Text: 2 Sam 16 – 18 (Ps 91)
Observe: David and his servants, fleeing Absalom, reach the Mount of Olives. Ziba, Mephibosheth’s servant, meets him with generous gifts of food, transportation – and a lie, claiming Mephibosheth intends to restore the house of Saul. With possible second thoughts about Mephibosheth after the kindness shown him, David hands over his charge’s goods and property to the conniver.
Enter Shimei, cursing David, accusing him of bringing the house of Saul to ruin and murdering Saul, lobbing stones at his men as he follows beside them, seething with resentment at David’s assuming Saul’s kingship, yelling that Absalom will take over the kingdom. Yet David reacts graciously to the insults, believing the Lord has permitted the curses but will ultimately bless. (His problem was Absalom, not Shimei.) Reaching the Jordan, he and his exhausted men rest.
Enter Absalom with Hushai and Ahithophel as his counselors-with-agendas. Hushai, David’s friend turned spy, pretends to side with Absalom, but intends to frustrate Ahithophel’s advice. Ahithophel, tarnishing his reputation as a Godly counselor, urges Absalom to have sex with David’s concubines, thinking to so humiliate David that Israel would turn to Absalom. Public blatant immorality and treason against the king, his father, display Absalom’s hubris.
Ahithophel advises Absalom to immediately muster troops and pursue David. Hushai, however, offers delaying tactics to give David and his men time to escape across the Jordan. Absalom chooses to heed the latter’s advice. Hushai sends warning to David, though putting Zadok and Abiathar, the messengers, in danger; they are hidden but soon alert David, enabling him to prepare for a showdown. Ahithophel¸ his advice spurned, hangs himself.
David, urged not to go with his men to fight, wisely heeds this advice. David’s army, and the forest, devour the enemy. But Joab disobeys David’s order to be careful of Absalom. After a fruitless attempt to coerce others to kill him, Joab murders him in cold blood, with ‘ten young men’ finishing him off -- bitterness (14:30) becoming revenge. The hunting down of Absalom, the bizarre event that left him ‘hanging between heaven and earth’ (18:9)[LM1] , the grisly murder and careless burial, corroborate the ungodliness that fills these chapters, surely[LM2] some of the saddest in this entire sad history.
Interpret: These complicated chapters reveal the worst of the human heart. Again, sinful humanity takes God’s words and twists them into unrecognizability. The author of confusion is at work behind these chapters, but God counters his lies by His power and truth – and prevails. The Lord through Hushai saved David’s life, and his forces emerged victorious through His outworking. At great cost, David is still the king.
The “man after God’s heart” is a changed man. Humbly, David endures Shimei’s abuse, seeing God behind his weird behaviour. He implores his three captains (Joab, Ittai, Abishai), to protect Absalom. On hearing of his death, his deep sobs reveal a father’s grief over his lost yet loved son – though wrongly-placed love. He perhaps recognizes his own flaws: his spoiling Absalom, their power struggle, pride. In Psalm 3, David realizes that God’s glory gives him life, not acclaim or pursuing a son’s love.
Apply: Jesus, “great David’s greater Son” endured curses, beatings, insults, humiliation, death. This costly love is revealed: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). We consider the depth of His love for flawed humanity, created to love God and love others but insistently playing God and hurting others. He desires to forgive and restore as He grieves for His lost children. We repent and seek His forgiveness, by His grace making restitution where we can.
Ask: Do I dare look, really look, into my heart? Do I have the courage to admit my flaws, to face dark things I harbour in my hidden self, hoping no one sees? Can the Lord forgive me despite my constant failures? We must ask hard questions, then rely solely on Jesus as the answer we so need.
Pray: It’s too much, Lord. I am utterly dismayed at what is in my heart. I need Your grace and strength, so I run to Your cross to unburden myself. Restored by Your grace, I joy in Your glorious mercy -- until the next times when I run to You, repentant yet again, asking for Your mercy yet again. Oh, my Lord, yet again ... praise You.
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.