His Failure

2 Samuel 3 and 4

In our last chapter (so far as the application of the principles enunciated therein related to him who is the principal subject of this book) we endeavored to show that very much hinged on the manner in which David now conducted himself. A most important crisis had been reached in his life. The time which he spent at Hebron constituted the dividing line in his career. On the one side of it was what we may designate as the period of his rejection, when the great majority of the people clave unto Saul, who hounded him from pillar to post; on the other side of it, was the period of his exaltation when he reigned over the nation. When pondering the different events which happened in the first stage of his career, we sought to point out the moral connection between them, seeking to trace the relation between the personal conduct of David and the various circumstances which the governmental dealings of God brought about as the sequel. We propose, by divine aid, to follow a similar procedure in taking up the details under the second stage of his career.

In chapter twenty we saw how David displeased the Lord by his taking unto himself two wives (1 Sam. 25:43, 44), and in chapter twenty-two we noticed how one sin led to another; while in chapter twenty-four we observed the divine chastisement which followed. In chapter twenty-six we dwelt upon David’s putting things right with God and encouraging himself in the Lord, following which we traced out the blessed results which ensued (chapters 27, 28), terminating in his being restored to full fellowship with the Lord, as was typified by God’s directing him to "Hebron." There he received a "token for good" (Ps. 86: 17) in the reception which he met with from the men of his own tribe, who came and "anointed David over the house of Judah" (2 Sam. 2:4): that was indeed a promising intimation that if his ways continued to please the Lord, He would make "even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:7). On the other hand, that "token for good" only becomes the more solemn in the light of all that follows.

How much there is in the later chapters of 2 Samuel which makes such pathetic and tragic reading. Few men have experienced such sore social and domestic trials as David did. Not only was he caused much trouble by political traitors in his kingdom, but, what was far more painful, the members of his own family brought down heavy grief upon him. His favorite wife turned against him (6:20-22), his daughter Tamar was raped by her half brother (13:14), his son Ammon was murdered (13:28, 29). His favorite son Absalom sought to wrest the kingdom from him, and then he was murdered (18:14). Before his death, another of his sons, Adonijah, sought to obtain the throne (1 Kings 1:5), and he too was murdered (1 Kings 2:24,25). Inasmuch as the Lord never afflicts willingly (Lam. 3:33), but only as our sins occasion it, how are these most painful family afflictions to be accounted for?

If the Holy Spirit has been pleased to furnish us with any explanation of the sore trials which David encountered in his later life, or if He has supplied us with materials that serve to throw light upon what is recorded in the second half of 2 Samuel, then that explanation must be sought for or that illuminating material must be inquired after, in the early chapters of that book. This is a principle of great importance in order to a right understanding of the Scriptures. As a general rule, God hangs the key for us right on the door itself: in other words, the opening chapters (often the first verses) contain a clear intimation or forecast of what follows. True, in some cases, this is more apparent than in others, yet concerning each one of the sixty-six books of the Bible, it will be found that the closer be the attention given unto its introduction, the easier will it be to follow the development of its theme. Such is obviously the case here in 2 Samuel.

"Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker" (2 Sam. 3: 1). The battle referred to at the end of the previous chapter, though it went so greatly in favor of David, did not put an end to the warfare between him and Ishbosheth. Though Saul himself was no more, yet his son and subjects refused to submit quietly to David’s scepter. For another five years they continued to manifest their defiance, and many were the skirmishes which took place between his men and the loyal subjects of David. The latter was loath to employ harsh measures against them, and probably his magnanimity and mildness were mistaken for weakness or fear, and encouraged his opponents to renew their efforts for his overthrow. But little by little they were weakened, until Ishbosheth was willing to make a league with David.

"Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker." The contents of this verse may well be taken as a type of the conflict which is experienced in the heart of the Christian. David, exalted to be king over Judah, may be regarded as a figure of one of God’s elect when he has been lifted out of the miry clay (into which the fall of Adam plunged him) and his feet set upon the Rock of ages. As 1 Samuel 2:8 declares, "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory." But is all now henceforth peace and joy? Far from it. Inward corruption is there, and is ever assailing the principle of grace which was imparted at regeneration: "the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17). What is the outcome? Is the flesh victorious? No, it may annoy, it may win minor skirmishes, but little by little the flesh is weakened and the spirit strengthened, until at the last sin is completely destroyed.

"Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David." Thus the kingdom of Israel was rent asunder by civil war. That it should last so long, when David was clearly in the right, has presented quite a problem to the commentators. Personally, we regard the contents of this verse as a plain intimation that David was missing God’s best. This is an expression we use rather frequently in these pages, so perhaps a definition of it here will not be amiss. Let it be pointed out here that it is by no means equivalent to affirming that God’s counsels may be thwarted by us. No indeed, puny man can no more defeat the eternal purpose of the Almighty than he can cause the sun to cease from shining or the ocean from rolling. "But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased" (Ps. 115:3).

There is a vast difference between the promises of God and His eternal decrees: many of the former are conditional, whereas the latter are immutable, dependent upon nothing for their fulfillment save the omnipotence of God. In saying that many of the divine promises recorded in Holy Writ are "conditional" we do not mean they are uncertain and unreliable, no; we mean that they are infallible declarations of what God will do or give providing we follow a certain course of conduct: just as the divine threatenings recorded in Scripture are a declaration of what God will do or inflict if a certain course be pursued. For example, God has declared "Them that honour Me, I will honour" (1 Sam. 2:30). But suppose we fail to "honour" God, suppose we do not obtain that enabling grace which He is ever ready to give unto those who earnestly seek it in a right way—what then? The same verse tells us: "And they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed."

Take for instance the declaration made in Joshua 1:8, "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." First, let it be pointed out that that verse has nothing whatever to do with the eternal destiny of the soul; instead, it relates only to the present life of the saint. In it God tells us that if we give His Holy Word the first place in our thoughts and affections, and regulate both our inner and outer life by its teaching, then He will make our way "prosperous" and we shall have "good success." This does not mean that we shall become millionaires, but that by heeding the rules of His Word, we shall escape those rocks upon which the vast majority of our fellows make shipwreck, and that the blessing of God will rest upon our lives in all their varied aspects and relations; an all-wise and sovereign God determining both the kind and measure of the "success" which will be most for His glory and our highest good.

Nor are the principles enunciated in Joshua 1: 8 to be restricted in their application to those who lived under the old covenant: inasmuch as the governmental ways of God remain the same in all ages, those principles hold good in all dispensations. From the beginning of human history it has always been true, and to the end of history it will continue so to be, that "no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11). On the other hand, it is equally a fact that those who are not subject to God’s Word, who follow instead the devices of their own hearts and give way to the lusts of the flesh, suffer adversity and come under the rod of divine chastisement; of them it has to be said, "Your sins have withholden good things from you" (Jer. 5:25). In other words, they have missed God’s best: not that they have failed to obtain any blessing which He had eternally decreed should be theirs, but they have not entered into the good of what God’s Word promises should be the present portion of those who walk in obedience thereto.

"O that My people had hearkened unto Me, and Israel had walked in My ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto Him: but their time should have endured forever. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat; and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee" (Ps. 81:13-16). What could be plainer than that! This passage is not treating of the eternal counsels of God, but of His governmental dealings with men in this life.

The key to the above verses is found in their immediate context: "But My people would not hearken to My voice; and Israel would none of Me. So I gave them unto their own hearts’ lust; and they walked in their own counsels" (Ps. 81:11, 12). The children of Israel walked contrary—not to the eternal purpose of Jehovah, but—to His revealed will. They would not submit to the rules laid down in God’s Word, but in their self-will and self-pleading determined to have their own way; in consequence, they missed God’s best for them in this life, instead of His subduing their enemies, He allowed those enemies to subdue them; instead of providing abundant harvests, He sent them famines; instead of giving them pastors after His own heart, He suffered false prophets to deceive.

Many more are the passages which might be quoted from the Old and New Testaments alike, which set forth the same great fact, warning us that if we walk contrary to the Scriptures we shall certainly suffer for it, both in soul and body, both in our estate and circumstances, in this life failing to enter into those blessings—spiritual and temporal—which the Word promises to those who are in subjection to it. That is as true today as it was under the old economy, and it supplies the key to many a problem, and explains much in God’s governmental dealings with us. It certainly supplies the key to David’s life, and explains why the chastening rod of God fell so heavily upon himself and his family. Bear in mind carefully what has been said above, read the passage which now follows, and then there is no reason why we should be surprised at all that is found unto the end of 2 Samuel.

"And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his first born was Ammon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess. And his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom, the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur. And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital. And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron" (2 Sam. 3:2-5). In the light of all that has been said in the preceding chapter and in this, there is little need for us to attempt any lengthy comments upon these unpleasant verses. Here we see David giving way to the lusts of the flesh, and practicing polygamy; and as he sowed to the flesh in his family life, so in the flesh he reaped corruption in his family. Three of the above-mentioned sons were murdered!

The subject of polygamy as a whole is too large a one for us to deal with here, nor can we discuss it at length as it bore upon the lives of the different patriarchs. God’s original creation of only one man and one woman indicates from the beginning that monogamy was the Divine order for man to heed (Matthew 19:4, 5). The first of whom we read in Scripture that had more wives than one, was Lamech (Gen. 4:19), who was of the evil line of Cain. And while Moses, because of the hardness of Israel’s heart (Matthew 19:8) introduced the statute of divorce, yet nowhere did the Mosaic law sanction a plurality of wives. The limitation of one wife only is plainly suggested by such scriptures as Proverbs 5:18 and 18:22.

Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother. But he shall not multiply horses to himself . . . neither shall he multiply wives of himself, that his heart turn not away" (Deut. 17:15-17). Here was a definite and express law which the kings of Israel were required to obey, and thereby set before their subjects an example of sobriety and marital fidelity. And this was the commandment which David so flagrantly disobeyed, for no sooner was he anointed "king over the house of Judah" (2 Sam. 2:4), than he began to multiply "wives" unto himself (3:2-5). Not only so, but when Abner sought to make a league with him, David laid it down as a condition that his first wife, Michal, who had been given to another man (1 Sam. 25:44) must be restored to him (2 Sam. 3:13), which was an open violation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

A little later on we read, "And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron" (2 Sam. 5:13). Here, then, was David’s besetting sin, to which he yielded so freely—little wonder that his son Solomon followed in his footsteps! And a Holy God will not tolerate evil, least of all in those whom He has made leaders over His people. Though in the main David’s life was pleasing to God, and spiritual excellencies were found in him, yet there was this one sad weakness. His giving way to it brought down long and sever chastenings, and the record of it as a whole—the sowing and the consequent reaping — is for our learning and warning. Learn, then, dear reader, that even when restored from backsliding and brought back to fellowship with God, your only safety lies in earnestly crying to Him daily "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe" (Ps. 119-117).