In this week’s lesson we will review the events recorded in 2 Samuel 15 and see how King David handled himself after facing his own feelings and failures as we saw last week.
Perhaps no one ever felt more guilty than David. Though he was the greatest of Israel’s kings and the only man in scripture ever described as ‘after God’s own heart’, he was, nevertheless a failure morally and for a while, spiritually, for he lived unashamed for two years after committing adultery and murder.
And there were problems with his children as we read last week. After receiving Absalom back with the help of Joab, his commander, David faced a new challenge. Absalom had less than honorable ambition.
In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, ‘What town are you from?’ He would answer, ‘Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.’ Then Absalom would say to him, ‘Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.’ And Absalom would add, ‘If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he receives justice.’ Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way towards all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the men of Israel. 2 Samuel 15:1-6
This passage describes Absalom’s devious plan for winning the hearts of the people so he could stage a successful coup against his father. That disloyalty of son to father further exacerbated David’s sense of failure.
Failure is a reality of life; we all fail at times. How do we cope with it? Here’s the good news: our God is a God of second chances..and third…and fourth…Listen to what was written by Jeremiah:
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. Lam. 3:22-23
He did this for David and He does it for you.
At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, ‘Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD. While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: If the LORD takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron.’ The King said to him, ‘Go, in peace.’ So Absalom went to Hebron. 2 Sam. 15:7-9
This may indeed be the greatest challenge God set before King David – the deceit and rebellion of his son, Absalom.
The issue here is greatness vs. smallness. We are talking about issues of character.
Absalom was a ‘small’ man, not in stature but in character. How do we know that? Let’s look at the evidence.
- he capitalized on his attractive appearance. The Bible says ‘In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom.’ 2 Sam. 14:25
- he capitalized on his personality. He knew how to ‘work a crowd’, as the saying goes. He knew just what to do to capture the loyalty of the people – he used flattery.
- he made himself look good by making the King, his father, look bad. Trying to win attention or affection from people by making someone else look bad is gross immaturity at the least and downright prideful and cruel at most.
- he went so far as to ‘use’ his supposed relationship with God in his pursuit of power. The Bible talks about having an ‘appearance’ of godliness but not the reality. Absalom is a consummate example of that.
- He could not wait for God to exalt him; he was impatient and strong-willed. And because he was a ‘small’ man, he seized the throne instead of being content with his position in life.
There can be no doubt that Absalom’s behavior grieved and saddened his father. But let’s look at how he responded to the conspiracy against him.
- David refused to defend himself. Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, ‘Come! We must flee…’ (vs. 14) This is completely out of character for the David we have come to know, one of the greatest and most courageous military leaders ever. But in this situation his attitude is: Whether I lose the throne or not is up to God. I will let Him handle this crisis.
- David was reluctant to put others in harm’s way. So the king set out with all the people following him, and they halted at a place some distance away. All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king. The king said to Ittai, the Gittite, ‘Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. And today shall I make you wander about with us when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your countrymen. May kindness and faithfulness be with you.vs. 17-20 By showing concern for these foreigners, David demonstrated that he was the opposite of Absalom, who thought only of himself and his own advancement.
- David let go of what was precious to him – the very thing God had promised him – the kingship. The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley and all the people moved on towards the desert…David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went…vs. 23, 30
- David refused to manipulate the glory of God, to ‘use’ the presence of God for his own profit. Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the Covenant of God…Then the king said to Zadok, ‘Take the ark of God back into the city.’ vs. 24-25 The Ark of the Covenant symbolized the glory and the presence of God. If Zadok and the priests carried it out of the city following David, the people would have said,’The ark of God is with David so we should support him instead of Absalom.’ But David said: Take it back where it belongs – to Jerusalem. He refused to ‘use’ the Ark of God against his enemy.
- David submitted himself on the sovereignty and mercy of God. The king commanded Zadok to take the Ark back to Jerusalem and added: If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, He will bring me back and let me see it and His dwelling place again. But if He says, ‘I am not pleased with you’, then I am ready. Let Him do to me whatever seems good to Him.’ vs. 25-26
Here is a man whose heart was profoundly changed. He is humble before the LORD.
Humility is one of the clearest signs of spiritual maturity. He did not say, ‘Lord, why is this happening to me? You sent your prophet to anoint me king, remember?’ Rather, with utmost humility, he walked away from Jerusalem barefoot in sackcloth and ashes.
David lived another twenty years after this and as we will see in the next lessons, God was indeed most gracious to David for the rest of his life.
Our failures can plunge us into guilt and despair; or, like David, we can learn from our failures, humble ourselves and receive the Lord’s mercy and see His faithfulness. The difference is repentance and faith; acknowledge and repent that you and you alone are the reason for your failures, no one else; then turn to God in faith that with His forgiveness comes another opportunity to turn your mess into a miracle – to grow you up into spiritual maturity.