2 Samuel 16
Amid much that is saddening in the next two or three chapters there occasionally shine rays of light through the darkness which overshadows them. The record is mainly concerned with the deeds of David’s enemies, but here and there we find chronicled some of the kindly actions of his friends. The depravity of fallen human nature is exhibited again and again, and we behold what fearful depths of iniquity men will fall into when not immediately restrained from above. God righteously permits the devil to work freely in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2), for man at the beginning deliberately elected to become subject to Satan’s scepter rather than remain in allegiance to his Maker: preferring death to life, darkness to light, bondage to freedom, he is made to suffer the consequences of the same. Nevertheless, the Almighty is over Satan and makes his ragings to subserve His own purpose: "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain" (Ps. 76:10)—strikingly illustrated again and again in the various scenes which are to come before us.
The depravity of fallen human nature is not an attractive subject, yet it is a solemn fact confronting us daily, both within and without. Moreover, it explains to us, as nothing else will, the fearful wickedness which abounds on every hand. A corrupt tree can (of itself) produce nought but corrupt fruit. That which should really surprise us is not the bountiful harvest which sin is producing in the human family, but rather that so many of its foul blossoms and buds are nipped before they can develop. Now and again God permits some monster of iniquity to run his race without hindrance, to show us what fearful evil man is capable of, and what would be a common occurrence were He to leave Adam’s descendants entirely to themselves. The deeds of Ahithophel and Absalom would be duplicated all around us were it not that God puts bridles into the mouths of those who hate Him, and bounds their enmity as truly as He does those of the winds and waves.
But the restraining of man’s wickedness is not the sole operation of the divine government of the human family: from the uncongenial soil of fallen human nature God is also engaged in producing that which makes this world a fit place for His people to live in, for He is doing all things for their sakes (Rom. 8:28)—His glory and their good being inseparably bound up together. That the saint meets with any mercy, justice, or kindness at the hands of the unregenerate is due alone to the grace and power of the Lord. That the believer is at times befriended by those who have not the love of God in their hearts, is as much the product and marvel of divine power as His creating an occasional oasis in the desert. There are times when the Lord makes the leopard to "lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together" (Isa. 11:6). There are times when He causes the ravens to feed His servants. Yet, whatever be the instruments God is pleased to use, the language of the believer should be "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies" (Ps. 23:5).
Thus, amid the hardships and sufferings which his enemies inflicted upon David, we are also to note the reliefs and kindly supplies which God moved others to furnish him and his men. It was so in the experience of his blessed Son: if on the one hand we read that He "had not where to lay His head," on the other hand we are told "And many others (of the women) which ministered unto Him of their substance" (Luke 8:3). It was so in the history of the apostle Paul: if on the one hand he sometimes experienced "hunger and thirst . . . cold and nakedness" (2 Cor. 11:27), at others it could be recorded "The barbarous people showed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us everyone, because of the present rain, and because of the cold . . . who also honoured us with many honours: and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary" (Acts 28:2, 10). And has it not been thus in the lives of both writer and reader? Undoubtedly; sweets and bitters, disappointments and pleasant surprises, have been intermingled: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other" (Eccl. 7:14).
"And the king, and all the people that were with him, came weary, and refreshed themselves there" (16:14): that is, at Bahurim (v. 5). After their long and arduous journey from Jerusalem, David and his band of loyal followers pitched camp and obtained a much-needed rest. At the same time "Absalom, and all the people of the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem and Ahithophel with him" (v. 15), David and his retinue having left the way wide open for Absalom to take possession of the royal city whenever he pleased. There were none to oppose him. Accordingly he came, and no doubt felt much elated by this initial success, promising himself that the whole country would soon be his: "God suffers wicked men to prosper a while in their wicked plots, even beyond their expectation, that their disappointment may be the more grievous and disgraceful" (Matthew Henry).
"And it came to pass, when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, was come unto Absalom, that Hushai said unto Absalom, God save the king, God save the king (margin). And Absalom said to Hushai, Is this thy kindness to thy friend? why wentest thou not with thy friend? and Hushai said unto Absalom, Nay; but whom the Lord, and this people, and all the men of Israel, choose, his will I be, and with him will I abide. And again, whom should I serve? should I not serve in the presence of his son? as I have served in thy father’s presence, so will I be in thy presence" (vv. 16-19). This is the sequel to what was before us in 15:32-37: Hushai, at some risk to himself, ventured into the lion’s den, in order to serve and help David. His conduct on this occasion raises a problem, one which the commentators have differed widely upon. Some have argued that, on the worldly principle of "all is fair in love and war," Hushai was fully justified in his dissimulation: others have condemned him, without qualification, as an unmitigated liar; while a few have been so puzzled they withheld a judgment. Let it be pointed out, first, that Hushai did not say "Let king Absalom live"; and when challenged concerning his infidelity to David, he did not reply I have done with thy father, and am now devoted solely to thee and thy cause": his language was ambiguous, capable of a double construction. While that somewhat modified his offense it by no means cleared Hushai, for his language was intended to mislead, and therefore was chargeable with duplicity. That his intention was a good one, and that his efforts succeeded, by no means exonerated him. "Results" are not the criterion by which we should determine the rightness or wrongness of anything. Bear in mind it is the human side of things we are now considering—from the divine side, God suffered the pride of Absalom’s heart to deceive him: he fondly imagined that David’s best friends were so in love with himself that they gladly took the present opportunity to flock to his banner; and therefore he construed Hushai’s words in favor of himself.
The above incident is recorded as a warning, and not for our imitation. It shows that something more than a good motive is necessary in order for a deed to be right in the sight of God. This is an important principle for us to weigh, for not a few today excuse much that is wrong by saying "Well, his intentions were good." While it be true that the motive often determines the value of an act, yet other principles and considerations must also regulate us. For instance, in seeking to carry out our good intensions, we must use the right means. It is praiseworthy for a parent to seek food for his hungry children, yet he or she must not steal the same. This was where Hushai failed: the desire to help David did not warrant his playing the part of a hypocrite. "For our rejoicing is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world" (2 Cor. 1:12) is the Christian’s standard. It is never right to do wrong.
The principal means which the believer should employ in every time of trouble and emergency, is prayer: presenting his case in humble and trustful confidence to Him with whom there are no difficulties, leaving Him to undertake for us as seemeth Him best. This is what David had done at first (2 Sam. 15:31); but, later, he spoiled it by resorting to a carnal policy (15:34). Ere passing on let us note how Absalom’s challenge to Hushai may be taken to heart by ourselves in a higher sense: "Men who admire themselves will be easily deceived by those who profess an attachment to them; yet they readily discern those faults in others, of which themselves are far more notoriously guilty, and are apt to express astonishment at them. If a zealous disciple of Christ commit evident wickedness, even profligates will exclaim ‘Is this thy kindness to thy Friend?’ But, alas, how often might the Saviour Himself address each of us in these words, to our shame and confusion! And how often should we thus check ourselves, and remember our ingratitude, to our deep humiliation" (Thomas Scott). Unfaithfulness to Christ is a species of unkindness to our best Friend! What a theme that is for a practical sermon!
We have, in a former chapter, already made allusion to the revolting episode recorded in the closing verses of 2 Samuel 16, so a few brief remarks on it here will suffice. "Then said Absalom to Ahithophel, Give counsel among you what we shall do" (v. 20). First, we note that Absalom did not seek unto the custodians of the ark (which David had sent back to Jerusalem) for guidance, for he had no concern for the will of Jehovah: throughout the entire piece he acts as an infidel, a blatant rebel. Second, the obvious design of Ahithophel in so evilly advising Absalom—which, as Matthew Henry rightly says was as though he enquired "at the oracle of Satan" rather than "of God" (v. 21)—was to get his new master to so conduct and commit himself that all hope of forgiveness by David would be out of the question. Third, but behind the scenes, was the overruling hand of God, fulfilling His own word (2 Sam. 12:11) and chastising David for his wickedness—that he had these "concubines" in addition to a plurality of wives, is a sad reflection upon the Psalmist.
"Moreover Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David this night: And I will come upon him while he is weary and weak handed, and will make him afraid: and all the people that are with him shall flee; and I will smite the king only: and I will bring back all the people unto thee: the man whom thou seekest is as if all returned: so all the people shall be in peace" (17:1-3). It may be thought that this vile suggestion was prompted by the feelings of private animosity, for, as previously pointed out, Bathsheba was the grand-daughter of Ahithophel, and therefore he would desire to personally avenge the wrong done to his family. But whether this be the case or no, as a politic man Ahithophel would be quick to recognize that delay was dangerous, and that if Absalom desired the removal of David from his path, there must be swift action, and a striking while his father and men were tired and low spirited.
Those who surrounded the wicked Absalom at this time understood clearly that nothing short of the death of David and the seizing of the throne for himself would satisfy his covetousness: the only matter to be determined was the best way in which to accomplish this base design. Consequently, when Ahithophel voiced his evil counsel, there were none that raised hands of holy horror, none who so much as objected to the gross injustice of such a course. Not long ago Absalom himself had fled for a crime, and David contented himself by allowing his son to remain in exile, though he deserved death; nay, he craved his return. But so utterly devoid was Absalom of natural affection, so incapable of ingratitude, that he thirsted for David’s blood. See, my reader, what human nature is capable of (yours and mine not excepted) when God leaves us entirely to ourselves. How far, far astray are they who deny the solemn truth of the total depravity of fallen man!
The scheme propounded by Ahithophel had much to commend itself to a man of such a designing type as Absalom. It would not serve his purpose for there to be a wholesale massacre of his subjects—the Philistines were too near and numerous to unnecessarily weaken his forces. Let the king himself be smitten, and his followers would readily capitulate. "Smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered, and be an easy prey to the wolf" was the principle of Ahithophel’s plan. It has been pointed out by others that there was a close resemblance (if not an actual foreshadowment) here to the policy suggested by Caiaphas: "Now consider that it is expedient for us that one man would die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not" (John 11:50). So too the language of others of Christ’s enemies was "This is the Heir: come, let us kill Him, and the inheritance shall be ours" (Mark 12:7).
"And the saying pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel" (v. 4). The desperate wickedness of the cold-blooded proposal of Ahithophel to "smite"—slay—God’s anointed, so far from filling Absalom with horror, met with his hearty approval. If "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18), it is equally true that evil men and seducers wax worse and worse. The falling stone gathers momentum, and the further it rolls down hill, the greater is its velocity. So it is with one who has thoroughly sold himself to the devil—he gives his wretched victims no rest, but urges them on from crime to crime, until their cup of iniquity is full. Satan is a merciless taskmaster, who ever demands an increasing tale of bricks from his slaves. How earnestly we should pray to be delivered from the evil one!
"Then said Absalom, Call now Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear likewise what he saith" (v. 5). This is surely striking. In the previous instance Absalom had acted promptly on the evil counsel of Ahithophel (16:22), why, then, did he not do so now? The proposal made had "pleased him well," yet he hesitated and consulted with Hushai, the secret friend of David. It was not that Hushai took the initiative and pushed himself forward: it was Absalom himself who sought to know his mind. What a proof that "the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will" (Prov. 21:1). "The Lord had appointed to defeat the good (politic) counsel of Ahithophel" (v. 14), yet He accomplished this not by physical force, but by the working of natural laws. Absalom appeared to act quite freely in following out the thought that had entered his mind, nevertheless a divine hand was directing him, unknown to himself. Man is free to act only within the circumference of the divine decrees.
It was at this critical moment, when the doom of David appeared to be as good as sealed, that his faithful follower was given the opportunity of befriending him. How blessedly God times His interventions. He is never too early, and never too late. It is the impatience of unbelief and the fretfulness of self-will which so often makes us think the Lord is tardy. Often God "waits that He may be gracious" (Isa. 30:18) in order to bring us to the end of ourselves, and that the deliverance may more evidently appear to be from Himself. At other times, He delays His intervention on behalf of His own for the greater chagrin and dismay of their enemies. Hushai did not fail David at this critical moment, but by clever and plausible arguments caused Absalom to change his mind, and postpone an immediate attack upon the fugitive king. This accomplished his object, for any delay on the part of Absalom afforded David an opportunity to rest his weary men, add to his forces and station them to best advantage. But more of that in our next.