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2 Samuel 15:1-9.
When, after David had procured the death of Uriah, and taken Bathsheba to be his wife, the prophet was sent by the Lord to reprove the king and pronounce judgement against him, one of the consequences of his sin was declared to be, that the Lord would raise up evil against him out of his own house. This was amply verified in the rebellion of Absalom. That prince, as we have seen, had slain his brother Amnon, and fled to Geshur, where he remained three years. On being, by the indulgence of his father, permitted to return to Jerusalem, and afterwards admitted into his favour, he, by his condescension and apparent and professed desire to care for their concerns and judge in their disputes, stole the hearts of the people. This was but a means to effect his end, which was to seize the throne of his father. And having on a false pretence obtained leave to go to Hebron, he sent spies through all Israel, who declared him king. War was now made by this ambitious and unnatural son against his father; and a battle was fought between the army of David and that of Absalom in the wood of Ephraim. The arms of the king prevailed: and Absalom himself, carried by his mule under the thick boughs of a great oak, was caught by his head, his hair getting entangled in its branches; and, the mule passing from under him, he was left suspended between heaven and earth, where he was slain by Joab thrusting three arrows through his heart.
This portion of sacred history, one of the most painful that the Word contains, and one of the most dreadful that history records, has its moral, and should be read with a feeling of deep humiliation. It exhibits one of the worst phases of our degenerate nature, and holds up a solemn warning both to parents and children, to guard against the neglect or violation of those laws Divinely delivered and enjoined for the prevention of evils destructive of domestic as well as of public order, peace, and happiness.
But this historical relation contains still deeper lessons in virtue of its spiritual or internal meaning, a meaning which it contains in common with every part of the Divine Word, as the result of its inspiration. Were we to consider it in that inmost sense, in which the Word relates to the Lord as the Word Incarnate, we should find that the present circumstance points to some one of the Lord's deepest temptations. David was a type of the Lord in human nature, while engaged in the work of redemption, a work which He effected by admitting temptations from the whole powers of darkness, and combating against them from His own inherent power. And those temptations were admitted through the hereditary evils of his maternal humanity, which the tempting powers endeavoured to excite into hostility or rebellion against the will of the Father, or of the Divinity that dwelt within Him. In the Lord indeed there could be no actual evil, which alone is sin, although there was a will which He inherited from His human mother contrary to the will which He inherited from His Divine Father; but that will He ever held in submission to the Divine will, as expressed in His words, "Not My will, but Yours be done." The rebellion of Absalom represented, therefore, in respect to the Lord, only a temptation to evil, but not evil itself, since He never sinned either by consent or act. In human beings, however, evil does not always end with the temptation to commit it. Every one is more or less guilty of actual evil, and is thereby a sinner. Those, indeed, who have begun to follow the Lord in the regenerate life, must be understood to successfully resist temptation, though not every temptation, nor everything in any one, since no one who yields in all can be a true follower of Him who never yielded in any. When any one overcomes a temptation, the evil which gave it admission is weakened or removed, and order and peace are more or less completely restored. In these temptations, a man's foes are often, in a peculiar sense, they of his own house—his own cherished evil desires and false thoughts being the enemies that rise up against him, and the nearer these are to the centre of his life, the deeper the temptation, the severer the trial.
The rebellion of Absalom is a fit symbol of some of those temptations and trials; and the defeat and death of that unnatural son a fit emblem of their removal.
While this application of the subject presents itself when viewed from the side of the victor, it admits of another application when regarded from that of the vanquished: and it is on this side that we propose to contemplate the circumstance of Absalom's death.
We may consider him as, in the most obvious sense, representing one who is inspired with the love of dominion. The love of dominion, for its own sake, is the love of self in one of its deepest and most dangerous forms. When that lust obtains complete ascendancy in the heart, it allows nothing to stand between it and its object. It quenches the warmest affections, and breaks to pieces the strongest ties. It is the Lucifer that seeks to exalt its throne above the stars of heaven, and to aspire to unlimited authority.
But there is another and greater evil than ambition, however towering, which the rebellion of Absalom represented. To see what this evil is, we must inquire more particularly into his representative character than it has been hitherto thought necessary to do. We have to consider his parentage. He was the son of David by Maachah, daughter of Talmai king of Geshur.
In the highest sense kings represented the Lord, their wives represented the Church, and their sons and daughters those who are born of the Lord as a father and of the Church as a mother. As there is but one Lord, there can be but one Church, as the Lord's bride and wife. Yet David and Solomon, who were eminent types of the Lord, had many wives and concubines. In what respect did these represent the Church? If the Church on earth were one and undivided, the union of the Lord and His Church could only be represented by a marriage of one husband with one wife. This is true of the purely celestial Church, to which the Lord is related as a Husband in His priestly character; and to represent the absolute unity of this Church, a priest was not allowed to have more than one wife, and that wife must have been married a virgin. In the spiritual Church, even in its celestial state—for there is a celestial of the spiritual, as there is a spiritual of the celestial—the case is different. The spiritual Church, like the celestial, is one before the Lord, but before men it is many and even diverse. The Church universal consists of numerous general and particular churches, both within and beyond the pale of the visible Church, where the Word is known and the Lord is acknowledged; as in our day, in Christendom and in Heathendom. The reason of this difference of the Church, as seen by the Lord and by men, is this. The Lord looks at the Church in respect to its goodness and love, and men look at the Church in respect to its truth and faith; or, as the Lord Himself expresses it, man looks on the outward appearance (literally, on the eyes), but the Lord looks upon the heart. The celestial Church is one in itself, and the spiritual Church is one in the Lord's sight, because good, which is the celestial principle, is one, but truth, which is the spiritual principle, is manifold. This difference is expressed even with regard to the Lord Himself, in the two Divine names by which He is chiefly designated. Jehovah, which is His Divine celestial name, is singular, but Elohim, which is His Divine spiritual name, is plural. Good, which is the celestial principle, is one, but truth, which is the spiritual principle, is manifold. And in this we see one of the wonders of Divine mercy. Good is the saving grace, and good is one; but the one good can be given under various forms of truth, or under various modes of faith; and thus can the Lord save those of every religion, in which a God is acknowledged, and evil is condemned as sin against Him, and good is required to be loved for His sake. On this interesting subject the Writings shed a clear light. Take an example. The author is treating of the family of Nahor, the brother of Abram, by his wife Milcah and his concubine Rumah; where Nahor and Milcah signify the good and truth among a certain class of Gentiles. He says, "That the Gentiles are in possession of truths may appear from many considerations. For it is well known that the Gentiles of old were in wisdom and intelligence, in that they acknowledged one God, and wrote concerning Him with much sanctity. They acknowledged also the immortality of the soul, and a life after death, and likewise the happy state of the good and the unhappy state of the wicked. Their laws, moreover, were grounded in the commandments of the Decalogue—that God is to be worshiped, that parents are to be honoured, that murder, theft, and adultery are crimes which ought not to be committed, and that it is sinful to covet what belongs to others. Nor were they content to practise these things in externals only, but insisted on their internal observance. The case is the same at this day. The well-disposed Gentiles in all parts of the earth discourse on these subjects better than Christians, nor do they discourse only, but live accordingly. These and various truths are in possession of the Gentiles, and join themselves with the good which they have from the Lord. In consequence of this conjunction, they are in a state of receiving still more truths, because one truth acknowledges another, and they easily enter into consociation, there being connections and relationships of truths. Hence it is that they who have been principled in good in the world easily receive the truths of faith in the other life. Things false with such persons do not join themselves with good; they only apply themselves, but so as to be easily separable from them. Falsities which are joined remain; but those which are only applied are separated, and they are separated when the truths of faith are learned and imbibed; for every truth of faith removes and separates what is false, insomuch that at length what is false shuns and hates what is true."
Now Absalom's mother belonged to one of those Gentile nations which were in possession of truths. The daughter of the king of Geshur, she was a Syrian. In Syria the ancient Church and afterwards the Hebrew Church had their principal home. Abram, who was a Syrian, was, as a remnant of this second ancient Church, called out of his country and from his father's house, to be the father of the representative Church, named after Israel; for every Church is first formed from that which has come to its end, as the Christian Church had its commencement with those whom the Lord called out of the expiring Jewish Church. The king's wives, who were of several different nations, represented, as we shall have occasion, in treating of Solomon's numerous wives and concubines, to show, the one universal Church as consisting of numerous general and particular churches, both within and beyond the pale of the visible Church. Maachah therefore represented the Church among the Gentiles, such as were those who at that time lived in Geshur in Syria. Even after it became Gentile, Syria represented the knowledge of goodness and truth, because from ancient times such knowledge was preserved there, as appears from that possessed by Balaam. Absalom, therefore, as the son of Maachah, represented the truth, or knowledge of the truth, as it had descended from the Ancient and Hebrew Church, and even as it exists now in some of the more enlightened Gentile nations. The Hebrew Church, from which Syrian knowledge had been proximately derived, was far more spiritual in its character than the Church established among the Israelites.
This representative character of Absalom may be seen in the particulars recorded respecting his personal gifts and address. "In all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he polled his head, (for it was at every year's end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king's weight." This beauty of person and unblemished perfectness of form represented the externals—the representatives and significatives of the ancient Church. "The ancients had representatives and significatives of things celestial and spiritual pertaining to the Lord's kingdom, thus to the Lord Himself. Those who understood them were called wise, and in reality were wise; for by means of them they were enabled to converse with spirits and angels, inasmuch as angelic discourse, which is incomprehensible to man, as being spiritual and celestial, when it is conveyed down to man, who is in a natural sphere, falls into representatives and significatives such as exist in the Word; and hence it is that the Word is a holy code or volume. And as the ancients were in the representatives and significatives of the Lord's kingdom, in which nothing but celestial and spiritual love prevails, they had also doctrinals which treated solely of love to God and charity to the neighbour; by virtue of which they were called wise." And then the marvelous growth of hair, whose very weight made an annual polling necessary, when that which was removed weighed two hundred shekels. Hair signifies what is natural belonging to man. Ezekiel, in treating of the new temple, says of the priests, who were to minister in it, that they shall not shave their head, nor suffer their locks to grow long; they shall only poll their heads (Ez 44:20). The subject treated of under the emblem of the New Temple is the New Church. Not to shave the head or suffer the locks to grow long, but to poll the head, spiritually means that the external or natural man is not to be rejected, but is to be accommodated, so that he may be in agreement with and subordinate to the spiritual, and both to the Divine. In the other world, "those who have been rational, that is, spiritual men, with whom the natural has been rightly subordinate, appear with graceful hair; yea, in the other life it may be known from the hair what every one's quality as to the natural man is." The polling of his head every year, and the hair polled weighing two hundred shekels, represented the keeping of the natural man in subordination to the spiritual in every state of the regenerate life, and in conformity with the laws of spiritual goodness and truth.
Absalom's professions were as noble and his manners as fascinating as his person was beautiful. By taking an interest in the people's concerns, and desiring that he were made judge in the land, that he might do every man justice, and by returning great humility with greater condescension, he stole the hearts of the men of Israel. All this is quite consistent with spirituality of character, and is indeed one of its true manifestations and legitimate results, assuming it to be sincere.
One other circumstance is accounted for by Absalom's representative character. David's love for Absalom was singularly tender. When the king sent forth his generals with the army against him, he commanded them, saying, "Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom," and when he heard he was slain, we know in what pathetic language he lamented his death. The Lord's love for His spiritual Church, and for that spiritual truth which was nearer to His own Divine truth than was that received by the Israelitish Church, His desire for its preservation, and His sorrow over its fall and judgement, maybe seen represented in the conduct of David respecting Absalom. And under this view we must regard the personal beauty and other good qualities of Absalom abstractedly from the moral state they for a time concealed. For under his personal beauty and faultless form there lay great depravity of heart and duplicity of mind, representing how the best gifts may be perversely applied to the worst of purposes, and thus profaned and utterly destroyed. This we shall see exemplified.
" It came to pass after forty years, that Absalom said to the king, I pray you, let me go and pay my vow, which I vowed to the Lord, in Hebron." He professed he had vowed, when at Geshur in Syria, that if the Lord should bring him to Jerusalem, then he would serve the Lord. Hebron, we have seen, represented the spiritual Church. Where David had been anointed king of Judah, his son now proceeds in order to undermine and overturn his father's kingdom. The forty years, after which this came to pass, are believed to date from the time that David was anointed king by Samuel. Forty is the Scripture number for temptation. It was after Jesus had been forty days in the wilderness tempted of the devil that His three great temptations began. The trial which David was now to endure was the greatest he had yet experienced. Not his own familiar friend, who did eat his bread, but his own son, who had derived his existence from him, was to lift up his heel against him. This is truly the case of a man's foes being those of his own house; the son against the father, to be followed by the father against the son. When Nathan declared to David the word of the Lord, "Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house," what does this mean when understood of Him whom David represented? The Lord's own house is heaven and the Church. The words of Jehovah by Nathan must, therefore, in the highest sense, refer to trials and temptations which the Redeemer was to endure from evil brought to bear upon Him by or through those of His own house, the members of His own family, who can have been no other than those who belonged to His Church in heaven and on earth. Understood of the Lord, of whom David was a type, whom does this rebel son, and what does his rebellion, represent? In Christian literature there is a fabled rebel angel, who drew to his standard the disaffected of the heavenly host, and made war against Him who was both his Father and his King, with the unfilial and mad intention of driving Him from His throne and reigning in His stead. Every great error is the perversion of some great truth. The unperverted truth is this. The rebel angel is, in one aspect, the angelic proprium or selfhood, and his rebellion is the excitement of this selfhood against the Lord in His great work of redemption. A conscious and open rebellion among the angels is an impossibility. It would be not only the extreme of wickedness, but the extreme of folly. But that the selfhood of the angelic host should, under certain circumstances, be excited into activity, is conceivable. The hostility of the Church on earth was conscious and open. In considering the subject in relation to the Lord and His Redemption, we must not forget that an important part of His Divine work and experience was in connection with those in the intermediate region of the spiritual world, where all judgement takes place. At the period of the Incarnation a judgement was effected there on all who had remained in the world of spirits from the time of Noah, or the beginning of the ancient Church. And to the state of judgement on these the Lord referred when He said, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." There were the prisoners of hope whose deliverance the Lord effected by redemption, and there were the foes He made His footstool. This could not be accomplished without temptation and conflict. In the Church on earth, too, there was rebellion and warfare. Among the Lord's apostles there was one that betrayed Him, and that one represented the Jewish Church. Even among the Gentiles there was enmity, though not of the same malignity, and the Gentiles had their representative in Pilate. The changed economy in the government of the Lord's universal kingdom which the Incarnation involved, is sufficient to account for an uprising of the human selfhood in all His dominions during the performance of the Divine work, in which the Lord spiritually "measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with a span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance;" or, when the Lord brought into order or reduced to obedience all things in His spiritual dominions, restoring the balance or equilibrium between heaven and hell, good and evil, spiritual and natural, a balance which had been disturbed and was wellnigh lost. But we must not pursue the subject in this high sense. It is sufficient to know that it has reference to the Lord, and treats of His experience as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
The circumstances connected with this rebellion and the death of Absalom will form the subject of another chapter.18 previous - next - BM Home - Full Page