II Samuel 15:16-37
16 The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace. 17 So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city. 18 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. 19 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.20 You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the Lord show you kindness and faithfulness.” 21 But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.” 22 David said to Ittai, “Go ahead, march on.” So Ittai the Gittite marched on with all his men and the families that were with him. 23 The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the wilderness. 24 Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city. 25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. 26 But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.” 27 The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Do you understand? Go back to the city with my blessing. Take your son Ahimaaz with you, and also Abiathar’s son Jonathan. You and Abiathar return with your two sons. 28 I will wait at the fords in the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the ark of God back to Jerusalem and stayed there. 30 But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. 31 Now David had been told, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” So David prayed, “Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.” 32 When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘Your Majesty, I will be your servant; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,’ then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Won’t the priests Zadok and Abiathar be there with you? Tell them anything you hear in the king’s palace. 36 Their two sons, Ahimaaz son of Zadok and Jonathan son of Abiathar, are there with them. Send them to me with anything you hear. 37 So Hushai, David’s confidant, arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.
In this part of David’s history Christian leaders will find three different themes that will help them administrate the affairs of the Kingdom of God in their churches more effectively. How David managed his personnel with tact, wisdom and concern for them is one. Another theme is the connection between prayer and action. We pray and we act. The third theme is of submission. David sent the ark back to Jerusalem with a submissive spirit saying if God restores me to Jerusalem that would be wonderful, but if not, God is God, let Him do what He knows is best.
1. In Departure David’s Wise Decisions 16-22
David took his wives and family that he might protect them and left ten women—concubines—to care for the house thinking they would be safe, but they were not. “The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace” (v 16). Absalom misused them sexually to display his authority over David’s household—and Scripture was again fulfilled.
We do not know how many of the people of Jerusalem also went, but to give them an opportunity to catch up with his group they stopped briefly some distance from the city. “So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city” (v 17). 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. David compelled no one to go with him; he allowed those who wanted to to go unless he had a real reason for them to stay in Jerusalem. Whoever wanted to identify with Absalom was welcome to do that; they would soon enough tire of him. So also Jesus Christ welcomes volunteers and forces no one.
“David took his body guard with him, the Chrerethites and Pelethites under the command of Benaiah.” He also took the 600 Gittites who had probably served him since David’s days in Gath, those under the command of Ittai. Evidently these were by birth Philistines of Gath who not only loved David but also loved David’s God. “So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city. 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 (vs 17-18).
Notice in particular the conversation between David and Ittai the Gittite. David, out of deference to him, told him he did not need to go with him. Verses 19-20 say, “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. You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the Lord show you kindness and faithfulness.’” This was noble on David’s part since Ittai and his men could be of real use to David. He gave him the opportunity to choose the easier path, serve Absalom in the city instead of trudging through the wilderness and possible battlefield. If Ittai were to seek his own interests here was a face-saving chance to return to Jerusalem. If he were to choose to travel through perils and dangers with David, he could, but David would not urge that.
I see a similarity between David and Naomi, David’s great grandmother who said to David’s grandmother, Ruth, “Go back” once and “Return home” twice. (Ruth 1: 8,11-12) I see also a parallel between the responses of Ruth and Ittai. Ruth insisted, because it was a spiritual decision—a decision to serve God rather than the gods of Moab in her expressed desire to continue with Naomi. She said, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” Is that not similar to what Ittai said in verse 21? “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
Ittai and Ruth both seemed to value the promise made to those who renounce other gods and put themselves under the wings of the Almighty. David himself found safety there. Ps 61:7 says, “May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever; appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.” Ittai said that he would stay with David whether it was safe or dangerous. He confirmed it with an oath. Such value Ittai placed on David, his wisdom, his goodness and his God that come what may, he would stay. David had lost such a friend when Jonathan died in battle and now God gave him another one. Joab didn’t serve David well, though he served him. Ittai was a better friend. It is a true friend who will love at all times and stay with us even in adversity. And we can remember the Son of David who with perfect love and loyalty to us stays with us. Neither life nor death can ever separate us from His love.
2. Heart-felt Grief and a Wise Prayer 23-30
Verse 23 says, “The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the wilderness.” This was not a happy time for David, his friends or for anyone in Israel for that matter. There was plenty of cause for weeping. The king was reduced to fleeing on barefoot, one who had served so well was now forced from his home in fear for his life, to see the city of David which he himself had conquered, built, fortified and made safe now to be occupied by a usurper was sad. To see a man of David’s stature driven away by his own selfish and ambitious son was bitter and mournful.
Man or woman of God, if your grown children do this, may the Lord enable you to bear it humbly and trust God for help like David did. If your adult children do not treat you this way, but rather respect you, serve your interests and pray for you, then praise and thank God for the blessing you have to see your offspring serving God, and for their treating you possibly even better than you deserve. In either case, may older parents of grown children—whether the children are respectful or not—be gracious and humble towards them. Parents who are abused and scorned by their own children deserve the tender sympathy of their friends as much as any son or daughter of calamity or misery.
The Israelites saw their own king, who had been such a blessing to them, a righteous judge, a strong wall of defense and a benefit to their land, had now lost the affection of his people and was distressed along with those who loved him and were helpless to help him. Well might this bring tears to our eyes. The lesson? I have seen noble prince-like men and women of God, wronged, misunderstood, rejected and thrown into the wilderness by those for whom they prayed and interceded, fall and rise again. I have both observed and experienced severe rejection, and witnessed the restoration that the Lord God almighty can make for those who will cast themselves humbly at His feet. Well might floods of tears flow from our eyes—for a time. As Ps 30:5 says, “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
The priests and Levites were faithful in their loyalty to David and his matters. In spite of his failures, the religious leaders knew of David’s love and respect for them. Verses 24-25 say, “Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city. Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again.” Absalom and his methods had little of interest for them. If David leaves Jerusalem, Zadok and Abiathar and all the Levites will accompany him, and take the ark by which they may receive direction and blessing from God. If we are a friend to the symbol of the presence of God in our times of prosperity, then the presence of God will be with us in our times of affliction. David had recently made a proper place for the ark of God and now the ark of God was made ready to make a place for David. David would not rest until the ark of God rested, and now the ark of God will not rest until David is restored to his place of rest.
Abiathar was high priest and Zadok was his assistant who watched closely over the ark while Abiathar was active in public business. So David spoke to Zadok and showed his desire for preferential treatment to be given to the ark. Don’t take it into the wilderness, but return it to the city. Bad as he is, surely Absalom will do it no harm. Noble David, more concerned for the ark than for himself and an example to us that we be more concerned for the Church than for ourselves. The success of the gospel, and growth of the church will be above our own prosperity, credit, ease, and safety; we will follow David’s example. David will consider it the greatest favor from God to him if he may once more be brought back to see the ark and its resting place. This will bring David more joy than to be returned to his own palace and throne again.
God-chasers measure their happinesses and conveniences in this world by how much opportunity they give themselves to enjoy God. David was submissive to the will of God. He hoped for the best and hoped for it from the favor of God who is the fountain of all good. But if God denies me this favor I will accept that too. “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again” (v 25). Job also demonstrated this attitude of submission before the mighty hand of God. He said, “If he snatches away, who can stop him? Who can say to him, ‘What are you doing’” (Job 9:12)? Job further illustrated his submission to God in Job 23:13-15 which say, “But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store. That is why I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him” We might learn from these giants of our faith that we can see the hand of God in all events because all events are in God’s hands. We will accept the bad as well as the good—and not complain.
David trusted and put confidence in these priests. He included them in his planning. If he had not trusted them surely he would not have invited them into the inner circle of his strategy. Verses 27-29 say, “The king also said to Zadok the priest, 'Do you understand? Go back to the city with my blessing. Take your son Ahimaaz with you, and also Abiathar’s son Jonathan. You and Abiathar return with your two sons. I will wait at the fords in the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.’ So Zadok and Abiathar took the ark of God back to Jerusalem and stayed there.” David considered Zadok a wise man, a man that can see into business and discern time and judgment. I trust you to send me intelligence through your two sons, one son of Abiathar and one son of Zadok: Ahimaaz and Jonathan. David told them the place where he would be waiting for the message. David’s plan was to move according to the information and advice they would send him. So the priests and the ark returned to the city and David fled to the wilderness. If we are looking for something good even in this sad picture, we don’t have to look far. This was an instance of God’s ministers, the priests, working closely with another of God’s ministers, the king, in the government. When these two—government and church—work together in confidence, respect, mutual honor and trust—happy is that nation.
3. David Plans an Astute Counter-measure 31-37
Apparently nothing appeared to David more threatening in Absalom’s plot than that Ahithophel was a part of it. Absalom had found a good counselor because Ahithophel was not only a wise man, but also well acquainted with David and the way David thought and conducted himself in war and peace. The first action David took to defend himself against Ahithophel was to pray against whatever Ahithophel might plot. Verse 31 says, “ Now David had been told, ‘Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.’ So David prayed, ‘Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.’” He did not have time for a long prayer but it was time enough for a fervent prayer. And notice how quickly God answered him. As soon as he reached the top of the hill, he met a man whom God could use to confuse Ahithophel’s counsel.
David was transparent with God. He prayed a specific and particular prayer. God is our Father and He gave us permission in prayer, to be humbly and reverently free with him, and to mention whatever the particular care, fear or grief, that burdens us. He prayed against Ahithophel’s counsel; not against Ahithophel’s person. David needed Ahithophel’s counsel either to be unwise or that, even it it were wise, somehow it would be rejected or displaced by some other counsel. God is able to do that. Isaiah lived at a different time, but he once knew that God was about to remove His blessings from Jerusalem. So he prophesied in Is. 3:1-2, “See now, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support: all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and the warrior, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder.” If God can give wisdom, He certainly can remove it too if there is a need for that. Praying against our spiritual adversary is one of the effective weapons of our warfare that God has placed in the hands of his servants.
Not only did David pray, but he also used his opportunities. This is a great illustration of the partnership we have with God. When David reached the top of the hill, he met God’s answer to his very recent prayer. Yes, he meet the answer—he met the man through whom God might give David the answer to his prayer. David, having just prayed that Ahithophel’s counsel would be rendered ineffective, put legs to his prayers and enlisted Hushai the Arkite. How did this happen?
Hushai was waiting for him at the top of the hill. How many answers to our prayers today might we meet at the top of the hill if we just keep climbing? Here is what verses 32-34 say, “When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head. David said to him, ‘If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, “Your Majesty, I will be your servant; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,” then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice.’” We pray that God will do what we cannot, but we are still eager ourselves to do what we can do.
Here is Ps. 3:1-8 which David wrote when he fled from Absalom. “Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side. Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.”
God brought Hushai to David. Possibly while he was yet speaking, God heard, and sent him the person that should be instrumental to confuse Ahithophel’s counsel. He came to console David with his garment torn and dust on his head, but God and David had another use for Hushai. David could now defeat Ahithophel, either by persuading Absalom to reject Ahithophel’s advice or by relaying it through David’s spy network so that Ahithophel’s advice and plan would be a failure.
David furthermore told Hushai about the two priests and their two sons through whom he could send a message to David in the wilderness. Now the counselor, the priests, and the messengers all could work together as a team.
David’s success as a king, warrior, general, song-writer and Psalmist was due to his walk with the Lord. Men and women of God today also face many complex, confusing, disconcerting and baffling issues. Government regulations, church administration, interpersonal conflicts, financial considerations and personal counseling matters all make the ministry a difficult career. Yet, when God is our partner and we can see His hand working through our circumstances like David did, even when his son rose up against him and put him to flight, we can acknowledge that ours is a rewarding pilgrimage. Let’s walk closely with the Lord, listen to His voice and watch Him fight our battles for us.