21      previous  -  next  -  BM Home  -  Full Page

David, part 21

David's Return to Jerusalem.

2 Samuel xix.

Several incidents are recorded to have taken place after the death of Absalom, which are interesting and instructive, but some of which must be passed over and others briefly noticed.

After Absalom was slain David still remained at Mahanaim; and there was strife among the people throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, "The king saved us out of the hand of our enemies, and he delivered us out of the hand of the Philistines; and now he is fled out of the land for Absalom. And Absalom, whom we anointed king over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why speak you not a word of bringing the king back?" There is no appearance of any of the effects that, in modern times, follow a rebellion, of bringing the leading rebels, at least, to account for their conduct. The people, who had anointed Absalom king over them, now that he is dead, return to their allegiance to their legitimate sovereign, and contend among themselves which of the tribes shall be the first to bring him back. The idea and the movement originated, apparently, with the people themselves. Yet David desired to return to Jerusalem, though he did not express his desire till "the speech of all Israel had come to the king, even to his house." This is like the Lord's way of dealing with His people. Their duty is known to them, and they are left to discharge it, or to return, if they have departed from it. The Divine will is that the people should think and act as of themselves. The Lord says to the rebellious, "Turn to Me, and I will turn to you." And yet it is the Lord who turns the sinner and backslider to Himself. His Spirit is ever striving with the wicked, but its influence is internal and secret, that men may have the power, if they have the will, to return to Him who has saved them out of the hand of their enemies in His work of redemption, and it may be, to some extent, in the work of regeneration. When they freely turn to the Lord, then the Lord turns to them. David, when the people of Israel moved, "sent to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, saying, Speak to the elders of Judah, saying, Why are you the last to bring the king back to his house? You are my brethren, you are my bones and my flesh: wherefore then are you the last to bring back the king? "Here the word proceeds from the king through the priests to Judah; as the Lord operates upon His Church and people through the highest affections of love in the heart into the principles of good in the will, that these may meet and unite with the perceptions of truth in the understanding. David's speech through the priests "bowed the heart of all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man; so that they sent this word to the king, Return you, and all your servants."

The king, when this word came to him, was on the other side Jordan, whither he had fled to escape the power of Absalom, and where he had been compelled to meet him as an enemy. In the trials and temptations of the spiritual life there are experiences analogous to this. In the rebellious motions in our own minds, which consist in subordinate affections seeking to usurp the dominion exercised by the principle they should obey, there is for a time a seeming state of inverted order, a state in which, to speak in the language of the present history, the king is driven from his throne, and one who ought both to love and obey him, takes his place, and claims to rule. All Christians have experiences of states in which doubt has seemed to have taken the place of faith and distrust of confidence, and even when spiritual love seems to yield to the claims of natural affection. These are, to the tried soul, states of tribulation, the issue of which, if faithful to his God and to himself, is, to bring the Christian back to the Salem from which he has been driven, with greater power and security than he had previously enjoyed; even as the Lord, our pattern, both in our trials and our triumphs, was driven into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, and, after He had overcome, returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee. In the highest sense, these trials and triumphs of David are types of those of the Son of Man.

In returning to Jerusalem David was met by the men of Judah, who had come to Gilgal to conduct the king over Jordan. David re-entered the Holy Land as the Israelites had entered it, by making the passage of the Jordan; but the circumstances were now changed. To allow the children to pass into Canaan, Jordan was divided, so that they walked on the bed of the river, but David passed over the river itself, in what is called a ferry-boat. The first passage was grander and more imposing, and was, like the passage of the Red Sea, effected by means of a miracle. But David's passage over Jordan represented spiritual progression in a higher state. Their passage of the Jordan represented a state of trial, his represented a state of triumph. Gilgal was the first place where the children of Israel halted, when they came up from the wilderness into the Holy Land, and where, by a painful rite, they rolled away the reproach of Egypt; it was the last halting-place of the children of Judah, when they came down from Jerusalem with rejoicing, to meet their king. That which is first in the progress of the spiritual life is also the last. Obedience is the first and lowest service and the last and highest virtue; but the first obedience comes from a sense of duty, the last springs from a feeling of love. So with all the other elements of religion. All have a first state which is natural, and a last state which is spiritual. There is a truth that leads to good and a truth that is derived from good. There is a faith that leads to charity and a faith that is derived from charity. These are the Jericho and the Gilgal that change their character while they retain their name; and which have their analogues in the ladder of Jacob, on which he saw the angels of God ascending and descending, the lowest step being the first to those who went up from earth to heaven, and the last to those who came down from heaven to earth.

Unlike the children of Israel, who on their entrance into the land of Canaan were met by enemies, and whose progress through it was a continued warfare, David was received by admiring friends, and he went up with the tribes of his people, who vied with each other in doing him honour, and no doubt made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Among those who came to Gilgal with the men of Judah to meet the king was one who had been a bitter and insulting enemy, now come as a humble suppliant for mercy. Shimei, who, when David was in adversity, cast stones and dust at him and cursed him as a bloody man, "hastened and came down with the men of Judah to meet king David," and threw himself at the king's feet, confessing that he had done perversely, not faintly boasting of his prompt zeal to hail the king's return: "I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king." Shimei was a Benjamite. As the last son of Jacob and brother of Joseph, both the children of Rachel, Benjamin, and the tribe which sprung from him, hold a conspicuous place among the persons and principles that constitute the Church and kingdom of the Lord. Benjamin represents those who are in the truth of good, or what is the same, those who are in the faith of charity. "When the principles which form this state are perverted, we have the character so shamefully exemplified and so plainly represented in the conduct of Shimei, when he cursed the king in the day of his trouble. False and evil, faithless and uncharitable, the pervert acts, as this Benjamite confesses he had acted perversely. Yet such is the clemency of Him against whom such characters direct their hostility, that confession and supplication never fail to receive forgiveness, even though those who are pardoned be like the servant in the parable, whose lord forgave him ten thousand talents, simply because he asked him, but who the next hour refused to remit to his fellow-servant a debt of an hundred pence. These acts of clemency express the Lord's boundless love and forgiving mercy, but they do not always express a state of forgiven sin in those who receive them. So long, indeed, as, like Shimei and the unmerciful servant, they do not themselves violate the law of forgiveness, or break the covenant into which they have openly or tacitly entered, they are safe; but the moment they who have obtained mercy cease to be merciful, or those who have sinned transgress the law under which they live in safeguard, they forfeit all they had obtained, and learn by bitter experience that only the merciful obtain mercy, and that the soul that sins it shall die. Shimei's repentance, as we shall see, was too much like that of the unforgiving servant. He acknowledged his sin and asked for clemency, and he was forgiven. There was indeed an accusing spirit in the person of Joab's brother, who looked upon Shimei's offence with the pitiless eye of truth, and deprecated the pardon of one who had cursed the Lord's anointed, but David rebuked him, as one of the sons of Zeruiah with whom he had nothing to do in such matters, and gave the answer, worthy of a king and noble in a conqueror, "Shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel? "David now knew better than before this terrible ordeal that his throne was established. His trials, even of this character, are not yet ended; but every trial that the faithful undergo leaves its own conviction of increased stability in truth and righteousness.

Another man of a different character came down to meet the king. "Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace." Being asked, "Wherefore went not you with me, Mephibosheth?" he answered that his servant had deceived and slandered him. In chapter 16we read, when David in his flight was a little past the top of Mount Olivet, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him with a couple of asses laden with provisions. Being asked where was his master's son, he said, "Behold, he abides at Jerusalem: for he said, To day shall the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father. Then said the king to Ziba, Behold, your are all that pertained to Mephibosheth." Jonathan's son expresses himself in the highest terms of the king's wisdom, and his kindness to him; whose father's house were but dead men before the king. "And the king said to him, Why speak you any more of your matters? I have said, You and Ziba divide the land. And Mephibosheth said to the king, Yea, let him take all, for as much as my lord the king is come again in peace to his own house." Those who judge of sacred history by the ordinary standard, have considered David's treatment of Jonathan's son to be censurable. And certainly there is a seeming inconsistency in David's easy and complete forgiveness of Shimei's confessed sin, and his leaving uncensured Ziba's cruel and unacknowledged falsehood; and in leaving his maligned master's wrong unredressed, except the restoration to him of the half of the land of which Ziba had defrauded him. But there is some deeper reason than appears on the surface. Ziba, though the servant of Jonathan's son, adhered to David, and ministered to him, in his adversity, when appearances were so much against his interests that even his wise counsellor forsook him. It is possible also that, when Mephibosheth's explanation came, David did not receive it with undoubting confidence. His indifference can hardly be otherwise accounted for, although his partial rectification of the judgement which gave Ziba all, seems an admission that some adjustment was needed. With Mephibosheth, as with himself, the servant gained a temporary ascendancy over the master, as the external sometimes does over the internal; and when this is the case, the laws of order are not adhered to, since the natural man has desires and interests of his own, so that even in his service rendered to the Lord he has a view to the recompense of reward. But David did between Ziba and his master what is right in such a case, he united their interests and established a balance between them, by dividing between them the land, of which they became joint possessors. The master's self-denying exclamation, "Yea, let him take all," is the disclaiming of all merit; the return of the king in peace to his own house, or the restoration of the peaceful rule of the Lord's truth in the mind, and eminently in the will, being the highest reward which the inner man desires.

One other of those who came to meet the king was Barzillai, the Gileadite, who was one of the three who had so liberally supplied the wants of David, and the people that followed him, at Mahanaim. As forming part of the Israelitish possessions, and thus apart of the Holy Land in an extended sense, but a boundary, as when the breadth of the land is said to be from Gilead even to Dan (Deut 34:1), Gilead signifies the first good, which is that of things pertaining to the bodily senses; for it is into the good or the pleasurable enjoyment of these that man who is regenerated is first initiated. Yet, under another aspect, and in relation to a more advanced state of the regenerate life, as when it becomes the heritage of Ephraim (Zech 10:10), it signifies the good of charity. Barzillai is here represented as having reached that higher state of life when the good or pleasurable enjoyment of the bodily senses has passed away, or rather, when it has passed into that higher good, which is the pleasurable enjoyment of mental things, to which the first corresponds and is designed to lead. When Barzillai came and passed over Jordan with the king, and David invited him to go with him to Jerusalem, where he would feed him, he said, "I am this day fourscore years old: and can I discern between good and evil? can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women?" Here is a state described in which the means have accomplished their end, and are no more needed. The pleasurable enjoyment of the senses is one of the wise as well as beneficent provisions of the Creator. Men sometimes speak of them as hindrances to the reception and enjoyment of spiritual things. And no doubt when they become the sole or superior good of life they are. But considered in regard to the young, the pleasures of sense are the proper enjoyments of life. And the senses are the avenues through which they acquire their information as well as their pleasures. The senses of touch, of taste, of smell, of sound, of sight, how marvellously are they adapted to the outer world of matter in which we live, and to the inner world of mind, to which they minister! While the things of the world give us numberless sensuous pleasures, they supply us with numberless ideas. And yet those with which nature supplies us are but the food of the natural mind, which is designed to prepare us for a nobler and more satisfying means of life. Nothing can satisfy the immortal mind but that which is spiritual and eternal. When these have obtained their true place in our estimation, the world and the things of it, though they may have lost neither their charm nor their use, are no longer the chief good. A higher good, a more refined and enduring pleasure, has taken the place of the lower; the means have given way to the end. When the spiritual and the eternal become ends, life is in its true order. Things temporal and eternal are harmonized. True religion is a reconciler of all created things, whether they be things of earth or things of heaven. The grand harmony is that which is established between the different faculties of the mind itself, the will and the understanding. This harmony was Barzillai's age, fourscore, like four, and four like two, being expressive of this harmony and union. When all the powers of the mind are harmonized and united, that which constitutes true old age has arrived; whether old in years, if one is old in state, such a one is old in the spiritual and Scripture sense of the word. Sense has become subordinate to mind. And this is second, that is spiritual, childhood. The innocence of ignorance has become the innocence of wisdom. Sense has done its good and useful work, and has yielded up its sway to the matured perceptive and affectional faculties of the mind.

Barzillai pleaded his many infirmities for asking permission, after he should have passed with the king over Jordan, to turn back, that he might die in his own city, and be buried in the grave of his father and of his mother. To die is spiritually to live again, and to be buried is to rise again: to die in his own city is to live the higher life of his own native doctrine, and to be buried in his parents' grave is to enter into the higher life of his hereditary faith and love, and to enter into consociation with kindred souls who are in the same degree of the heavenly life. However highly perfected one may be in the religious life, he can only enter into and enjoy that one of the three heavens which corresponds to the degree which has been opened in his own mind. The Lord desires, indeed, that all should rise into the highest state, and ascend into the highest heaven, and partake with him of the highest good and bliss, but happiness, even in heaven, can only be found in that one of the many mansions of our Father's house whose amplitude or smallness answers to our capacity of reception and enjoyment. Barzillai is a Gileadite, and a Gileadite he must live and die. But although he lives in the outer circle of the Holy Land, he has a warm heart and a liberal hand. He is happier in his own city and with his own humbler fare than he would be in Jerusalem and at the king's table. Yet, although he may not go up, Chimham may go. The son has not, like the father, closed his account with the world. He has not come into that singleness of heart and mind which no longer needs to discern and choose between good and evil. He can taste what he eats and drinks, he can hear the voice of singing men and women. His mental like his bodily senses are still active; they have a clear perception of the good and the true, as the meat and drink of the soul, and of the harmony of the affections for them, which is the soul's concord of sweet sounds. He is still capable of increasing in knowledge and growing in wisdom. He will not be a burden to the king. The king kisses Barzillai and blesses him. With the kiss of love and the blessing of peace, he returns to his own place, waiting patiently, as one whose state is full, until his change came. Chimham goes up with the king, and he becomes great, so that a habitation, or city, is called by his name (Jer 41:17). Those whose nature answers to Chimham's name, who have a "great desire "for higher, that is, for heavenly things; and who can say with the Psalmist, "O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You," will receive Chimham's reward, not only in finding a habitation in the heavenly Canaan, but in receiving the blessing bestowed by the king in his dying charge to Solomon on the sons of Barzillai: "Let them be of those that eat at your table: for so they came to me when I fled because of Absalom your brother " (1 Kings 2:7).

21    previous  -  next  -  BM Home  -  Full Page