Sunday, March 25, 2012

2 Samuel 15

1 In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. 2 He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” 3 Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” 4 And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.”
5 Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.
7 At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD. 8 While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: ‘If the LORD takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the LORD in Hebron.’”
9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he went to Hebron.
10 Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” 11 Two hundred men from Jerusalem had accompanied Absalom. They had been invited as guests and went quite innocently, knowing nothing about the matter. 12 While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, to come from Giloh, his hometown. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom’s following kept on increasing.
13 A messenger came and told David, “The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.”
14 Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.”
15 The king’s officials answered him, “Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.”
16 The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace.17 So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city. 18 All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king.
19 The king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. 20 You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the LORD show you kindness and faithfulness.”
21 But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
22 David said to Ittai, “Go ahead, march on.” So Ittai the Gittite marched on with all his men and the families that were with him.
23 The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the wilderness.
24 Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city.
25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. 26 But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”
27 The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Do you understand? Go back to the city with my blessing. Take your son Ahimaaz with you, and also Abiathar’s son Jonathan. You and Abiathar return with your two sons. 28 I will wait at the fords in the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the ark of God back to Jerusalem and stayed there.
30 But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. 31 Now David had been told, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” So David prayed, “LORD, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.”
32 When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. 34But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘Your Majesty, I will be your servant; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,’ then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Won’t the priests Zadok and Abiathar be there with you? Tell them anything you hear in the king’s palace. 36 Their two sons, Ahimaaz son of Zadok and Jonathan son of Abiathar, are there with them. Send them to me with anything you hear.”
37 So Hushai, David’s confidant, arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.

Points of Interest
  • ‘In the course of time’--we skipped a chapter, in which Joab brokers peace between David and Absalom. David allows Absalom to return to Jerusalem, and offers him protection from revenge on the part of Amnon’s people. But Absalom is now kept out of any government affairs.
  • ‘Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men’--Absalom is apparently next in line for the kingship. He is the third oldest son. He himself eliminated Amnon, the oldest. We never hear anything about Kileab, the second; whether he died early, is unfit somehow to rule, or is simply uninterested is unknown. So, Absalom has the right combination of seniority and fame to make a claim. But, because of his assassination of Amnon, he’s being frozen out. He’s tired of waiting to be let back into David’s good graces and decides he’ll make something happen himself. The first step is to get himself on the front page of the news. He does the Iron Age equivalent of Dukakis’ publicity stunt driving the tank, with the difference that it actually works for Absalom. By the time he’s done, the word around town is, ‘He may have murdered his brother, but you have to hand it to the guy: he looks great on a chariot.’ If you’re tracking with our story, however, you’ll recognize that the author is signaling that there’s a problem with Absalom. It’s not necessarily a good thing that Absalom has that natural leader look. It puts him in company with Saul and with David’s oldest brother Eliab, both of whom looked very kingly but were rejected by God for being substandard king-making material. Meanwhile, the very fact that David is again and again willing to make the unkingly choice—use a sling instead of a sword, dance with his ephod showing, wear sackcloth—gains him the long-lasting respect of God and the people.
  • ‘If only I were appointed judge in the land’—step two in Absalom’s campaign is to position himself as the ‘Washington outsider.’ If he were in charge, he’d eliminate all of that government red tape and get rid of the politics as usual atmosphere of the capital.
  • ‘would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him’—step three is a straight-out charm offensive.
  • ‘Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD’—apparently, David has been keeping a close eye on Absalom. He needs an excuse to get out of Jerusalem and away from all of the prying eyes at court. Hebron is his birthplace. So, he’s asking David to let him go home, get back in touch with his roots, and spend some time with God in the more comfortable and low-stress atmosphere away from Jerusalem. Hebron would be to Absalom as Kennebunkport is to the Bushs, or Hyannis is to the Kennedys. Or, at least, that’s how he’s presenting it to David.
  • ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’—Hebron is also the place from which David made his bid for the crown, and that’s really what Absalom has in mind.
  • ‘We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom’—it’s unclear to me whether David is panicking or being prudent here. On the one hand, Absalom has taken David by surprise, has some well-placed allies, is well-organized, and executes his plan well. So, maybe it’s wise of David to step back to regroup. On the other hand, Absalom’s rebellion is more a matter of theater than of actual power; in the end, it consists of little more than some horns, some shouting, and two hundred influential people who are being presented as his supporters when they’re actually unwitting dinner guests.
  • ‘he left ten concubines to take care of the palace’—I suppose someone needs to be left behind to feed the cats and water the plants, but I don’t think I’d want to be these women. The fact that David is leaving them at the palace suggests that he’s making a tactical withdrawal, rather than retreating outright. David fully expects to return. In the meanwhile, though, they’re entirely defenseless.
  • ‘All his men’—that would be the king’s bodyguard company, like we discussed David being for Achish on March 26th (1 Samuel 28:2).
  • ‘all the Kerethites and Pelethites’—the Kerithites and Pelethites are two crack units, probably of foreign mercenaries. The best guess is that the Kerithites are from Crete and the Pelethites are Philistines; thus, both companies are what we might loosely call ‘Greeks.’ (‘Cherethites and Pelethites.’ The Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980). The Kerithites and Pelethites fit the profile of a typical foreign-born king’s company—and they’re referred to as his bodyguard in 2 Samuel 20:23—but they’re listed here separately from ‘David’s men’ referenced in the note above. Even if distinct from the king’s company, they’re particularly closely attached to the king; they’re commanded by one of his highest-ranking Mighty Men (not quite one of the Three, but greater than the Thirty). Besides his bodyguard and the Kerithites and Pelethites, David has with him his original 600 from the outlaw days, here called ‘the Gittites.’ So, all in all, while it’s a little unclear at this point who controls the national army, we do know that David has maintained the loyalty of four elite units: not a bad core.
  • ‘As surely as the LORD lives’—Ittai is apparently a Philistine, newly arrived from Gath. David gives him the chance to break contract, letting him know that he might be safer or get paid better with Absalom. As a hired gun with nothing invested in this fight, why should Ittai make life difficult for himself? Ittai swears by God--David’s God, the LORD--that he will stick with David. While David’s own son uses a fake religious ceremony as cover for rebellion, this stranger genuinely calls upon God as witness to his loyalty.
  • ‘Take the ark of God back into the city’--David doesn’t consider himself to have a monopoly on God. Whether he wins this contest or not, whether Absalom ends up king or he does, he wants the ark, the symbol of God’s presence, to be in Jerusalem.
  • ‘LORD, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness’--Ahithophel may be Bathsheba’s grandfather (Baldwin). If so, it’s curious that he would side with Absalom, as one would expect that his own grandchildren would lose out if Absalom succeeds. Whatever his relationship to the royal family, he is definitely a wise and respected counselor. Knowing the good advice Ahithophel has given him over the years, David is afraid of what might happen with that brilliant mind turned against him.
  • ‘you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice’--apparently, Hushai is another of David’s counselors. David sends him to Absalom as a spy and fifth columnist. I think the idea is that it will be harder for Absalom to make a good decision if he is getting contrary advice from two people with such reputations for wisdom.
Taking it Home
  • For you: Absalom seems pretty convinced that his father would never give him what he wants (He clearly never read the tip from last Friday, March 16th, about Baanah and Rekab and how taking things into your own hands often doesn’t go the best). I wonder though what it would have been like if Absalom had explicitly asked David for what he wanted. How do you feel about asking God for things? You probably can relate to how good it feels when someone takes the time to ask you something; more times than not it feels good to be asked for your thoughts, opinions, and help--even if it’s help you can’t even quite pull off. I wonder if God is the same. Practice today asking God for the things you need and want. And like any good asking goes, wait and expect that God will respond to your request.
  • For your six: Whether he is panicked or prudent in his fleeing of Jerusalem, having to gather his entire staff and march to a place of refuge all because of a rebellious child has to be a pretty humbling experience for David; it probably puts into question his ability to be father, let alone a king. Are there ways that deciding to follow God would be particularly humbling and therefore challenging to your six? Ask God to give your six the joy and courage to follow after him. Pray God would remove any ways that pursuing him threatens them and call their sense of identity into question.
  • For our church: David wants people to worship God, regardless of whether or not he is still around or personally involved. Ask God to give our church the same stance; pray that we would care more than anything else about people being able to connect with God, and that we would feel excited for any of the ways that that might happen, even if we’re not directly involved.
  • For families: Thinking back to Monday’s ‘Taking It Home For Families’ tip about good ideas from God that God doesn’t want us to act on quite yet. Spend time praying together and asking God for these things. If it feels unfair to you or you worry you might never get what God promised, tell God that and ask God to provide for what you need. Encourage each person in your family not to give up on things but to continue to ask for the things they want even if the answer is ‘not yet.’