In what is happening in this chapter, we see part of David’s harvest of what he sowed for the flesh. His son Absalom revolts against him, expels him from the throne, and expels him from Jerusalem. This is the side of responsibility. At the same time we also see that God in grace is doing His work in David. The LORD is busy forming him further for His honor. We see how Da-vid submits to the will of the LORD.
1 - 6 Absalom Manipulates the People
1 Now it came about after this that Absalom provided for himself a chariot and horses and fifty men as runners before him. 2 Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way to the gate; and when any man had a suit to come to the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And he would say, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” 3 Then Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but no man listens to you on the part of the king.” 4 Moreover, Absalom would say, “Oh that one would appoint me judge in the land, then every man who has any suit or cause could come to me and I would give him justice.” 5 And when a man came near to prostrate himself before him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 6 In this manner Absalom dealt with all Israel who came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.
The answer to the kiss Absalom became from his father is that he is preparing for a coup. He answers his father’s goodness with betrayal. He provides the right means and people around him. He gets up early – he is not lazy in the execution of his program – and also goes ‘on the street’, between the people. He acts as if he has the greatest possible interest in what is happening among the people. It resembles the cunning politicians of today who also operate in this way to acquire the favor of the people. They also all promise to make up for all the wrong things when they are in power.
Absalom cleverly responds to the feelings of the people for David. People will no longer have been so pleased with him, for his spiritual judgment has become weak, and the people will have noticed this. Now Absalom presents himself as the better candidate and promises that he will listen to them. He undermines the authority of the king to promote himself. He tells the people that he wants a post as a judge, because as things stand, nothing will come of the law. If he were a judge, it would be different. Everyone would get his right from him.
Without any enquiry, he tells the people who wanted to go to the king with a dispute that their affairs were “good and right”. That says the man who should have been sentenced to death for murder himself. It is the audacity at its peak. Nothing in what we read of Absalom indicates that he possesses any wisdom or familiarity with the laws. Nor has he provided any evidence of his love for the people, rather the opposite. Nevertheless, he wishes to be a judge. It is often the people who are least suited to an office who are most ambitious in their pursuit of it. Those who are gifted are usually modest and have no high opinion of themselves.
Inward Absalom is extremely cunning and hateful. He really is a picture of the antichrist. Saul was so too, but then as the one who pursued the remnant in David. In Absalom we see the picture of the antichrist who presents himself to the people, while the Lord Jesus has already come among His people, but has not yet subjected all His enemies to Himself.
If we apply this to today, we know that the Lord Jesus now has His kingdom in the hearts of all who follow Him. In this time, the spirit of the antichrist is working to deceive all who confess to belong to God’s people (1Jn 2:18; 4:1-4). In Saul we see more the picture of the antichrist who manifests himself in the wilderness of Judah. In Absalom we see more the picture of the antichrist who manifests himself in the apostasy of Christendom. John mentions both aspects in his first letter (1Jn 2:22).
Absalom also acts as if he is humble and the other is important to him, but he is a great hypocrite and does everything out of self-love. Thus he palms in the people. Through flattery Absalom steals the hearts of the Israelites who seek justice with David. The fact that Absalom gets them so easily behind them, says something about these people themselves, who are so easily influenced. They will not have known David either. Those who do not have a close relationship with the Lord Jesus can be influenced by other words. This is a real danger to all believers.
7 - 12 Conspiracy Against David
7 Now it came about at the end of forty years that Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go and pay my vow which I have vowed to the LORD, in Hebron. 8 For your servant vowed a vow while I was living at Geshur in Aram, saying, ‘If the LORD shall indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will serve the LORD.’” 9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron. 10 But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” 11 Then two hundred men went with Absalom from Jerusalem, who were invited and went innocently, and they did not know anything. 12 And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh, while he was offering the sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong, for the people increased continually with Absalom.
The number of “forty years” should in all probability be “four years”. After four years, Absalom has reached the point where he does the grip to power. The introduction to this is that Absalom acts as if he still has a promise to fulfil which he claims to have made at least four years earlier. The fulfillment of this so-called promise also comes very late. He says that his promise is a service to the LORD, which comes down to the fact that he wants to make the LORD sacrifices (cf. verses 8,12). He uses the Name of the LORD vainly. He speaks only of Him to deceive David. There is in him no trace of respect for the LORD.
David has no knowledge of the hidden and corrupt intentions of his son. He lets Absalom go and even wishes him peace on his way. He has lost his spiritual discernment. In this history he is not a picture of the Lord Jesus. Here we see a father who has back a ‘lost son’, a son who now tells him that he has promised to serve the LORD! What would you rather hear as a father? It is the credulity of a parent who has not punished his child for his sins and now perceives with “gratitude” that his child “is seriously working with God”.
Absalom goes, with the blessing of his father, to Hebron, a place of remembrance. It is the place where he was born, it is also the place where David was anointed king over Judah and ruled for seven years. Absalom expects to have the majority of supporters there. That place is tactically chosen by him to be declared king. The two hundred men who go with him know nothing of Absalom’s plans. He knows how to keep his true intentions well hidden from others.
Absalom also manages to get Ahithophel, David’s counsel, on his side. Bathsheba is the daughter of Eliam and Eliam is the son of Ahithophel. Ahithophel is the grandfather of Bathsheba and that is probably the reason why he came to David’s court as David’s counsellor. This man is also a picture of the antichrist, that is to say of one aspect of it, in the evil advice he gives Absalom to get rid of David. In Absalom and Ahithophel we have the combination of the royal character of the antichrist in his moderation to be the king of God’s people and the spiritual or religious character of the antichrist as the false prophet.
13 - 18 David Flees for Absalom
13 Then a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.” 14 David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise and let us flee, for [otherwise] none of us will escape from Absalom. Go in haste, or he will overtake us quickly and bring down calamity on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” 15 Then the king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants [are ready to do] whatever my lord the king chooses.” 16 So the king went out and all his household with him. But the king left ten concubines to keep the house. 17 The king went out and all the people with him, and they stopped at the last house. 18 Now all his servants passed on beside him, all the Cherethites, all the Pelethites and all the Gittites, six hundred men who had come with him from Gath, passed on before the king.
If David gets the message that everyone in Israel is with Absalom, all that remains for him is to flee. The man who felled Goliath flees for his son. It does not seem brave, but it is still wisdom to flee now. David bows down under the discipline of God. It is not written that way, but his attitude shows it. Here in David we see a picture of the spirit of Israel’s remnant in the last days, when the antichrist is in charge.
When God-fearing people suffer, it is their desire that their suffering be shared as little as possible by others. We see that here with David. He flees out of love for the city. He goes out, which means “on foot”. It shows his humiliation and at the same time it shows his identification with his followers, whom he does not wish to hurry forward in his run. Absalom possesses horses and he makes use of them. It is the inverted world (Ecc 10:7).
His run seems to be a loss, but from this moment on there is an upward trend in David’s life. With God, winning is always through loss. We see David taking the lead again. He behaves royally again.
The fact that he leaves ten concubines to take care of the house, seems to be a somewhat naive action. If he has thought that Absalom will leave them alone, he will be deceived. Absalom will, according to the word of Nathan (2Sam 12:11-12), engage in horrible, open fornication with these concubines (2Sam 16:21-22).
His servants stand behind him, and also his whole house and all the people. Further there are “all the Cherethites, all the Pelethites” and six hundred Gittites. The Cherethites and the Pelethites and the Gittites are all Philistines. Except a remnant, the whole people of Israel are unfaithful to David, but from the uncircumcised nations there are those who follow him. From this we can learn for ourselves that if we follow the Lord Jesus, we cannot have high thoughts about our origin.
On his flight for Absalom David wrote Psalm 3 (Psa 3:1). He also wrote Psalm 41 then, where he most probably speaks about Ahithophel in verse 10. This verse is applied by the evangelist John to Judas (Jn 13:18), who is also a picture of the antichrist. With Ahithophel it is mainly his intelligence that we see as a characteristic of the antichrist. In his time his counsel was accepted as the word of God (2Sam 16:23).
19 - 22 Ittai
19 Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why will you also go with us? Return and remain with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile; [return] to your own place. 20 You came [only] yesterday, and shall I today make you wander with us, while I go where I will? Return and take back your brothers; mercy and truth be with you.” 21 But Ittai answered the king and said, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely wherever my lord the king may be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be.” 22 Therefore David said to Ittai, “Go and pass over.” So Ittai the Gittite passed over with all his men and all the little ones who [were] with him.
From the strangers who follow David, Ittai, the Gittite, is specially highlighted. This is done by letting us hear a conversation between the king and Ittai. What Ittai says in it is an example for us. Ittai is a stranger, he is not an Israelite, yet he chooses David. The question also comes to us: ‘Who do you belong to? Do you belong to those who have the power today, or to Him Who is rejected and fleeing?’
As often happens in crisis situations, the people who are on the right side come to the surface. David asks Ittai why he is going with him. The answer Ittai gives will be the rendition of what is present in the hearts of the many. It resembles what the Lord Jesus asks of His twelve followers, when many others of His disciples no longer follow Him: “You do not want to go away also, do you?” The answer comes from Peter’s mouth: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (Jn 6:67-68). Thus each of us is asked why we want to stay with the Lord. What is our answer?
In what David says in verse 20 to Ittai, it is as if we hear Naomi speak to her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth. Naomi wants to prevent her daughters-in-law from following her on her way back to Bethlehem (Rth 1:7-15). In what Ittai answers the king in verse 21, it is as if we hear Ruth’s answer to her mother-in-law (Rth 1:16-17). He chooses to follow David without hesitation. He is like a young convert with a burning heart for the Lord Jesus. He wants to be where David is. This is not only true for him, but also for all who belong to him. He takes them all with him, after David.
The Lord Jesus said: “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also” (Jn 12:26). Whoever says he serves the Lord Jesus will show it by following Him and being with Him. This means sharing on earth in His rejection and later sharing in His glorification. If this really lives for us, we will wish it for all who belong to us, our children and family members.
23 - 29 The Ark Goes Back to Jerusalem
23 While all the country was weeping with a loud voice, all the people passed over. The king also passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over toward the way of the wilderness. 24 Now behold, Zadok also [came], and all the Levites with him carrying the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God, and Abiathar came up until all the people had finished passing from the city. 25 The king said to Zadok, “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in the sight of the LORD, then He will bring me back again and show me both it and His habitation. 26 But if He should say thus, ‘I have no delight in you,’ behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” 27 The king said also to Zadok the priest, “Are you [not] a seer? Return to the city in peace and your two sons with you, your son Ahimaaz and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. 28 See, I am going to wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 Therefore Zadok and Abiathar returned the ark of God to Jerusalem and remained there.
The crossing of David over the brook Kidron has a strong parallel with the crossing over the ravine of the Kidron by the Lord Jesus (Jn 18:1). The Lord Jesus also crosses this ravine to leave the city. He goes the way of suffering, on the way to the cross. He does so, while He is innocent and to bear the guilt of others. The Lord Jesus goes with His disciples, that is that remnant of Israel with which He makes Himself one. David’s fault is his own. David is here a picture of the remnant that also confesses guilt to the blood of the Lord Jesus.
Then come Zadok and the Levites with the ark. Zadok and Abiathar, who represent the priestly family, want to take the ark, but David does not. He doesn’t want to make the ark a mascot like in the days of Eli (1Sam 4:3-11). He is not superstitious. He knows that God is with him and that he is not dependent on a visible sign. David orders the ark to be brought back to the city, because there he belongs. His heart goes out to God’s home. There he longs for, there he wants to be.
In view of this – and not in view of his return as king – he puts his life in the hand of the LORD. The words in which he expresses this are those also spoken by Eli (1Sam 3:18). With Eli it is resignation to the judgment that has been given to him, without it changing anything with him. With David it is different. He bows down and continues in the power of the LORD.
Of the return of the ark to Jerusalem we can make the following application. The ark is a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus. The return of the ark to Jerusalem shows the situation that in the local church the Lord Jesus is again placed in the center and He becomes all authority. We live in a time when human ideas increasingly decide how things should go in the church of God. What right is there still to be able to say that believers come together in the Name of the Lord? As far as we are concerned, every right to it has been forfeited.
Yet it is still possible to come together to the Name of the Lord Jesus (Mt 18:20). That is when we stand on the basis of grace and put everything in the hands of the Lord Jesus. Then we will be able to find Him – of whom the ark is a picture – and the place where He is among the two or three – of which the temple in Jerusalem is a picture.
30 - 37 Ahithophel and Hushai
30 And David went up the ascent of the [Mount of] Olives, and wept as he went, and his head was covered and he walked barefoot. Then all the people who were with him each covered his head and went up weeping as they went. 31 Now someone told David, saying, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, I pray, make the counsel of Ahithophel foolishness.” 32 It happened as David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped, that behold, Hushai the Archite met him with his coat torn and dust on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you pass over with me, then you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you return to the city, and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father’s servant in time past, so I will now be your servant,’ then you can thwart the counsel of Ahithophel for me. 35 Are not Zadok and Abiathar the priests with you there? So it shall be that whatever you hear from the king’s house, you shall report to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. 36 Behold their two sons are with them there, Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son; and by them you shall send me everything that you hear.” 37 So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, and Absalom came into Jerusalem.
The way of David, up to the Mount of Olives, is the way that the Lord Jesus also went. The Lord has wept twice, and both times this was done in this neighborhood: once at the grave of Lazarus, near Bethany, close to Jerusalem, and once when approaching Jerusalem (Jn 11:17-18,35; Lk 19:41). So it is here at David. He weeps, just like the Lord Jesus, because of the absence of peace for the city. We see the same feeling in all who follow him. They too weep.
When David hears that Ahithophel is with Absalom, he turns unto the LORD about this. With a short prayer, actually a sigh, he passes on his need to the LORD about this. It is as if David’s prayer about Ahithophel is answered by the LORD through the coming of Hushai, the Archite. The Archites are pagans. Hushai also is a disciple of David, a stranger among his countrymen. He comes to David on the summit of the Mount of Olives, “where God was worshiped”. Nice is that: the help David gets, and we get, is in a place that speaks of worshiping God.
When Hushai is with him, David also takes his responsibility. He acts after he has prayed. Prayer and our actions are connected to each other and not opposite to each other. He sees again clearly what needs to be done. Hushai is much more useful if he joins Absalom than if he joins David. With Absalom he can give David the best service. The sons of Zadok and Abiathar can act as couriers to keep David informed of the plans of Absalom Hushai found out. Further on we see that God uses this tactic of David to destroy the advice of Ahithophel.
In the last verse (verse 37) Hushai is called “David’s friend” (2Sam 16:16-17; 1Chr 27:33). Hushai has a unique place. Hushai is a counselor, but as a friend, someone with whom one shares one’s deepest feelings. Abraham was the friend of God. The Lord Jesus, when He is rejected, calls us His friends (Jn 15:14-15). He does not hide from us what He is going to do.