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David, part 19

David's Flight.

2 Samuel 15:10.

It is singular how easily men are deceived by specious appearances and seduced by flattering appeals to their vanity or self-love. David had won renown by great deeds, Absalom's fame rested on fair speeches, and yet the hearts of the men of Israel were alienated from the man who had made their kingdom great among the nations, and given to one who had done nothing to make it illustrious, but whose present act could not fail to bring upon it deserved reproach. But Absalom stole the hearts of the people. Although in the letter this may express nothing more than that he won them, in the spirit it expresses something very different. In the spiritual sense the men of Israel represent not only the members, but the principles, of the Church, the truths which form its faith and practice. The heart of a truth is the good that it contains; for good is the essence of which truth is the form. Truth without good is the same as faith without love. Spiritually to steal the hearts of the men of Israel, is to rob truth of its goodness, and make it subservient to our own selfish purposes. When we steal from truth its heart of goodness, we implant in it the heart of evil, because we animate it with our own self-love. The spies sent out are the false principles that put on the semblance of persuasive truths, and the trumpet-sound that is to be the sign of a commencing reign is the self-glorification that seeks to exalt itself above all the truths of the Church and above the Truth itself.

But Absalom sent for Ahithophel, David's counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifice. It seems unaccountable that he whose counsel, when he counselled in those days, was as if a man had inquired at the oracles of God, should have joined Absalom's cause, even although there had been better grounds of hope for its success. It is a Jewish opinion that Ahithophel was Bathsheba's grandsire, and that he espoused Absalom's cause to avenge the wrong David had done her. There is no great probability in this having been his motive, even supposing the relationship, since Bathsheba was now in great honour, and her son Solomon was to be the heir to David's throne. The reason for his identifying himself with a morally bad and doubtful cause, was most likely that which a man of worldly wisdom would have for engaging in such an enterprise, that he must profit largely by success. With all his wisdom he seems to have been a worldly man, and the wisdom of such is foolishness with God, as his name, which means brother of folly, implies, and as his wisdom turned out to be. For while his counsel to Absalom, though in itself wicked, is called good, as being favourable to Absalom's cause, it was defeated by the counsel of Hushai, who had been providentially led to be a countervailing power to Ahithophel, "For the Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom." Here then was the wisdom of the world defeated by the wisdom of God, which these two counsellors respectively represent.

But another and very affecting spectacle is presented to us in the history of this conspiracy, which we find "was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom." A messenger came to David, saying, "The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom. And David said to all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword." David on this occasion seems to display less of the strong man than in other parts of his chequered history. But such a trial as this might well depress and unnerve him; and trials that are spiritually like his have of necessity the tendency to make men feel their own weakness. This part of the history of David has some considerable outward resemblance to that of the Lord Himself. The king with his weeping people passed over the brook Kidron; "and David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up." Jesus, after telling His disciples of His departure, when sorrow filled their hearts, left Jerusalem, and went to the mount of Olives, over the dark Cedron into Gethsemane, to undergo His great temptation, and to be afterwards betrayed into the hands of His enemies by Judas, who, like the traitor Ahithophel, went and hanged himself. Nor is there an outward resemblance only, but there is, if we thought well to pursue it, an inward correspondence also. The outward results, indeed, were different. But in our Lord's case the counsel of His betrayer was defeated in the Lord's resurrection, which was a greater deliverance than that which David experienced. But there was something in David's experience that resembled that of his Lord. When David came to Bahurim, "thence came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera: he came forth, and cursed still as he came. And he cast 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. And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, you bloody man, and you man of Belial: the Lord has returned upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead you have reigned; and the Lord has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son: and, behold, you are taken in your mischief, because you are a bloody man." Our Lord endured the reproaches of His enemies, and their violence against Him was still greater than that which Shimei showed against David. And in this case we see a shadow of the Lord's forbearance in David's meekness under the brutal conduct of this man. When Abishai desired that the king would allow him to take off Shimei's head, he said, "So let him curse, because the Lord has said to him, Curse David.... Behold, my son, which came forth of my bowels, seeks my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it?... It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day." This humiliation of David, like that of our Lord, was no doubt the means of his exaltation.

And as it was with them so is it with us. Our endurance is the means and even the measure of our exaltation. We must, it is true, suffer in the right spirit. The promise is to those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake; theirs only is the kingdom of heaven. It is possible for us to suffer for the sake of reward, which is for the sake of ourselves, and not for the Lord's sake. David no doubt had the grace of humility under suffering, but he did not always show in prosperity the same meek spirit that he exhibited in adversity, and notably in the case of Shimei. But we know that he belonged to a race and age in which great humility, like devout sanctity, could be felt intensely yet superficially. We must cultivate these and other religious conditions as abiding states, and not merely as transient feelings, much less as mere outward forms. We must rend our hearts and not our garments, we must shed the tears of penitence and not merely of sadness; we must cover the head and make bare the feet, by feeling as well as confessing that, in ourselves, there is nothing true and nothing good, that our sins are as a thick covering that shuts out from our minds the light and influence of heaven, and that makes our lives of the earth earthy. One of the uses of adversity, whether temporal or spiritual, is to induce a state of humility, in which the Christian sees and feels his own nothingness, and his distance from Him who is all, and to deepen his sense of dependence upon that Being who is the Author of all his true light and joy.

The application of the historical events we are now considering to the Lord, and to those who are of His household, is made evident to us from the writings of David himself. The third Psalm is inscribed "a psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son." And we learn from the "Internal sense of the prophets and psalms," that this inspired composition is concerning the Lord when He was in temptation and subjugated the hells, and then was in a state of humiliation, and prayed to the Father. Psalm 55is generally understood by commentators to relate to the same event; and Ahithophel's treason is supposed to be that over which David mourns where he says, "It was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: but it was you, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company." Whether or not the psalm can be applied wholly to the circumstances of the present history, the description of the faithless friend is one that entered into the Lord's experience, not merely in the treason of Judas, but in that which it represented, the defection and enmity of His church. And it forms part of the experience of His disciples. It is possible that those with whom we, as disciples, may have taken sweet counsel, and walked to the house of God in company, may cease to be friends and even become enemies, or, on the other hand, that we may become enemies to them. But there is another way in which this is realized. The counsellor which we have in our own understanding may fail us in our utmost need. And so far as it has been natural it must and will fail us in states of trial, which are permitted to show us on what a frail reed we have been leaning. But the trial, which discovers to us on what a staff of a broken reed we have trusted, and which may have pierced the hand that leaned upon it, brings to our hand another and better support; as David in losing one counsellor had another divinely directed to supply his place. And it was when David had come to the top of Olivet, where he worshiped God, that, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat rent, and earth upon his head. When the afflicted soul worships God from love, or from the highest affections of the heart, light and comfort come from Him who only can give help in time of trouble.

By David's direction Hushai returned to Jerusalem, where Absalom had now established himself, and, feigning himself a friend and follower, was received into Absalom's favour. David had prayed the Lord to turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness; and he now evidently regarded the appearance of this Archite as an answer to his prayer, for he saw in Hushai the means by which the object of his petition might be accomplished. An opportunity soon occurred of serving the king by defeating the counsel of Ahithophel. By the advice of this clever but unscrupulous counsellor, Absalom had, in the sight of all Israel, gone in to his father's concubines, and by this profane act consummated his iniquity, and made it representative of the sin, in its worst form, of spiritual adultery, which is the profanation of spiritual goodness. This was the fulfillment of the Lord's judgement on David delivered by Nathan: "I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun." This is a terrible exemplification of the law of life declared by our Lord, and to which the evil as well as the good are subject: "There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which you have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the house-tops" (Luke 12:2, 3). Innocence and truth, however hid in the inner man from the eyes of others, will come forth; and evil and falsehood, however carefully concealed, will be ultimately manifested. Evils were sometimes committed and punished in descending generations, because these represented the offspring of the will and understanding, which are affections and thoughts; and these in their turn give birth to words and acts.

In giving this evil advice Ahithophel was successful, for the iniquity of Absalom was not yet full. But here his power for evil ended. He advised immediate action against David, and offered, with twelve thousand men, to go himself in pursuit of the king, while he and the people that followed him were weary. His sudden appearance would strike terror into them; the people would flee: he would smite David only, and all the people would be brought to Absalom, and would be in peace. This saying pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel. But Absalom wished also to hear the opinion of Hushai. He represented to Absalom that his father and his men were mighty men, and were chafed in their minds, as a bear robbed of her whelps in the field; that as a man of war David would not lodge with the people, but would be hid somewhere. He therefore counselled that all Israel should be gathered from Dan even to Beer-sheba, that Absalom should go to battle in his own person, and, with an overwhelming force, light upon him as dew falls on the ground, so that of him and of all the men that were with him they should not leave so much as one. The counsel of Hushai prevailed. "For the Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom."

When David fled from Jerusalem he was followed by Zadok and the Levites, bearing the ark of the covenant of God; and they set down the ark; and Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city. A ceremonial this like that which was commanded and observed when the people passed over Jordan into the Promised Land. Here as there, though the circumstances were so different, the ark had a solemnizing and sanctifying influence. It was a sign that the Divine presence was with the king and his people; for it represented the Lord as the Divine Law. But David desired the priest to carry back the ark of God into the city; expressing a pious resignation to the Divine will, whether it might please the Lord to bestow His favour upon him, and bring him again, and show him both the ark and his habitation, or to say, I have no delight in you. "The king said also to Zadok the priest, Art not you a seer? return to the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will tarry in the plain of the wilderness, until there come word from you to certify me." David's heart is in Jerusalem, and there the ark of the covenant between him and his God should retire, to dwell securely in the inmost of his affections, while, as to the outer man, he tarries in the plain of the wilderness of trial and temptation.

And the time has now come when the priest is to convey to David word that is to certify him as to the state of affairs in relation to himself and his kingdom. Hushai, whom David had instructed to send him everything he could hear, communicated to the two priests the counsel that Ahithophel and he had given to Absalom, and desired them to send quickly, and tell David, saying, "Lodge not this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily pass over; lest the king be swallowed up, and all the people that are with him." The two sons of the priests stayed by En-rogel, the fuller's fountain, whose name is expressive of purifying trial; for "who shall stand when the Lord appears? for He is like a refiner's fire, and like launderers' soap "(Mal 3:2). They were to carry the tidings, but they might not be seen in the city; and a wench went and told them; and they went and told king David. The circle which had commenced from David was now complete, and had returned to him again. Yet this circle was in danger of being rendered incomplete and ineffective. Jonathan and Ahimaaz were discovered before they could reach the king; but they found a man friendly to their cause in Bahurim, who concealed them in a well, over whose mouth the woman spread a covering with ground corn thereon, so that when Absalom's servants came in search of them they could not be found, especially as, like Rahab, she not only concealed the pursued, but misdirected their pursuers. The truth was hid from them; and they believed the false to be true, as the evil are prone to do. The evil, indeed, create the falsity which they believe; for although in the Scripture narrative the concealment and the false report are from others, it is the state of the evil that creates it. It is like the appearance which the letter of Scripture presents, that God hides His truth from the wise and deceives the false prophets (Matt 11:25; Ezek 14:9). The truth is concealed from those who would apply it to an evil use; and they are permitted to be in false persuasions, as less injurious to them than to believe the truths, while it diminishes their power of doing evil to the good.

The mission for conveying tidings to the king, which was now secured, owed its success in a great measure to the courage and wisdom of two women. They represent affections, which are links of connection between the intellectual principles that enter into the circle of order, which begins and ends in Him who is the First and the Last in all things, the least as well as the greatest.

When the two messengers were released from their place of concealment, they went and told king David; and in accordance with the advice they were commissioned to give, "David arose, and all the people that were with him, and they passed over Jordan: by the morning light there lacked not one of them that was not gone over Jordan." Although now out of Canaan itself, David and the people were not out of the Israelitish possessions; for the place to which they went belonged to the tribe of Gad. Mahanaim has been already mentioned as signifying two camps, Jacob having so named it as the place where the angels of God met him. Here David and the people found those who were to them as ministering angels. All their wants were supplied, and their smallest comforts attended to; "for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness." Those gifts brought to David are, spiritually understood, the offerings which the faithful present to the Lord, as it is recorded of the pious women who were of the Lord's disciples, that they ministered to Him of their substance (Luke 8:3); and, in a lower sense, are the ministrations of the natural to the spiritual mind. These consist of the things that sustain and nourish the mind, knowledge and science, goodness and truth, charity and faith, affection and delight. These are the means of satisfying the wants of the soul after suffering hunger, weariness, and thirst in the wilderness of trial and temptation.

David and the people that were with him have gone over Jordan, Absalom passed over Jordan also, he and all the men of Israel with him. The fate of the kingdom of Israel was therefore to be decided on the other side Jordan, in that part of the Holy Land which represented the natural mind or the external man, which is the scene of all such conflicts.

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