His Stay at Mahanaim

2 Samuel 17

We have seen how God made use of Hushai, David’s friend to defeat the counsel which Ahithophel had proposed to Absalom. This meant a short breathing space was afforded the fugitive king. Hushai at once took steps to acquaint his master with his success (17:15, 16). The two priests who served as messengers were obliged to take refuge in a farmer’s house at Bahurim, biding in a well, which his wife covered—how many strange and unexpected places have sheltered the servants of God from their enemies only the Day to come will fully reveal. Incidentally, let us note how this episode teaches us that so far from acting rashly and presumptuously, we should always avail ourselves of any lawful means which a merciful providence supplies for us. True faith never leads to fanaticism or fatalism, but moves us to act with prudence and with good judgment.

It was well that the two messengers had taken this precaution, for they were pursued and tracked to the place where they were hiding, but through the woman’s prevarication their enemies were sent on a false trail. "And it came to pass, after they (the pursuers) were departed, that they came up out of the well, and went and told king David, and said unto David, Arise, and pass quickly over the water; for thus hath Ahithophel counselled against you. Then 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" (17:21, 22). "This was a remarkable instance of God’s providential care over His servant and his friends, that not one was lost, or had deserted, out of the whole company; and he was in this a type of Christ, who loses none of His true followers" (Thomas Scott). For the antitype see John 18:8, 9.

It was at this time, most probably, that David wrote Psalms 42 and 43. They were composed at a season when he was deprived of the benefit and blessing of the public means of grace. This loss he felt keenly (42:4), but hoping in God and earnestly supplicating Him, he looked forward to the time when he would be again permitted to enter His holy courts with joy and thanksgiving (43:3, 4). These Psalms bring before is in a most blessed way the exercises of soul through which David passed at this season, and the persevering efforts he made to retain his hold upon God. They show us that though a fugitive, pressed almost beyond endurance by sore trials, nevertheless he maintained his intercourse with the Lord. They reveal the grand recourse which the believer has in every time of trouble—something to which the poor worldling is a complete stranger—namely, the privilege of unburdening his heart unto One who is of tender mercy, great compassion, and who has promised to sustain (Ps. 55:22) when we east our burden upon Him.

The first two verses of Psalm 42 express the deep longing of a spiritual heart for communion with God in the house of worship: it is only when deprived of such privileges that we come to value them as we should—just as a parched throat is the one which most relishes a glass of water. In verse 3 he tells the Lord how keenly he had felt the mocking jibes of his blasphemous foes. Then he recalls the vivid contrast from previous experience, when he, though king, had gone with the multitude to the tabernacle and joined in celebrating God’s praise. Challenging himself for his despondency, he seeks to raise his spirits. But soon dejection returns and he cries, "O my God, my soul is cast down within me" (v. 6). Then it was he added "therefore will I remember Thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar." Yes, though cut off from the public means of grace, though plagued with sore trials, he will not forget his best Friend.

In the remaining verses we find the Psalmist freely unburdening himself to God. As Spurgeon said, "It is well to tell the Lord how we feel, and the more plain the confession the better: David talks like a sick child to his mother, and we should seek to imitate him." So closely is Psalm 43 connected with the one preceding, that in one or two of the older manuscripts they are coupled together as one: that it was written during the same period is evident from verse 3, 4. In it we find David begging God to undertake for him, to "plead his cause against an ungodly nation," to "deliver him from the deceitful and unjust man"—the reference to Ahithophel or Absalom, or both. He is distressed at his own despondency and unbelief, prays for a fresh manifestation of the divine presence and faithfulness (v. 3), asks for such a deliverance as would permit his return to God’s house, and closes with an expression of assurance, that, in the end, all would turn out well for him.

"And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father" (2 Sam. 17:23). Unspeakably solemn is this. What a contrast is here presented: in the preceding verse we see the temporal deliverance of David and all his men; here we behold his chief enemy flinging himself into eternal destruction by his own mad act. Significantly enough "Ahithophel" signifies "the brother of a fool," and none exhibit such awful folly as those who are guilty of self-murder. Ahithophel did not commit this unpardonable crime on the spur of the moment, but with full deliberation, journeying to his own home to accomplish it. Nor was he bereft of his senses, for he first duly settled his affairs and arranged for the future of his family before destroying himself.

But why should Ahithophel have proceeded to such desperate measures? Ah, my reader, there is something here which needs to search our hearts. That upon which he had chiefly doted was now turned to ashes, and therefore he no longer had any further interest in life: his household "gods" were, so to speak, stolen from him, his "good thing" was gone, and therefore his temple lay in ruins. Hitherto his counsel was regarded "as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God" (16:23), but the advice of Hushai was now preferred before his. The high esteem in which he had been held for his political acumen, his wisdom in the affairs of state, was everything to him, and when Absalom passed his advice by (17:14) it was more than the pride of his heart could endure. To be slighted by David’s usurper meant that he was now a "back number"; to be thus treated before the people was too humiliating for one who had long been lionized by them.

Do we not behold the same Satanic egotism in Saul. When Samuel announced to him that the Lord had rejected him from being king, what was his response? Why, this: "Then he said, I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the leaders of my people, and before Israel" (1 Sam. 15:30). At, it was the praise of man, and not the approbation of God, which meant everything to him. Thus it was with Ahithophel: an intolerable slur had been cast upon his sagacity, and his proud heart could not endure the idea of having to play second fiddle to Hushai. What point this gives to that exhortation, "Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord" (Jer. 9:23, 24). Observe the justice of God in suffering Ahithophel to come to such an end: he plotted the violent death of David, and now was fulfilled that word his mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate" (Ps. 7:16).

O that we may really take this to ourselves, so that we honestly examine our hearts, and ascertain upon what it is, really, chiefly set. What did anything avail Haman, while Mordecai sat at the gate? is another illustration of the same evil principle. What a solemn lesson all of this reads to us! Have we, my reader, some earthly idol—be it riches, honor, fame, or even a loved one—around which the tendrils of the soul are so entwined that if it be touched, our very life is touched; if it be taken away, life is for us no longer worth living? Where is our ruling passion fixed? On what is it centered? Is it some object of time and sense, or One who is eternal and immutable? What "treasure" are we laying up day by day? Is it one that the hand of man or the hand of death may soon take from us, or that which is "eternal in the heavens"? Seek to answer this question in the presence of the Lord Himself.

"Then David came to Mahanaim" (v. 24). This was one of the cities of the Levites in the tribe of Gad (Josh. 13:26). What sacred memories were associated with this place we may discover by a reference to Genesis 32. It was at this very place that Jacob had stopped on his return from sojourning so long with Laban. He was on his way toward the unwelcome meeting with Esau. But it was there that "the angels of God met him"! With faith’s discernment, Jacob perceived that this was "a token for good" from the Lord: And when Jacob saw them, he said, I his is God’s host, and he called the name of that place Mahanaim" or ‘two hosts"—if God were for him, who could be against him! It was this place, then, that David now made his headquarters, where he increased his forces, and gathered together an army with which to oppose the rebels.

By this time the first force of the disaster bad spent itself, and when David had succeeded in getting his forces safely across the Jordan, on the free uplands of Bashan, his spirits rose considerably. Psalms 42 and 43 reflect the struggle which had taken place within him between despair and hope, but as we have seen, the latter eventually triumphed. Now that Mahanaim was reached, he determined to make a definite stand. No doubt the sacred memories associated with this place served to further hearten him, and when the news reached him of Ahithophel’s defection from Absalom and his subsequent suicide, he had good ground to conclude that the Lord was not on the side of his enemies. As the time went on, it became increasingly evident that the leaders of the rebellion were lacking in energy, and that every day of respite from actual fighting diminished their chances of success, as the astute Ahithophel had perceived.

"And Absalom passed over Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him . . . so Israel and Absalom pitched in the land of Gilead" (vv. 24, 26). At last the perfidious Absalom proceeds to carry out his vile designs. Not content with having hounded his fond parent from Jerusalem, and driven him to the utmost corner of his kingdom, nothing will satisfy him but removing David from the world itself. See to what fearful lengths Satan will lead one who is fully yielded to his sway. He was guilty of high treason. With eager mind and brutal heart he determined to deprive his father of his life. His awful conspiracy had now reached its consummation. He set his army in battle array against David. He was willing to play the part of patricide, to stain his hands with the blood of a loving father who had been too long-suffering with him.

"And Absalom made Amasa captain of the host instead of Joab: which Amasa was a mans son, whose name was Ithra an Israelite, that went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah Joab’s mother" (v. 25). Joab, the commander-in-chief of Israel’s army (1 Chron. 20:1), had remained loyal to his master, so that Absalom had perforce to appoint a new general to take charge of his forces: the wicked are not allowed to have everything their own way—divine providence generally puts a cog in their wheel. There is some difficulty in deciphering the details of this verse; as the marginal readings intimate. The one selected by Absalom as captain of his host was, originally, "Jether an Ishmaelite," who had seduced the half-sister of David—suitable character for the present position! Later, he was known as "Ithra an Israelite," Matthew Henry suggesting that he had become such by "some act of state—naturalized." Such a selection on the part of Absalom was fully in accord with his own rotten character.

"And it came to pass, when David was come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim, brought beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and flour, and parched corn, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for all the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness" (vv. 27-29). Here the scene changes again, and from the malice of David’s foes our attention is directed to the kindness of his friends. With what vivid contrasts these chapters abound! And is it not thus in all earthly life? How can it be otherwise in a world which is ruled by Satan but overruled by God.

There is something striking and touching in connection with each of the three men mentioned here, who brought such a lavish present to David. "Shobi was the brother of him, concerning whom David had said, "I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash" (10:2) so, with the measure he had meted out to this Gentile, it is measured to him again. Ah, has not God promised that he who watereth others, shall himself be watered! "Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar" was the man who had given shelter to Mephibosheth (9:5): the king had relieved him of this trust by giving Mephibosheth a place at his own table (9:11), and now Machir shows his gratitude by providing for David’s table. Concerning "Barzillai" we read that he was "a very aged man, even four score years old" (19:22), yet he was not too aged to minister now unto David’s needs. He will come before us again in the sequel.

Weary from their long march, ill provisioned for what lay before them bountiful supplies are now freely given to them. As Matthew Henry pointed out, "He did not put them under contribution, did not compel them to supply him, much less plunder them. But, in token of their dutiful affection to him, their firm adherence to his government, and their sincere concern for him in his present straits, of their own good will, they brought in plenty of all that which he had occasion for. Let us learn hence to be generous and open-handed, according as our ability is, to all in distress, especially great men, to whom it is most grievous, and good men, who deserve better treatment.

How often it falls out that God moves strangers to comfort His people when they are denied it from those much nearer them. There is a law of compensation which is conspicuously exemplified in the divine government of human affairs. A balance is strikingly preserved between losses and gains, bitter disappointments and pleasant surprises. If an heartless Pharaoh determines to slay the children of the Hebrews, his own daughter is constrained to care for Moses. If Elijah has to flee from Palestine to escape the fury of Ahab and Jezebel, a widow at Zarephath is willing to share her last meal with him. If the parents of Jesus Christ were poverty stricken, wise men from the East come with a gift of "gold," which made possible their flight and sojourn in Egypt. If a man’s foes be those of his own household, friends are raised up for him in the most unexpected quarters. Let us not, then, dwell unduly upon the former; and let us not fail to be grateful and return thanks for the latter.