Absalom's Rebellion

2 Samuel 15-17
14th Sunday after Pentecost–September 10, 2017 (am)


There’s an old story about a Chinese man who had a son and a horse. When the horse ran away, the neighbors came to comfort their friend regarding the evil that had befallen him.

How do you know that this is evil? asked the man.

The next day the horse returned and brought seven stray horses with him. So, the friends now returned to rejoice with the man for the good that had befallen him.

How do you know that this is good? the man now asked.

The next day his son was thrown from one of the stray horses and broke his leg. So, the neighbors gathered again to comfort him regarding the evil that had befallen him.

How do you know that this is evil? he asked.

The next day soldiers came through the countryside looking for young men to be conscripted for battle. His son, now incapacitated, was exempt. The neighbors gathered once more to rejoice with their friend regarding this good twist of fortune.

How do you know that this is good? he asked. 

We have such a limited perspective on the true importance of what is going on around us, or even in our own daily lives, that we should appreciate deeply what we see and hear in our text today. And we should recognize that far more is happening at any given moment than we actually perceive.

Last Sunday and again this Sunday we’ve encountered passages of Scripture that call into question whether David really belongs on the throne in Israel. Last week we saw his sons involved in rape and murder, much as he had been. And even as king he seemed powerless to stop or even correct them. Part of the result was that his son Absalom had landed in virtual exile in Geshur for three years (13:38), then was kept from the king’s presence for an additional two years (14:28) after his return.

As that passage came to a close, we read: 1433 … Then Joab went to the king…, 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. But we noted that this scene did not give us much comfort looking ahead, especially right on the heels of Absalom’s having set Joab’s barley field on fire to get his (and the king’s) attention!

And, sure enough, as our text begins today we see that Absalom has not warmed up to the king or to the way he’s been handled. And he begins to pursue his own plans. Let’s walk through David’s experience in two steps, then take a third in the direction of what it means for us.

The Lord’s Anointed Comes Under Attack – 151-174

Let’s now read the designated portion of our passage today, and see how this story gets started—read 151-26. Absalom decided it was time for him to act like the king, with his chariot and horses and fifty men (running) before him (15:1). It must have seemed to him that David was just as powerless to stop him here as he’d been to stop any of the activities we saw last week. So, Absalom treated the people more like brothers than subjects (5, [Leithart 241]), currying their favor, and he also divided them along tribal lines (2)

As for David, it really does seem like he was unsure of where he stood. He was going to give God every opportunity to remove him from the throne if that was what God wanted. We see it in his quick departure from Jerusalem (15:14). And we see it most clearly in our theme verse today: 1525 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. David was placing his fate—his throne, his house—in the Lord’s hands to confirm it or deny it, to extend it or reject it. 26 But if he says, “I have no pleasure in you,” behold, here I am, David added, let him do to me as seems good to him.

So, David left Jerusalem. And it was no pretty scene. He 1530 … went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went. 31 And they told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” … Ahithophel was an esteemed counselor to David (16:23; 15:12). His counsel was trusted as if one consulted the word of God (16:23). But he was also Bathsheba’s grandfather! (cf. 11:3 with 23:34 [also Leithart 217]) Thus, 31 … David said, “O Lord, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”

And the means for that to be accomplished immediately presented themselves. 1532 While David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and dirt on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go on with me, you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father’s servant in time past, so now I will be your servant,’ then you will defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel. Then, together with the Abiathar and Zadok and their sons Jonathan and Ahimaaz, David could be kept informed of Absalom’s developing strategy (15:35-36 [cf. Baldwin 280]).

Now there were others who showed David support and provided supplies for him and those with him—Ziba, (Mephibosheth’s) servant (16:1-4), and at least four additional men (17:27-29). But there were also those who seized upon this hour to discredit him. 165 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.” This had to play on fears and give voice to concerns and insecurities that ran deep in David’s heart and mind. And so, even though Abishai wanted to take off (Shemei’s) head (16:9), 1611 … David said…, “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.” Leave it in God’s hands, that’s what David is saying again here. But 14 … the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, Absalom was just arriving to establish his throne (16:15), and Hushai arrived at the same time (15:37), affirming his support for Absalom (16:16), as he and David had agreed. Now Absalom was ready to hear the counsel of Ahithophel (16:20). And 1621 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.”  22 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, fulfilling the word of God to David through Nathan the prophet (12:11, … 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.), but also perhaps expressing a bit of revenge for David’s violation of his granddaughter and his murder of her husband!

The next words of Ahithophel recommended a battle strategy for Absalom to defeat his father—171 … let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. Why would an aged counselor command the troops to finish off his king? That question aside, 4 … the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.

The Tide Begins to Turn – 175-29

But that’s when the tide began to turn. Absalom, perhaps suspecting Ahithophel, also wanted to hear from Hushai on this matter (17:5). And he was bold! 177 … Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” And he proceeded to present a strategy that won over the crowd. Send all Israel after David! (17:11) He’s a man of war after all! It will take that to defeat him! 1714 … Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” … So, they went with (Hushai’s) plan. But this approach actually gave David and those with him extra time to get to safety and prepare to meet Absalom and Israel’s army in battle.

However, this is not the reason why (Hushai’s) counsel prevailed. The remainder of v.14 gives us the real reason why (Hushai’s) counsel prevailed, and it is a means of insight that we rarely have available to us even here the histories of Samuel, not to mention in our own day and age. Dropped into the middle of this very dark day in David’s reign, we have an insight into the mind of God that clarifies the whole picture for us. 1714 … The counsel of Hushai the Archite (was) better than the counsel of Ahithophel, (because) the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom.

In one sentence we learn a boatload of information! God was defending David. God was opposing Absalom. And even though God could have done both in any number of ways, He chose to do it by (defeating) the good counsel of Ahithophel such that, recognizing what was happening, this trusted counselor went off home and ended his life (17:23, a subtle prelude to Judas [cf. Psa.41:9 quoted in Joh.13:18]).

And as this chapter draws to a close, Absalom is mounting for battle according to the strategy of Hushai, and David is being strengthened both in position and in supplies to defend his throne and return to Jerusalem (17:24-29).

A Reminder to God’s People of His Presence, Protection, and Provision

Thus, we are enabled to take a step back and drink in what we’ve seen in this passage today. Surely, the Lord is going to defend His anointed one, and restore him to the throne. Indeed, all history is going to follow the Lord’s appointed course. But anyone who analyzes this situation relationally or socially or militarily or even theologically without the knowledge we gain in the final sentence of 1714 is going to miss the mark badly!

Apart from the final sentence in 1714, David and Hushai might later be slapping high fives that their plan worked—David sending him back to Jerusalem to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel (15:34).

Apart from the final sentence in 1714, we might chalk it up to bad military strategy, or kingly inexperience, that Absalom favored (Hushai’s) advice over (Ahithophel’s).

Apart from the final sentence in 1714, we might never know that God had cause to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel—that it’s quite possible Ahithophel had been awaiting an opportunity for revenge against David even longer than Absalom waited for it against Amnon (cf. 13:23).

Apart from the final sentence in 1714, we would have an immeasurably narrower view of all that has happened in this passage, thinking it was just the ups and downs of normal life in an Ancient Near Eastern monarchy, with its plots and plans and posturing.

And apart from the final sentence in 1714, we might be inclined to view our own day in similarly naturalistic ways, never even remembering the sovereign plan and possible situational intrusion of a sovereign, holy, loving God! For us, it’s a temptation every day to explain everything we see and experience as though it were the direct result of visible and traceable causes, just like that would’ve been the temptation for David and Abaslom and Ahithophel and Hushai and all the others in this story.

In fact, in their day, as these events were happening, I doubt any of them even knew the truth of the final sentence in 1714. They didn’t know this was happening! All of them were operating as though their own actions were effecting the outcome of the situations they were involved in, just like we do, even though there’s good evidence that they didn’t even know each other’s competing plans and purposes and priorities, not to mention God’s!

Truth is, we never know—no one does, not them nor us—just what God may be doing at any given moment. But, first, we do know that He is doing something. And, second, we know we need to factor that in to our understanding of everything we see day to day.

We need to factor it in politically, when we feel like the wheels are coming off the government of our nation and the governments of our world.

We need to factor it in socially, when we feel like all rationality has been lost with regard to evaluating the different perspectives people hold about what is important in life, about how we understand ourselves, and about relate to one another as human beings.

We need to factor it in theologically as we seek to understand our world, and engage with it as responsible believers who know and love and proclaim Jesus daily.


So, how do we best do all this?

The one in this passage who shows us the answer is the king of Israel himself, the man who has clearly been weakened by his sin but who still looks to God in the midst of his circumstances to discern His leading, and trusts Him to lead.

David show us how to do this as he tells the priests to carry the ark of God back into the city because, if I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring be back (to) see… it… (15:25).

David shows us as he calls out to God saying: O Lord, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness (15:31). He seeks God to do what only God can do. And then he acts as best he can, sending Hushai back to Jerusalem for the very same purpose (15:34). But he does so trusting God.

David shows us as he receives the curses of Shimei saying: 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 (16:12).

David shows us—even in his weakness and understandable self-doubt—as he continues to act with his best wisdom and discernment, but entrusts his circumstances to God and trusts Him to lead as He chooses.

In short, we do this best, first, as we at least remember that there is a sovereign God in heaven Who is fulfilling His purpose on earth. And we do it best, second, as we seek God to lead us and accomplish His will in our daily lives, and then actually believe He will answer! We do it best as we entrust ourselves to God for the fulfillment of His purpose.

James makes this same sort of statement to his people: Jam.413 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

Is there space in your life for God’s providence, for Him to reverse your perspective on a matter, or even just broaden it? If not, is this rebellion against our King, pursuing our own plan, our own view of this world, rather than His?