CHAPTER SIXTY-FOUR

Ascending Olivet

2 Samuel 15


We resume at the point left off in our last. "The king said also unto Zadok the priest, Art not thou a seer? return into the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz thy 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" (vv. 27, 28). Though they could not be permitted to minister unto him in holy things, he does not disdain their services; they could further his interests by returning to their post of duty, and from there acquaint him with developments in Jerusalem. What implicit confidence in them was evidenced by this experienced strategist, in revealing to them his immediate plansóthe place where he intended to remain for the time being! O that Godís servants today so conducted themselves that those in trouble would not hesitate to confide in them and seek their counsel. "Zadok therefore and Abiathar carried the ark of God again to Jerusalem: and they tarried there" (v. 29). Blessed obedience: sinking their own wishes, complying with the will of their master.

"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" (v. 39). Let not the reader forget what was said in the opening paragraphs of the preceding chapter, where we pointed out that the real key to the whole of this passage is to be found in the state of Davidís heart. Throughout he is to be viewed as the humble penitent. Godís rebuke was heavy upon him, and therefore did he humble himself beneath His mighty hand. Hence it is that we here see him giving outward expression to his self-abasement and grief for his sins, and for the miseries which he had brought upon himself, his family, and his people. Suitable tokens of his godly sorrow were these, for the covering of his head was a symbol of self-condemnation, while his walking barefooted betokened his mourning (cf. Isa. 20:2, 4; Ezek. 24:17).

"And David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and wept as he went up. How striking is this, coming right after his crossing of the brook Kidron! In the previous chapter we pointed out five respects in which that foreshadowed our Lordís crossing that same brook on the night of His betrayal. Who can fail to see here another unmistakable analogy? After His crossing of that doleful brook, our Saviour entered Gethsemane, where His soul was "exceeding sorrowful" and where His supplications were accompanied with "strong crying and tears" (Heb. 5:7). Yet while observing the comparison, let us not forget the radical contrast: his own sins were the cause of Davidís grief, but the sins of His people occasioned Christís tears.

"And all the people that were with him covered every man his head, and they went up weeping as they went up" (v. 30). It is our duty to weep with those that weep, and those that were with him were deeply affected by their kingís grief. Once again our minds revert to our Saviourís passion, and discover another resemblance between it and Davidís case here, though it has been strangely overlooked by many. The disciples who accompanied Christ into the Garden failed, it is true, to "watch with Him" for one hour, yet it most certainly was not through indifference, nor because they sought fleshly ease in slumber, for as the Holy Spirit expressly informs us, Christ "found them sleeping for sorrow" (Luke 22:45). Thus the weeping people who Followed David up Olivet found its counterpart in the sorrowing of those disciples who had accompanied the Saviour unto Gethsemane.

"And one told David, saying, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom" (v. 31). With the exception of his own sons insurrection, this was the bitterest ingredient in the cup which David was now having to drink. It was no ordinary blow For him to bear, for Ahithophel was no ordinary man. He was one whom the king had taken into his confidence, numbered among his closest friends, and to whom he had shown much kindness. He not only enjoyed the most intimate relations with David concerning the affairs of state, but had close fellowship with him in spiritual things. This is evident from the Psalmistís own statement "We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company" (55:14). Fickle and treacherous is human nature. Our sharpest trials often come from those in whom we have reposed the most trust and to whom we have shown the greatest kindness; yet, on the other hand, the most unlikely friends are sometimes raised up among those from whom we had the least expectationsóas the Gittites attached to David (v.21).

"And one told David, saying, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom." Troubles rarely come singly: often they crowd one on top of another, as was the case with Job. This sad news was brought to the king just when he was being the most severely tried. Absalom had revolted, and now his "prime minister" turned traitor at the most crucial moment. It was a vile requital for the kingís generosity to him. Here again we may perceive these historical incidents shadowing forth events even more solemn and frightful in connection with our blessed Lord, for Ahithophel is undoubtedly a striking type of Judas, who, after being admitted to the inner circle of Christís disciples, basely turned against Him and went over to the side of His enemies. Sufficient, then, for the disciple to be as his Master: if His charity was rewarded with cruel treachery, let us be prepared for similar treatment.

How keenly David felt the perfidy of Ahithophel is evident from several statements in the Psalms which obviously refer to him. In Psalm 41 he mentions one evil after another which afflicted him, and finishes with "Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me" (v. 9)óthat was the climax: anything worse could scarcely be imagined, as the opening "Yea," suggests. Ahithophel had not only forsaken David in his hour of need, but had gone over to the side of his foe. The "lifted up his heel against me" is the figure of a horse which has just been bedded by its master, and then lashing out with his feet, viciously kicks him. More plainly still is his anguish evidenced in "For 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 thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance" (55:12, 13).

There is still another reference in the Psalms where David laments, "For my love they are my adversaries; but I give myself unto prayer. And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love" (109:4, 5). This sad trial of Davidís was illustrative of what is often the most painful experience of the Church, for her troubles usually begin at home: her open enemies can do her little or no harm until her pretended friends have delivered her into their hands. The statement that David "gave himself to prayer" at once links up with our passage, for there we read next, "And David said, O Lord, I pray Thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness" (v. 31). It is apparent that David was more afraid of Ahithophelís wisdom than he was of Absalomís daring, for he was a man of experience in statecraft, and was highly respected by the people (2 Sam. 16:23).

"And David said, O Lord, I pray Thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness." Here again the type points forward to the antitype, in fact, that is the outstanding feature of our passage. Davidís crossing of the Kidron (v. 23), his complete surrender of himself to the will of God (v. 26), his tears (v. 30), and now his praying, present one of the most remarkable prefigurations of our Lordís sufferings to be found anywhere in the Old Testament. In asking the Lord to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, David recognized and acknowledged that all hearts are in His hands, that He can "make the judges fools" (Job 12:17). There was no suitable opportunity for David to engage in a lengthy season of prayer, nor was that necessary, for we are not heard for our much speaking. Apparently, a brief ejaculation was all that now issued from his heart; but it was heard on high!

What a blessed and encouraging example David has here left us! Prayer should ever be the believerís resource, for there is never a time when it is unseasonable. We too may pray for God to bring to nought the crafty counsel of the wicked against His people. We too may come to Him when all appears to be lost, and spread our case before Him. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, for vain is all worldly wisdom and power against it. So it proved here: though Davidís petition was a brief one, yet it met with an unmistakable answer as 2 Samuel 17:14 shows, where we are told, "And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel; for the Lord had commanded to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom." Let us take encouragement from this incident, then, and "in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6).

"And it came to pass, that when David was come to the top of the mount, where he worshipped God" (v. 32). This is blessed and teaches a lovely practical lesson: "weeping must never hinder worshipping" (Matthew Henry). No, why should it? We may worship God in the minor key as truly as in the major. We may adore the Lord as genuinely in the valley of humiliation as from the heights of jubilation. Furthermore, we may worship God as acceptably from the rugged mountaintop as in the most ornate cathedral. This principle was clearly apprehended by the spiritually minded in Old Testament times, as is evident from our passage: though David was away from the tabernacle, he realized that God was still accessible in spirit. Let us, then, grasp this fact, that nothing should prevent us worshipping the Lord, even though we no longer have access to His public ordinances. How thankful we should be for such a merciful provision in a day like ours.

"And it came to pass, that when David was come to the top of the mount, there he worshipped God." There are some who believeówe consider with good reasonóthat David sang Psalm 3 as a part of his worship on this occasion, for it bears the title "a Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son." It has been well said that "Among all the Psalms of David there is none which more remarkably evidences the triumph of his faith out of the depths of affliction and chastisement than this one" (B. W. Newton). There was no shutting or his eyes to the gravity of his situation, no ignoring the imminency of his danger, for he said, "Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah" (Ps. 3:1,2).

David described his foes as being numerous, and as boasting there would be no deliverance for him by the Lord. As we have seen (2 Sam. 15:12), the revolt had assumed considerable dimensions, and the conspirators were assured that Davidís sins had turned away the aid of heaven from his cause. "But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head" (Ps. 3:3): this is most blessedóhe opposes their malicious utterances and confident hatred by the conviction that admidst real perils Jehovah was still his defence. With bowed and covered head he had fled from Jerusalem but "Thou art the lifter up of mine head" was his confidence. "Though the dangers were still present, yet in faith he speaks of them as past (Hebrew); the deliverance was yet future, yet he speaks of it as already come" (B. W. Newton).

"I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill. Selah" (Ps. 3:4). He was an exile from the tabernacle on Zion, and he had sent back the ark to its rest; but though he had to cry to God from the mountain side, He graciously answers from "His holy hill." "He and his men camped admidst dangers, but an unslumbering Helper mounted guard over the undefended slumberers" (A. Maclaren): "I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me" (Ps. 3:5). Such was the calm confidence of David, even while multiplied perils were still encircling him. Refreshed by the nightís repose, heartened by the divine protection granted while sheltering in caves or sleeping in the open, the Psalmist breaks forth in triumphant exclamation: "I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people that have set themselves against me round about" (Ps. 3:6).

Betaking himself for renewed energy to the weapon of prayer, even before the battle David sees the victory, but ascribes it solely to his God. "Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for Thou host smitten all mine enemies upon the cheekbone; Thou host broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: Thy blessing is upon Thy people. Selah" (Ps. 3:7,8). "Nor was his confidence in vain. He was restored and allowed again to see Israel in peaceóagain to prove that Godís blessing is upon His people. How precious is the individual use of such a Psalm as this, to every one who, after having backslidden or trespassed, has only turned again to the mercies and faithfulness of God. Even though the tokens of divine rebuke and chastisement be present on every side, even though every tongue may say Ďthere is no help for him in God,í such an one may remember David, and again say, ĎThou, O Lord, art a shield for me: my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.í Thus, even the sins and chastisements of Godís servants are made blessings in result to His people" (B. W. Newton).

"Behold Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat rent, and earth upon his head" (v. 32). From 1 Chronicles 27:33 we learn that Hushai was another who had taken a prominent part in the affairs of state, for there it is recorded, Hushai the Archite was the kingís companion." That Hushai was regarded as a man of wisdom is also apparent from the fact that, a little later, Absalom applied to him for advice (2 Sam. 17:5). In the light of what immediately follows, it seems to us that the coming to David of Hushai is often His way to so regulate our circumstances as to exhibit the secret workings of our heartsóthat we may, subsequently, be humbled thereby, and brought to prize more highly that grace which bears so patiently with us.

"Unto whom David said, If thou passest on with me, then thou shalt be a burden unto me; But if thou return to the city, and say unto Absalom, I will be thy servant, O king; as I have been thy fatherís servant hitherto, so will I now also be thy servant: then mayest thou for me defeat the counsel of Ahithophel. And hast thou not there with thee Zadok and Abiathar the priests? therefore it shall be, that what thing so ever, thou shalt hear out of the kingís house, thou shalt tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. Behold, they have there with them their two sons, Ahimaaz Zadokís son, and Jonathan Abiatharís son; and by them ye shall send unto me every thing that ye can hear. So Hushai Davidís friend came into the city, and Absalom came into Jerusalem" (vv. 33-37).

"As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man" (Prov. 27:19). Alas, cannot both writer and reader see in the above incident a reflection of his own character? Have there not been times when we confidently committed our cause and case unto the Lord, and then we saw an opportunity where, by fleshly scheming, we thought that we could secure the answer to our prayers? It is far easier to commit our way unto the Lord, than it is to "rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him" (Ps. 37:5, 7). It is there that the real test of faith often lies: whether we leave things entirely in Godís hands, or seek to take matters into our own. Learn, then, that the appearing of a willing Hushai at the critical moment is often permitted to put us to the proofówhether or nor our heart be still inclined to lean upon an arm of flesh.

Various attempts have been made seeking to vindicate David for sending Hushai to become a spy for him in Absalomís camp. Strategy may be permissible in warfare, but nothing could justify the king in causing Hushai to act and utter a lie. It is true that God overruled, and through Hushai defeated Ahithophelís counsel, but that no more proves He approved of this deception, than did the flowing of water from the smitten rock show Godís approbation of Mosesí anger. The best that can be said is, "Alas! where shall we find wisdom and simplicity so united in any mere man that we can perceive nothing which admits of censure and needs forgiveness?" (Thomas Scott). There has only been One on this earth in whom there was no spot or blemish.