Foes, Friends, and Faith
Passage: 2 Samuel 15:1–16:14
Foes, Friends, and Faith
Please turn in your Bibles to 2 Samuel 15. We’ve already read vv1-17 of our sermon text, so we’ll be picking things up in v18, as David flees from Jerusalem, and we’ll be reading until v14 of the following chapter.
Before we read the text, I would like to draw your attention to the insert in your bulletin. It is a broad outline of chapters 15-20, which are one sustained unit in 2 Samuel. Now, I don’t normally give you this much detail on specific sections of the book, but I am today for two reasons. One, this is a little glimpse of the beauty of God’s Word. As you can see on the outline, there is a wonderful symmetry to this section of 2 Samuel. There are six sections, and each section corresponds to and even balances another. It’s delightful, really, and I hope it encourages you to keep reading the Scriptures for yourself.
The second reason I give you this outline is that we’re going to follow the pattern of the story, rather than the breaks of the chapters. Again, as you can see on the outline, almost every section crosses a chapter break. So, you could certainly focus on the individual chapters and be faithful to the text. But I believe it’s more helpful to follow the narrative according to the plot. So, in that sense, I hope this outline will be like a roadmap for you over the next several weeks. Tuck it away in your Bible, and then use it to remind yourself where we are in the story of David’s kingdom.
So, for today, we’re considering Absalom’s rebellion and David’s flight. We’ve already read vv1-17, so we now pick it up with David on the run in v18. Please follow along with me. This is what the Holy Spirit says to the church.\
Brothers and sisters, this is the Word of the Lord, given to us for our good. Let’s pray together and ask God to bless the reading and preaching of his Word.
Seeing God in the Valley
The great Puritan prayer book, The Valley of Vision, begins with these words, “Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, you have brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see you in the heights.” Those opening words capture the heart of those Puritan prayers. In his wisdom, God often ordains to take his children deep in the valley in order to restore their sight of who he is. That was the testimony of the Puritans, and I know it is the testimony of many here today. For many of us, our deepest insights into the things of God have come not on the heights of triumph, but in the valleys of hardship:
Perhaps it was an illness that taught you afresh how frail you are, but how mighty and merciful God promises to be. Maybe it was a job loss or some other financial distress that trained your heart to say that God is enough and that his goodness never fails. Or perhaps it was some dark night of the soul that caused you to cherish, in a deeper way, the presence and nearness of God. Those kinds of lessons can only be learned in the valley, and many of us know that full well. God often brings us to the valley, where we live in the depths but see him in the heights.
In many ways, friends, that truth we know from experience is also the central theme of King’s David life at this point. That old Puritan prayer could just as easily have been written in response to what we find here, in 2 Samuel 15. Our passage today describes David’s descent into what can only be called the most difficult valley of his life. Absalom – David’s own son – rises up against his father, and the situation is so bleak that David must run for his life. And quite literally, David’s flight takes him down into the valley. He leaves Jerusalem, which is on the mountaintop, and he flees to the Jordan River, some 3500 feet below. It was a 21-mile dash downward, into the valley, both literally and figuratively.
And yet, something incredible happens as David flees. For the first time in several chapters, we see clear evidence of David’s faith in the Lord. It’s striking, really. Far from driving David to despair, Absalom’s rebellion seems to bring David to his spiritual senses. This is the key to the passage, friends. David runs from Absalom, but he doesn’t run in fear. He runs in faith, trusting that God will do what is right. What a remarkable encouragement we’ll find here today, friends. David goes into the valley, but the Lord goes there with him.
The Truthfulness of God’s Word Confirmed
And so, let’s go there now. Let’s follow David on his road out of Jerusalem and down into the valley. There will be three clear steps in David’s flight, but in order to follow those steps, we must begin not with David the King, but with Absalom the Traitor. His part comes in vv1-12, and as bad as Absalom is, it’s through him that we see the Truthfulness of God’s Word Confirmed. Say what you will about Absalom, but the man knows how to patiently carry out a plan. For two years, he plotted to kill his brother, and here in chapter 15, he takes four years to overthrow his father. Absalom’s treason is deliberate and effective. Notice how it unfolds with ruthless precision.
To begin with, Absalom questions the king’s commitment. Look where Absalom plants himself, v2 – beside the way of the gate. The gate is like the county courthouse – it’s where people come to receive the king’s ruling. But what does Absalom do, day after day, in the gate? He stirs up discontent. Notice v3 – “See your claims are good, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you!” “It’s all the king’s fault,” Absalom says. You can’t get justice because the king is falling down on the job. You see, week after week, year after year – Absalom spreads his poison. He questions the king’s commitment.
But then Absalom goes on to supplant the king’s position. It just so happens that Absalom knows a solution to Israel’s problem, and that solution, surprisingly enough, is himself. Notice v4 – “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.” Don’t get thrown off by the language of judge. It was the king’s job to judge. So when Absalom says, “Oh, that I were judge,” he’s really saying, “Oh, that I were king.” You see, it’s not innocent, friends. This is an outright claim that Absalom should be king over David. He supplants the king’s position.
Absalom keeps going, as next, he deceives the king’s people. Notice v5. Absalom doesn’t allow the people to bow before him. Instead, he quickly embraces them with a firm handshake and friendly sign of affection. Why is that important? Because it shows that Absalom is not like that stiff-suit David who sits off in the palace. Absalom is out in the community, mingling with the everyday folk. You see, he’s smooth, he’s deceptive, and in the end, he’s effective. Notice the end of v6 – “So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” That phrase stole the hearts carries the idea of being tricked or fooled. And that’s what Absalom has done. He’s deceived the king’s people.
So, the kingdom is ripe for the taking. All that’s what Absalom does beginning in v7. He takes the king’s place. Absalom asks David for permission to go to Hebron. That should be a major red flag. Remember, Hebron is where David was first crowned king. So, if you wanted a symbolic place to launch your coup, Hebron would be the ideal spot. After securing permission, Absalom doesn’t waste time. He sends out his cronies, and then with a trumpet blast and a sacrifice, Absalom declares himself king. It’s a terrifying sight, friends. Absalom stands in David’s city, with David’s counselor, performing David’s role of overseeing the royal sacrifices. Through his deliberate plan, Absalom takes the king’s place.
What are we to make of this? Is there anything we should take away from this fascinating piece of Israel’s history? Well, yes, but that takeaway is perhaps not what we might first expect. As we watch Absalom steal his father’s throne, we should be thinking to ourselves, “God keeps his Word, no matter the consequences.” You see, this is where you’ve got to think about Absalom’s rebellion from two different perspectives – the human perspective and the divine. From the human perspective, this is a wicked act of treachery that deserves to be punished. Absalom planned and plotted, and it was sinful every step of the way.
And at the same time, the divine perspective looks at this rebellion and sees the fulfillment of God’s Word. Do you remember it, friends? Chapter 12, v11 – in response to David’s sin with Bathsheba, the Lord said, “Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house.” Well, what has happened here in chapter 15? Evil has arisen against David from within his own house. Or to say it another way, God has fulfilled his Word, even though that fulfillment brings discipline and correction to David’s life.
And therein lies the takeaway for us, friends. David’s experience should cause us to take seriously not only the promises of God’s Word, but also the warnings and exhortations of God’s Word. We love the truthfulness of Scripture when it comes to God’s promises, and rightfully so! What a delight it is to know that God will finish the good work he has begun in us! But the truthfulness of Scripture goes the other way too. It applies to the Bible’s warnings and exhortations as well. And therefore, we need to hear words like, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.” What are you sowing, friends? Or, we need to listen to Jesus when he says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment, people will give account for every careless word they speak.” What careless words have you spoken? And we should be sobered when Scripture tells us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” How vigilant are you against unbelief?
Friends, I’m not trying to scare us in a frightened, cowering sense. But I do hope to stir up in each of us an appropriate fear of the Lord – the recognition that the Holy God keeps his Word, both his promises and his warnings. His promises are sweet, but his warnings and exhortations are good for us too. So, in an unexpected way, friends, Absalom’s rebellion serves us, because it confirms for us, yet again, the truthfulness of God’s Word.
As we continue on in the passage, we see it’s time for David to run. Vv13-17 describe how David heard the news, and there was really only one choice. If David remained in Jerusalem, then he would put the entire city at risk. And therefore, the king puts his people ahead of himself. David flees the capital, beginning his descent down into the Jordan valley.
The Faithfulness of God’s Servant Renewed
This is, of course, a difficult moment for David. But mercifully, David doesn’t face this difficult moment alone. Three times along the way, David encounters friends, people who remain devoted to him. These meetings occur in vvv18-37 of chapter 15, and it’s here we see the second step in David’s flight – the Faithfulness of God’s Servant Renewed. Again, David meets three groups of people as he goes, and each group gives us a different perspective on how David’s faith is renewed. Notice how it works out in the passage.
First of all, David’s faith feeds on the kindness of God. In v18, David sees that the Cherethites, the Pelethites, and the Gittites are all marching out of the city with him. Understand, friends, these are all foreigners. They are not Israelites, but they have a personal connection with David. What’s more, the Cherethites and Pelethites were David’s personal bodyguards. So, notice what God has done. David leaves behind his palace, but through these friends, God gives David protection.
This provision is especially clear in the words of Ittai the Gittite. He appears in v19, and David encourages him to stay behind in Jerusalem. Ittai has only recently come into David’s service, so he’s under no obligation to go. And yet, what does Ittai say? V21, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” Don’t miss the kindness, brothers and sisters. This is David’s most difficult hour. Everyone, it seems, is turning on him. So, what does God do, in this difficult hour? He sends David a friend, but not just any friend – a friend who says, “I’m not leaving. Where you go, I’ll go. If you die, I’ll die beside you.”
Think of the strength this gives to David’s faith. Here is a tangible reason to trust the Lord. Here is a flesh-and-blood message from God that says, “Don’t be afraid. The Lord will meet you in this valley.” We all need those kinds of friends, don’t we? But perhaps we should also remember this morning that we called to be that kind of friend – a friend who stands in the gap and says, “I won’t run. Let my presence encourage your faith.” David’s faith feeds on the kindness of God.
The king’s flight continues, and we see David’s faith rests in the hand of God. Notice v24 – Abiathar and Zadok show up. Again, David is not alone. The priests of the Lord stand with him. But notice also what Zadok brings – he brings the ark of the covenant. Remember, the ark was thought to have power, and it was sometimes brought into battle. So, perhaps Zadok brings the ark in hopes that it will deliver them from Absalom.
But David will have none of that. He sends the ark back into the city, along with the priests, and then notice David’s reason, v25 – “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.” You see, David’s confidence is not in the ark or any other religious symbol. David’s confidence is in the Lord God. He doesn’t seek to manipulate God. Instead, by faith, David is content for God to do what he will because faith is assured that whatever God wills, it is good. In fact, notice how clearly David expresses this confidence, v26 – “But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.” Please don’t misunderstand that statement, friends. David is not throwing up his hands in resignation. Faith isn’t fatalism. This is faith resting, confidently, in the goodness and wisdom of God.
Brothers and sisters, I pray this encourages you. Biblical faith does not require that you know all the answers or even understand all that is happening. Biblical faith can be the simple, confident acknowledgment that your life rests in the hand of God, come what may. David could have trusted in the ark, but instead, he trusts only in the Lord. His faith rests in the hand of God.
Finally, David’s faith acts with confidence in God. V31 delivers some bad news for David. Ahithophel, David’s trust counselor, has joined up with Absalom. This is not good. Ahithophel is sharp and shrewd, but now, he’ll use those gifts to serve David’s enemy. In response, all David can do is offer a quick pray for the Lord’s protection. Notice the end of v31 – “O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” Again, David places his trust in the Lord.
But notice what happens next, v32 – David meet Hushai the Archite. Hushai is also David’s counselor and friend, and when this friend arrives, David sees an opportunity. Notice v34 – “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.” Friends, do see you what David sees here? Hushai is the answer to David’s prayer. David asked God to frustrate Ahithophel’s counsel, and no sooner then David said amen, Hushai walks up, and David receives his answer. Hushai will be a double-agent. Vv35-37 give the details, and it’s brilliant. Hushai will go back to Jerusalem, and together with Abiathar and Zadok, David’s friends will work against Ahithophel.
But what I want us to notice is how David both prays and acts. We know prayer is an exercise of faith, but so is David’s action, so is David’s planning. Friends, what a helpful reminder this is that faith in God is not passive, but active and engaged. Faith trusts God, for sure, but faith also utilizes all the skills and wisdom God provides in order to deal with whatever situation we face. To be sure, we should always make our plans in dependence on God, and we should always submit our plans to the will of God. But at the end of the day – thinking, planning, and taking action are just as much an exercise of faith as praying for God to work. In fact, it is often through the action of faith that God answers the prayer of faith. That’s what we see here with David. In faith, David acts with confidence in God.
I love how this section of the passage ends. Look at v37, and catch the glimmer of hope in midst of David’s hardship – “So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.” It’s only a glimmer, but let’s not miss it. The rebellious son rides in, thinking he has all the power. But what he doesn’t know is that David still has friends, and those friends have helped renew David’s faith in the Lord.
The Faithfulness of God’s Servant Tested
And so we come to the final step in David’s flight. In vv1-14 of chapter 16, we see the Faithfulness of God’s Servant Tested. As we go from chapter 15 to chapter 16, we find that David meets a couple more people on his flight. Whereas in chapter 15, David met friends, here in chapter 16, David meets two less than friendly character. These men will test David’s trust in the Lord. Notice with me how David responds to these unsavory characters.
The first character is Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth. You remember Mephibosheth, don’t you? He’s the crippled son of Jonathan whom David promised to care for back in chapter 9. Well, here in chapter 16, Mephibosheth’s servant, Ziba, slanders his master. Ziba brings David numerous provisions and tells the king that Mephibosheth has turned on him. Look there in v3, ch16 – “Ziba said to the king, ‘Behold, he remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give back the kingdom of my father.’” Now, we’re going to learn later in chapter 19 that Ziba is very likely lying. Mephibosheth remains loyal to David to the end.
But why would Ziba lie? Well, the simplest answer is also the most likely – Ziba is an opportunistic, manipulative scoundrel. Remember, Mehphibosheth is crippled, so there’s no way he can flee Jerusalem quickly. And that disability gives Ziba his opening. He sees a chance to get ahead, and all he has to do is capitalize on David’s distress. And indeed, for a time, that’s what happens. David gives Ziba Mephibosheth’s land, but that won’t be the final decision. There’s more to come, and we’ll get the conclusion on Ziba later in chapter 19.
But it’s the last character on David’s flight that is the worst of all – Shimei, who belongs to the house of Saul. Shimei is convinced that David’s day has finally come. You see it there in vv5-6. He stands by the road and curses David continually. Now, understand, Shimei is not calling David bad names. No, it’s much worse than that. Shimei declares that David is cut off from God. That’s what cursing means here. Shimei sees David’s affliction and interprets it as God’s decision to give David what he deserves. Look at v7, and you’ll get a sense of Shimei’s curse – “And Shimei said as he cursed, ‘Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! 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.”
Now, on the one hand, you have to admit that Shimei’s words have a hint of truth. God is disciplining David for his sin. But on the other hand, Shimei’s curse is entirely wrong. David has not shed any blood in the house of Saul. For his entire life, David has done nothing but good to Saul’s family. Think about it. David didn’t kill Saul when he had the chance. He honored his covenant with Jonathan. David even punished those who had killed members of Saul’s family. For his entire life, David has dealt righteously with the house of Saul, so Shimei’s curse is entirely undeserved.
Abishai, one of David’s commanders, has had enough. Abishai, you’ll remember, is Joab’s brother, and he’s as ruthless as Joab is. Notice Abishai’s solution, v9 – “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” You see, in Abishai’s view, a little violence goes a long way. One swift sword swipe and Shimei’s mouth will be shut.
But David, incredibly, intervenes, and he does so for a striking reason. Look at v10. David says, “If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” Friends, consider the humility of that statement. David is willing to consider that Shimei’s words may indeed be part of God’s discipline. Instead of taking vengeance for himself, David is content to leave the matter in the Lord’s hands. Notice v12 – “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.” And there it is! This is the David we know! This is the David who walks uprightly before the Lord! This is the David who humbly places his life in God’s hands! David’s faith has been renewed, by God’s grace, and now, that renewed faith has been tested and found genuine.
But here’s the key, friends. Where did God do this good work in David’s life? Where has this renewal and strengthening taken place? Not in the luxury and ease of Jerusalem’s palace, but in the distress and difficulty of the valley. With curses raining down on his head, David finds his voice once again to declare his faith in the Lord.
And so, brothers and sisters, the old Puritans were right. God does often bring us down into the valley, where we live in the depths but see him in the heights. That’s been the testimony we’ve seen of David’s life here in this passage, and I pray his testimony will be an encouragement to you the next time you find yourself living in the depths of the valley. Perhaps you’re there today, living in the depths. If so, I pray you remember that those valleys are not signs that God has abandoned you. No, far from it, friends. It could very well be that God is using that valley to discipline, to train, and ultimately to strengthen your faith in his goodness. May that truth encourage you, brothers and sisters, whatever it is you face. Amen. Let’s pray.
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