2 Samuel 17:15-29 -
The facts are:
1 . Hushai, having informed Zadok and Abiathar of his counsel, urges them to send quickly to David, advising him to flee at once beyond the river.
2 . Their two sons, staying out of the city in order to be of service as occasion required, are informed by a girl of the duty required, and at once go on their errand.
3 . In spite of being recognized by an enemy who told Absalom, they go on their way, and take refuge in a well at Bahurim, where they are secreted by the woman of the house.
4 . The pursuers, being deceived by the woman, return to Jerusalem, while the two young men escape and tell all to David, who at once, before the morning dawns, passes with all his men over Jordan.
5 . Ahithophel seeing that his counsel is not followed, goes home, arranges his affairs, and destroys himself.
6 . David passing on to Mahanaim, Absalom also crosses the Jordan with his forces, making Amasa chief captain in place of Joab.
7 . On David's arrival with his men at Mahanaim, hungry, thirsty, and weary, he receives gifts of food and clothing from Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai.
Division of labour in doing good.
From 2 Samuel 17:15-22 we have a record of the course adopted by the secret friends of David after that Absalom had heard the counsel of Ahithophel and Hushai. Jerusalem was the scene of an evil and a good combination; and as the drift of Scripture is to record the accomplishment of the Divine purposes in the history of the Hebrew people, we have here a more detailed record of the individuals and work of the good combination than of the evil. The work these four faithful ones had in hand was very clearly defined and most persistently pursued. With a wisdom and skill highly creditable to all concerned, the perilous yet immensely important service was carried out on the principle of the division of labour, which obtains in modern times in the best conducted spheres of activity. Although we may not see here parallels to all the work we have to do for Christ, we may notice features which are also found in well-directed Christian cooperation, and which it behoves us to reproduce in all we do.
I. THERE IS SCOPE FOR VARIETY IN THE NATURE OF THE WORK TO BE DONE . The work to be done, stated in general terms, was to advance the interests of the anointed king. The circumstances in which this general aim was to be carried out necessitated varied conduct and action, both of which must be included in the service rendered, since conduct often produces great effects. There was obviously scope for influences around the person of Absalom—subtle assaults on the very seat of mischief and wrong; for reticent watchfulness in order to take advantage of any movements adverse to David; for fleet runners to convey to him tidings of importance, and for assistance to them when engaged in their perilous undertaking. The work of Hushai in the counsel chamber, of Zadok and Abiathar in the centre of public influence and information, of their sons outside the city, of the wench passing unsuspected for a country walk, and of the hospitable housewife of Bahurim, was in each case different, but all parts of one service. We are engaged in advancing the interests of the Anointed One against the combinations of spiritual wickedness in high places, and, while the service is one, there is great variety in the nature of the work to be done. There is scope for wise, shrewd men, who know how to confront and confound the enemy in high places; for quiet, consistent characters, watching with patient concern over the holiest of functions, and eager to use any new light that may hasten on the triumph of the King of Zion; for vigorous young men, true as steel, accustomed to hardness, prepared to enter on dangerous work in missionary lands, or among the snares and evils of our modern civilization; little ones, acting as links in the great chain of moral influence; and sympathetic helpers, who can feed the hungry, shelter the oppressed and fearful, and frustrate the designs of the cruel. The Christian Church is recognizing more than ever this division of labour, and each one who does a part towards bringing on the triumph of Christ is an important worker in the most blessed of all undertakings.
II. THERE IS SCOPE FOR VARIETY IN THE QUALITIES EMPLOYED . In the service rendered in and near Jerusalem we see room for the exercise of discrimination of human character, prudence in adoption of methods, a shrewd consideration of the assailable points in the enemy's position (see previous homily, division IV .), courage, self-possession in counteracting the influence of the most powerful of antagonists, reticence in council, and fidelity in redeeming pledges made ( 2 Samuel 15:35 ), promptitude in action, and ingenuity in rendering aid in times of danger. The interests of David were promoted by a few persons, but the promotion of them called forth very diverse moral and intellectual qualities. On a small scale we see here a picture of what is true of the promotion of the interests of the Eternal King of Zion. The work is so wide and complicated, and the agencies so numerous, that there is not a native talent, not an acquired gift, not a shade of good influence, but it may find scope in his Name. It will be found that, as in building a temple, all the powers of body and mind find scope, and all the influences of sun and air are requisite, so, in raising up the vast superstructure of Christ's kingdom, there is room for the constant exercise of all the qualities possessed by humankind not under the domination of sin. The wisdom of the wise, the sanctity of the holy, the enthusiasm of the young, the gentleness of the maid, and the pity and sympathy of the faithful villager, all can be used up as occasion offers.
III. GOD RAISES UP INSTRUMENTS FOR THIS SERVICE AS OCCASION REQUIRES . Was it necessary that the powerful influence of Ahithophel should be counteracted? A Hushai is raised up. Must discreet and influential men be retained on David's side? Zadok and Abiathar are forthcoming. Are links of communication necessary between the friends of the king and himself? The two young men have their hearts inclined aright. Are the spies of the enemy to be eluded? A girl is found to carry a message, and a kindly woman to offer shelter. The solution of these facts is assuredly indicated in the assertion that God had "appointed to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel." He raises up his servants to do his will, little as they know the working of his mighty power within them. So it has always been, and will be in the future. Abraham was raised up to lay the foundation of national life for Israel; Moses to lead the people to the promised land; Elijah and seven thousand to protest against the worship of Baal; the little girl to speak in the house of Naaman the Syrian; Nehemiah and his coadjutors to restore the walls of the city; apostles endowed "with power from on high" to inaugurate the new order of things; and Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, as one "born out of due time." We need never fear but that, in answer to prayer, God will ever do these things for his people. There will be wise men, saintly men, men of vigour and enterprise, maidens to win their way for Christ, and kindly souls to feed the hungry and shelter the distressed.
GENERAL LESSONS .
1 . In all our Christian organizations we should strive to be influenced by the remembrance that the enterprise is one with that of other organizations; that the interests at stake are most momentous; and that every power and faculty and influence of the community of the faithful should find some scope for exercise.
2 . Personally we should cultivate our best talents with a view to lay them at the service of our Eternal King.
3 . We should take heed and never despise services which seem inferior to our own, or the full bearing of which we cannot at the time trace.
4 . We should be patient, and allow time for influences to operate.
The end of the wicked.
The course run by Ahithophel was very wicked. It combined some of the basest crimes of which human nature is capable, the more base because of the intelligence and former professions of the man. His name is the symbol of craftiness, cunning, faithlessness, cruelty, pride of intellect, and ambition. Every reader of the narrative feels that he was most justly cut off from the land of the living, and is not much surprised that he should be cut off by his own hand. The end seems in some dreadful sense natural and befitting. But while that is, perhaps, the spontaneous judgment of men because of what may be termed his exaggerated vileness, yet, looking at the facts in the light of Scripture, we really see here, in very dark colours, what is virtually the end of all who are guilty of treason against Christ, the Anointed One, and seek to frustrate his righteous purposes in the world. Observe that in antagonism to Christ—
I. THERE IS AN ANOINTED KING OPPOSED . Ahithophel's crime lay chiefly in being in antagonism to one whom God had anointed to be king over Israel. The qualities of craft and cunning and cruelty were incidents of the antagonism. The essence of his guilt lay in the fact of setting himself against the Lord and his anointed. And those who persist in a sinful life and will not, because of the love of their own way, bow to the yoke of Christ ( Matthew 12:28-30 ), are as truly guilty of rebellion. In so far as they thus seek to dispense with his authority, they are guilty of high treason. To say that there is no intention to do so counts for nothing in a matter of resistance to his authority. The facts of life are the tests of loyalty. The position of an impenitent sinner is one of enmity against God. This the Apostle Paul declares, and it is the admission of all who awake to a sense of their state and cry for mercy. The tendency to tone down resistance to Christ's personal authority over the entire life is dangerous.
II. THERE IS INGRATITUDE AND CRUELTY IN THE RESISTANCE TO CHRIST . We can easily see the ingratitude and cruelty of Ahithophel. He had been cared for by the king, and blessed with many favours ( Psalms 55:13 ). And yet what David had been and done for this man was as nothing compared with what Christ, our anointed King, has been and has done for men who rebel against his authority. He has loved them; suffered and died for them; he has crowned their lives with loving kindness, and even conferred on them the very powers which they refuse to submit to his governance. If Christ was once wounded in the house of his friends by their rejection of him, he surely feels the pain of beholding the ingratitude of those who say in their hearts, "We will not have him to reign over us." There is positive cruelty in deliberately rejecting One who so tenderly loves and has suffered so much for those who scorn him. The appeal of the prophet to heaven and earth as to whether there could be found any parallel to Israel's crime ( Isaiah 1:2-4 ) certainly applies in the instance of those who enjoy clearer light and listen to more earnest exhortations, and yet rebel against him who has brought them up.
III. THERE IS NO PALLIATION OF THE CRIME . No ingenuity can find an excuse for Ahithophel. As to the character and qualities of the two, he knew that Absalom was not to be thought of for a moment in comparison with David. As to the administration of government, no good could possibly come from exchanging a wise, generous king for a vain and selfish young man. Reason and good sense and policy alike condemn the deed of Ahithophel. And those who reject the Son of God are without excuse. No other authority can compare with his in wisdom, goodness, or range of beneficence. No single fault can be found with his holy administration. No policy so sound as the policy of the sermon on the mount, and the submission demanded ( Matthew 12:28 ). The extreme evil as well as folly of the sin of rebellion should be insisted on with all urgency.
IV. THERE IS AN END OF DISAPPOINTMENT AND DOOM . Ahithophel came to his violent end with pride mortified and prestige gone. The cause in which he had so wickedly embarked was seen to be hopelessly lost by the adoption of the counsel of Hushai. Nor was he free from the terrors of an evil conscience. The suicide was an incident only—the result of the interaction of these causes. The actual inner facts of his end find a counterpart in the experience of all who die in rebellion against Christ. They cease to be the great ones, and are classed among those of whom the obscurity of "I never knew thee" is true ( Matthew 7:23 ). Whatever social prestige they had in the conventional life of this world, they lose it all where only the obedient and faithful are recognized as blessed of the Father, and are as kings and priests unto God forever ( Revelation 1:5 , Revelation 1:6 ). They become aware of the presence of a conscience which is as a worm that dieth not, and as a fire that is not quenched. There is no hiding these great facts concerning the end of the wicked. They are declared in the Word of God.
Sympathy in the day of adversity.
The brief record of the kindness of Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai is refreshing after the previous account of the devices of the wicked against the life and authority of David. The conduct of these men, and the reference to it in the sacred record, bring under our notice the subject of sympathy in the day of adversity. Consider, then—
I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF TRUE SYMPATHY . So far as the conduct of these three men reveals the characteristics of true sympathy, they are seen to be these.
1 . It is spontaneous. As soon as David's trouble was known, their hearts went forth towards him; they took to themselves his sorrows. There was no effort ab extra to produce it, and no inward process of reasoning to call forth deeds which would have the semblance of coming from deep compassion and sincere regard. It was natural to the men and the circumstances. That had been the character of David's sympathy for those in trouble when he was in prosperity ( 1 Samuel 29:1-11 :21-24; 2 Samuel 1:11 , 2 Samuel 1:12 , 2 Samuel 1:19-27 ). It was pre-eminently so with Christ in all his relations to sorrow and need. It is a test by which we can estimate our own and others' professions.
2 . It is practical. It did not spend itself in mere feeling cherished or word spoken, but found expression in abundant provision for David's wants (verse 28). The measure of the feeling can be seen in an estimate of the pains and toil required to bring so great an amount of food and comforts to David's camp. Our Saviour, during his earthly life, left us an example of this. His sympathy produced food for five thousand. The whole of his life and sufferings were the cost by which he procured for us the blessings of salvation. In this he is infinitely removed from poets who feel and think, and philosophers who discuss the causes and relations of things.
3 . It is timely. The gifts of these men came just in the hour of extreme need. There is a sympathy which is always too late. Right feeling is not always attended by prompt action. A ready will and quick intelligence are the proper attendants on genuine sympathy. The good Samaritan passed by the scene of sorrow just at the right time, and he acted at once. Bis dat qui cito dat. Christian people should cultivate promptitude. It may save many a poor soul from crushing sorrows.
4 . It is discriminating. These generous men evidently studied the case of David's need, and brought just the things in variety that were most serviceable to a large company of hungry and weary travellers. David's heart must have been deeply affected by observing the care with which their sympathy had expressed itself. Much of the value of acts of kindness lies in this. A blind, blundering sympathy is valuable because it reveals a communion of spirit when the heart is sad; but its value is in the lowest scale. Judgment should guide the expression of feeling if we would make the most Of it and secure the highest good of those for whom it is cherished.
5 . It is courageous. Considering that David was a fugitive, and that to all appearances his friends would be regarded as the foes of the new power rising in Israel, it required some courage in these men to identify themselves in this practical way with the unfortunate king. Herein lies much of the virtue of their conduct. It does require considerable courage to manifest sympathy with the fallen, the shunned, the outcast. Our Saviour's sympathy was of this kind, and it was one of the things that led to his own rejection of men and his cruel death ( Matthew 9:10 , Matthew 9:11 ; Matthew 11:19 ; Luke 15:1 , Luke 15:2 ). There is abundant scope for this virtue.
II. ITS PLACE IN THE WORKING OUT OF GOD 'S PURPOSES . The sorrows of David were for purposes of discipline—to chastise and train his spirit so that it might be more fully purged from the evil taint of his terrible sin ( 2 Samuel 12:7-12 ), and be more fitted to perform his part as a servant of God in raising the religious tone of the nation, and, indeed, of the whole world. But God is very pitiful even in his anger. "He knoweth our frame." He will not "always chide." The rough wind is "stayed in the day of his east wind." With the wound he sends the balm. He raises up instrumentalities to cause his people to feel that there is a hand to heal as well as to smite. And the appearance of these men, with their considerate provision for his wants, was a means of revealing the goodness of God, and of assuring David that his compassion was not clean gone forever. All true sympathy in our adversity is a revelation. It brings hope and courage to the crushed spirit, and strengthens faith in the love which never fails, even in the darkest hour. The storm and sunshine are alike God's servants: they "work together" under his direction to sweeten life and endow it with freshness and beauty of eternal spring.
III. ITS RECOGNITION BY GOD . The sacred historian was doubtless guided by a principle of selection when he inserted the names of these three men in a book that is to abide through all time. It was the will of God that reference should be made to their conduct. Thus has God expressed approval of their regard for his anointed. In the same way our Saviour gave honour to the sympathy of the woman who poured on him the box of ointment, by declaring that what she had done should be told in all the world for a memorial of her ( Matthew 26:13 ). The sympathy of David for the poor is in like manner divinely recognized. The Bible is a book of instances for mankind. Other deeds of sympathy were performed which have left only the trace which belongs to all good deeds, namely, in the higher and gentler tone given to the world's general life: these are referred to in order to encourage all in the same cause of comforting and helping the needy in their season of sorrow.
GENERAL LESSONS .
1 . In the friendships and kindnesses of one part of our life we are sowing the seeds which may return to us in their own kind when later on we may experience trouble (cf. 2 Samuel 10:1 ; 2 Samuel 12:27 ), and hence we should be encouraged to do good to all men, "especially to the household of faith."
2 . In our acts of sympathy we are to remember that they reach beyond the individual—they are helpful in marking out God's gracious purposes toward mankind.
3 . Christ has given encouragement to acts of kindness done to the poor and needy, and conferred great honour upon them in that he regards them as done to himself ( Matthew 25:34-40 ).
4 . While we should not cramp and weaken our generous impulses by over much introspection and supervision, yet we ought to be careful that the forms they assume are such as will most surely benefit those concerned in them.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
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