. In spite of David’s many failures, his heart is still focused on God.
24 And Abiathar came up, and behold, Zadok came also with all the Levites, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God until the people had all passed out of the city.
25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. 26 But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.”
That is a remarkable faith. From a human perspective, the odds are clearly in Absalom’s favor. And now David is giving Absalom the ark! The people will assume Absalom has God’s favor! They will assume that David is giving up.
But David was not giving up. David was leaving the entire situation up to God. In fact, David basically left everything behind except God! He was clearly not afraid to lose it all. And it gets worse. Watch what happens as they travel away from the city.
16:5 When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. 6 And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left.
7 And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! 8 The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.”
9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” 10 But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’”
11 And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. 12 It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.”
13 So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. 14 And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.
The composure of David in this situation is astounding. He has nothing to prove. He lets it happen and trusts that even his suffering if for a reason. He leaves it all up to God.
Absalom is back in Jerusalem trying to look the part of a king. David is in the wilderness again, and he is completely unconcerned with how he looks. He’s letting a man throw dirt at him!
And then they arrive at the Jordan river and the text says they refreshed themselves. In other words, they slept. David wrote Psalm 3 in this moment and listen to what he says:
5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
This is not the self-confidence of an insane man. This is a man confident in his God. David went to sleep a king and he woke up a king because God is on the throne. It didn’t matter that he looked defeated. It didn’t matter that the devil thought he won. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought about him.
And I want this kind of confidence in my life. I want this kind of character. I don’t want to be Absalom. But the truth is, I’ve still got a lot of Absalom in my heart. I still care far too much about how other people see me. And there’s so much I’m afraid to lose.
But the object of my faith is not my faith. The object of my faith is not my ability to be more like David. The object of my faith is the greater David. This entire story is rich with Gospel narrative.
Because there was another king who marched out of Jerusalem, enduring insults as he went. There was another king who looked defeated. David still had friends on his side. Jesus had none. Shimei said to David, “your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.” Jesus took our evil on himself and became a man of blood for us.
David’s son sought to take his father’s life. God the Father demanded the life of His only Son, and the Son of God surrendered his life freely. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. The worship Jesus offered His father was pure and the sacrifice was perfect. He lay down his life and slept the dark sleep of death. Three days later, he woke again – for the Lord sustained Him!
And many thousands who had set themselves against the King, including me, were saved.
Brothers and sisters, anything we are afraid to lose is no loss compared to this Jesus.