Meanwhile the alarm was carried to Jerusalem, to me the king. I was suddenly aroused, to see rebellion breaking out close beside my throne. My own son—the son whom Ihad loved and trusted—had been planning to seize my crown and doubtless to take my life.
In my great peril I shook off the depression that had so long rested upon me, and with the spirit of his earlier years I prepared to meet this terrible emergency. Absalom was mustering his forces at Hebron, only about 30 kilometres away. The rebels would soon be at the gates of Jerusalem.
From my palace I looked out upon my capital— “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, … the city of the great King.” Psalm 48:2. I shuddered at the thought of exposing it to carnage and devastation.
Should I call to my help the subjects still loyal to my throne, and make a stand to hold my capital? Should I permit Jerusalem to be deluged with blood? My decision was taken. The horrors of war should not fall upon my chosen city.
I would leave Jerusalem, and then test the fidelity of my people, giving them an opportunity to rally to my support. In this great crisis it was my duty to God and to my people to maintain the authority with which Heaven had invested me. The issue of the conflict I would trust with God.
This was not a pleasant chapter in the experience of my tear filled history.
In humility and sorrow I passed out of the gate of Jerusalem—driven from my throne, from my palace, from the ark of God, by the insurrection of my cherished son. The people followed in a long, sad procession, like a funeral train.
My bodyguard of Cherethites, Pelethites, and six hundred Gittites from Gath, under the command of Ittai, accompanied me. But with my characteristic unselfishness, could not consent that these strangers who had sought his protection should be involved in my calamity.
I expressed surprise that they should be ready to make this sacrifice for. Then I said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why are you also going with us? Return and remain with the king. For you are a foreigner and also an exile from your own place. In fact, you came only yesterday. Should I make you wander up and down with us today, since I go I know not where? Return, and take your brethren back. Mercy and truth be with you.”
But Ittai answered me and said, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely in whatever place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also your servant will be.” These men had been converted from paganism to the worship of God.
They now nobly proved their fidelity to their God and me their king. With grateful heart I accepted their devotion to my apparently sinking cause. And all the country wept with a loud voice and we all passed over the brook Kidron on the way toward the wilderness.
The procession was halted. A company clad in holy vestments was approaching. “And lo Zadok also, and all the Levites were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God.” My followers looked upon this as a happy omen sign.
The presence of that sacred symbol was to them a pledge of their deliverance and ultimate victory. It would inspire the people with courage to rally to the king. Its absence from Jerusalem would bring terror to the adherents of Absalom.
At sight of the ark joy and hope for a moment thrilled my heart.. But soon other thoughts came to me. As the appointed ruler of God’s heritage, I was under solemn responsibility. Not personal interests, but the glory of God and the good of my people, were to be uppermost in the mind of Israel’s king.
God, who dwelt between the cherubim, had said of Jerusalem, “This is My rest” (Psalm 132:14); and without divine authority neither priest nor king had a right to remove therefrom the symbol of His presence.
And I knew that my heart and life must be in harmony with the divine precepts, else the ark would be the means of disaster rather than of success. My great sin was ever before me. I recognized in this conspiracy the just judgment of God.
The sword that was not to depart from me and my house had been unsheathed. I knew not what the result of the struggle might be. It was not for me to remove from the capital of the nation the sacred statutes which embodied the will of their divine Sovereign, which were the constitution of the realm and the foundation of its prosperity.
There was Zadok also, and all the Levites with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God, and Abiathar went up until all the people had finished crossing over from the city.
Then I said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favour 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.”
I also said to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar.
2Sa 15:28 See, I will wait in the plains of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.”
2Sa 15:29 Therefore Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem. And they remained there.
In the city the priests might do me good service by learning the movements and purposes of the rebels, and secretly communicating them to me by their sons, Ahimaaz and Jonathan.
As the priests turned back toward Jerusalem a deeper shadow fell upon the departing throng. Their king a fugitive, themselves outcasts, forsaken even by the ark of God—the future was dark with terror and foreboding.
“And I went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as Iwent up, and had my head covered, and I went barefoot: and all the people that was with covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.
And one told me, saying, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” Again I was forced to recognize in my calamities the results of his own sin. The defection of Ahithophel, the ablest and most wily of political leaders, was prompted by revenge for the family disgrace involved in the wrong to Bathsheba, who was his granddaughter.
And I prayed: “O LORD, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness!” Upon reaching the top of the mount, I bowed in prayer, casting upon God the burden of my soul and humbly supplicating divine mercy.
My prayer seemed to be at once answered. Hushai the Archite, a wise and able counsellor, who had proved himself a faithful friend to David, now came to me with his robes rent and with earth upon his head, to cast in his fortunes with the dethroned and fugitive king.
I saw, as by a divine enlightenment, that this man, faithful and truehearted, was the one needed to serve my interests in the councils at the capital. I request Hushai to returned to Jerusalem to offer his services to Absalom and defeat the crafty counsel of Ahithophel.
With this gleam of light in the darkness, I and my followers pursued our way down the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, through a rocky and desolate waste, through wild ravines, and along stony and precipitous paths, toward the Jordan.
Now when I came to Bahurim, there was a man from the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei the son of Gera, coming from there. He came out, cursing continuously as he came. And he threw stones at me and at all my servants. And all the people and all the mighty men were on my right hand and on left.
Shimei said thus when he cursed: “Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!”
In my prosperity Shimei had not shown by word or act that he was not a loyal subject. But in my affliction this Benjamite revealed his true character. He had me upon my throne, but he cursed me in my humiliation.
Base and selfish, he looked upon others as of the same character as himself, and, inspired by Satan, he wreaked his hatred upon me whom God had chastened. The spirit that leads man to triumph over, to revile or distress, one who is in affliction is the spirit of Satan.
Shimei’s accusations against me were utterly false—a baseless and malignant slander. I had not been guilty of wrong toward Saul or his house. When Saul was wholly in my power, and I could have slain him, I merely cut the skirt of his robe, and I reproached myself for showing even this disrespect for the Lord’s anointed
Of my sacred regard for human life, striking evidence had been given, even while I myself was hunted like a beast of prey. One day while was hidden in the cave of Adullam, my thoughts turning back to the untroubled freedom of my boyhood life, I exclaimed, “Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” 2 Samuel 23:13-17.
Bethlehem was at that time in the hands of the Philistines. But three mighty men of my band broke through the guard, and brought of the water of Bethlehem to me their master. I could not drink it. “Be it far from me,” I cried; “is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?”
And I reverently poured out the water as an offering to God. I had been a man of war, much of my life had been spent amid scenes of violence. But of all who have passed through such an ordeal, few indeed have been so little affected by its hardening, demoralizing influence as I.
My nephew, Abishai, one of the bravest of my captains, could not listen patiently to Shimei’s insulting words. “Why,” he exclaimed, “should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.”
But I forbade him. “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David.’ Who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’ ” “And David said to Abishai and all his servants, “See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite? It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day.”
Conscience was uttering bitter and humiliating truths to me. While my faithful subjects wondered at my sudden reverse of fortune, it was no mystery to me. I often had forebodings of an hour like this. I had wondered that God had so long borne with my sins, and had delayed the merited retribution.
And now in my hurried and sorrowful flight, with bare feet, my royal robes changed for sackcloth, the lamentations of my followers awaking the echoes of the hills, I thought of beloved capital — of the place which had been the scene of his sin — and as I remembered the goodness and long-suffering of God, I was not altogether without hope. I still felt that the Lord would deal with me in mercy.
Many a wrongdoer has excused his own sin by pointing to my fall, but how few there are who manifest my penitence and humility. How few would bear reproof and retribution with the patience and fortitude that I manifested.
I had confessed my sin, and for years had sought to do my duty as a faithful servant of God. I had laboured for the upbuilding of my kingdom, and under my rule it had attained to strength and prosperity never reached before.
I had gathered rich stores of material for the building of the house of God, and now was all the labour of my life to be swept away? Must the results of years of consecrated toil, the work of genius and devotion and statesmanship, pass into the hands of his reckless and traitorous son, who regarded not the honour of God nor the prosperity of Israel? How natural it would have seemed for me to murmur against God in this great affliction!
I saw in my own sin the cause of my trouble. The words of the prophet Micah breathe the spirit that inspired my heart. “When I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He plead my cause, and execute judgment for me.” Micah 7:8, 9.
The Lord did not forsake me. This chapter in my experience, when, under cruellest wrong and insult, I shows myself to be humble, unselfish, generous, and submissive, is one of the noblest in m whole experience. Never was a ruler of Israel more truly great in the sight of heaven than at this hour of my deepest outward humiliation.
Had God permitted me to go on unrebuked in sin, and while transgressing the divine precepts, to remain in peace and prosperity upon his throne, the sceptic and infidel might have had some excuse for citing the history of David as a reproach to the religion of the Bible.
But in the experience through which He caused me to pass, the Lord shows that He cannot tolerate or excuse sin. And my history enables us to see also the great ends which God has in view in His dealings with sin; it enables us to trace, even though darkest judgments, the working out of His purposes of mercy and beneficence.
He caused me to pass under the rod, but He did not destroy me. The furnace is to purify, but not to consume.
The Lord says, “If they break My statutes, and keep not My commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, My loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail.” Psalm 89:31-33.
The very sad death of Absalom.