2 Samuel 14:5-20
And she answered, I am indeed a widow woman.
The parable of the woman of Tekoa
The contrast between this parable and the one preceding it is very great. The parable of the ewe-lamb was spoken of by a prophet inspired by God. This one was spoken by a theatrical persons at the instigation of a man of the world, one who, though thoroughly unprincipled, could read human character and discern human motives through a very small crevice. The parable of Nathan was the introduction to a scorching reproof of David’s iniquity, the parable of the Tekoan is full of fulsome flattery. The prophet’s parable was uttered to induce repentance in David; this one had for its end only the promotion of Joab’s schemes of self-interest.
I. The argument of the parable.
1. That those who grant mercy abroad should first begin at home. The first reason which the woman urges why David should forgive his son is the willingness with which he would have forgiven hers. A king who is merciful to his subjects is inconsistent with himself if he is not forgiving towards the members of his own family.
2. That enmity ought to die before those who are at enmity die. “For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again” (2 Samuel 14:14). If Absalom were to die before a reconciliation had taken place, the father’s heart would be deeply grieved; and if he himself were to die before his son’s return to favour he would go down to his grave mourning the estrangement.
3. The Divine Father’s example in relation to His “banished ones.”
II. Its immediate and remote results. The immediate result was the recall of Absalom without outward reconciliation. “Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face” (2 Samuel 14:24). Evils arose from this half-measure. Joab was disappointed, and Absalom was irritated.
1. That the most worthless characters sometimes have the best pleaders. We find this the case occasionally in our law courts. Men with no character, but lacking nothing else, with money and influence in abundance, can have the benefit of the most skilful barristers to bring them out of the grip of the law.
2. That imaginary narratives of human life have most influence when they find a counterpart in our own experience. The power of a story may he very great even when it contains nothing in it that has any likeness to anything that has happened to ourselves.
3. That those who are conscious of having committed great sins are not fit to deal with other offenders. The sin of David included the crimes of both his sons, and the consciousness of this made him weak in purpose, and unsteady in his dealings with them.
4. To restore to favour unconditionally is a sin against the person forgiven. (A London Minister.)
2 Samuel 14:14
We must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground.
The instability of human things
I. The instability of all human things. Most men talk wisely on the instability of the world. We are not weak enough to deny that which the history of every day compels us to admit. But our lives too often contradict our sentiments. Philosophers in opinion, we are, as to this point, children in conduct; and worship the very relics of that image of the world which we have previously stamped to dust, and trod under foot;
II. The comparative emptiness and worthlessness of all human distinctions.
III. The inaccuracy of all human calculations. It is astonishing to what a degree men are tempted to become the architects of their own plans of life, instead of consulting the models which are laid up for them in Scripture. Pride is always seducing us into a belief that we can choose and act better for ourselves and for others than our Heavenly Father would choose for us. But let our calculations be of the most profound nature, let them proceed upon the most unquestionable facts and principles, how soon does a single unforeseen circumstance confound them all!
IV. The vanity of all human hopes.
V. The transcendant value of real religion. (J. W. Cunningham, A. M.)
The necessity of death
I. Man “must needs die.”
1. We “must needs die,” because of God’s unalterable decree; “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
2. Moreover, we “must needs die,” because of the diseases to which we are subjected in consequence of sin. Had man stood he never would have known anything of disease.
3. But let us now come to character; and I remark that the righteous and the wicked “must needs die.” The wicked “must needs die,” that he may fully prove the truth of God’s threatenings. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” The righteous “must needs die” in order to receive the reward of their doings. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God;” the Lord first gives grace, and then crowns it with eternal glory.
II. The figurative language cf the text. The body, when the spirit tins fled, is compared to “water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again.” This language may appear to some to argue against the doctrine of the resurrection; but the Scriptures do not contradict themselves. When water is shed upon the dry and parched earth it cannot be collected again in the same purity and quantity; but “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” It is written, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it remaineth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” And as sure as the harvest follows the first fruits, so surely shall the resurrection of the saints to life eternal, and the resurrection of the wicked to everlasting damnation come to pass. (D. Delaney.)
Justice and mercy
I. The affecting condition of mankind.
1. Their mortality. “ We must needs die.” Solemn and affecting truth! We live in a dying world, and behold! we die daily, and sometimes suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye.
2. The helpless and irretrievable circumstances in which we are placed. “We are as water spilt upon the ground which cannot be gathered up again.” What a fearful figure this! and yet, how true! As to ourselves and our own natural powers, we are entirely lost, past all recovery, “as water spilt upon the ground.”
II. The justice of Almighty God towards mankind. “He respecteth not the person of any.” He is an impartial dispenser and rewarder; he doeth justly, and loveth mercy, and is “no respecter of persons.” As “in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”
III. The grace and mercy of God vouchsafed to them. “Yet doth he devise means that his banished be not expelled from him.” (F. Ellaby.)
Death and banishment
I. The universality of death.
1. “We must needs die.” Well, why must we needs die? not only because the sentence has been denounced, but because without this charge we could not enter on the future state, when the trumpet shall sound and the dead be raised.
2. We must “needs die” also that we may attain a more perfect resemblance to Jesus than is attainable upon earth. Hence the apostle says, “We are buried with him by baptism unto death, &c.”
3. There is yet another reason Why we must “needs die,” that we may enjoy the glorious recompense prepared for those who believe in Christ. “This is not our rest, for it is polluted.” Here we are “strangers and pilgrims.”
II. The condition to which sin has reduced us.
1. Banished. And how affecting is the account recorded in Genesis 3:1-24. respecting the banishment of our primogenitors from the beautiful paradise where they were placed.
2. Though they are “banished,” they are “God’s banished ones.” O it is this that gives us courage, that emboldens us; that animates with hope the soul condemned in the court of conscience. But how are they His? “We are bought with a price,” redeemed not with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious, atoning, cleansing, “blood of Christ.”
III. The Divine procedure for man’s recovery. Here we learn:
1. That though salvation is all of grace, yet are sinners saved by the intervention of means.
2. That the success of these means originates, not in the cunning of man, but in the power, wisdom, and goodness of God. (J. Wilcox, M. A.)
An unexpected provision of mercy
In these words of the wise woman there was a great principle of truth, which was wrongly applied in this instance. David had no right whatever to interfere with the law of God. The law of God said that the murderer should die, and David had no authority to interfere with what God had designed. There was provision made that by fleeing to one of the cities of refuge Absalom might have his case legally investigated; and if there was any doubt as to his being the culprit he might be legally acquitted. David had power to interpose this legal examination, but he had not power to interfere with the due course of the law, as laid down by God Himself, except indeed there should be any doubt respecting the application of God’s law to the present case, or except there should be any doubt as to Absalom’s guilt. But we will not dwell further upon the immediate application of the words the principle contained in them is one of universal application. “We must needs all die, and be as water spilt upon the ground, which cannot be gathered up again.”
I. Death must be considered in itself as an evil, We have in this generally admitted truth an intimation or proof that there is a quarrel existing between man and his Maker, between the creature who is crushed sooner than the moth, and the Creator who is “the Ancient of days,” the eternal and infinite God. Is it of no consequence that such a quarrel as this exists? Can we contemplate the reality of it, as evidenced by the death of our fellow-creatures, and our own liability to death, without serious thought taking possession of our minds, as to the necessity of reconciliation with God? The quarrel must be made up, or we are ruined for ever; the quarrel ought to be made up immediately, or we may be beyond the reach of reconciliation.
II. The unexpected provision which God in his goodness has made for our comfort and peace. We read in the text, “Neither doth God respect any person: yet doth He devise means that His banished be not expelled from Him.” You will see this rendered in the margin, “Because God hath not taken away his life, He hath also devised means that His banished be not expelled from Him,” which intimates that, although a quarrel does exist between the sinner and his Creator, God does not proceed at once to determine the quarrel, seeing that He has made provision for that sinner’s restoration and security; He has devised means by which the banished may be restored, and meanwhile preserved. Now, see this provision of God’s goodness typified under the Jewish law. The manslayer who had unwittingly slain a brother or a neighbour was by the law expelled from society; but there was a provision made that if he fled to the city of refuge, and it should be proved there that he had not intentionally slain his brother or his friend, then at the death of the high priest he should be set at liberty, and allowed to return again to his family circle. You observe in this that God “devised means by which His banished might not be for ever expelled from Him.” We see the same provision also in the case of the leper, See, again, how this provision is announced in the Gospel of Christ. All the typical institutions of the law were intended to shadow forth the great truths of the Gospel. The manslayer and the leper betoken the state of the sinner under the condemnation of the Divine law, and unfit, on account of his pollution, for the society of God and His angels. He is therefore considered in the eye of God as a banished person, who can never obtain admittance into the kingdom; but God has devised means by which the banished may be restored. The Lord Jesus Christ has come into the world and died for the sinner’s guilt; He is now the great Refuge to whom, if the sinner flee, he shall be saved from the condemnation which he deserves. The moral and spiritual leprosy is thus cleansed; “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us, from all sin.” (W. Cadman, M. A.)
Yet doth he devise means that his banished be not expelled from him.--
The king’s son coming home from exile
I. The plan of salvation began in God’s own heart, full of love for us. The idea has been sometimes presented that God was only willing to save men after Christ had died for us and paid our debt. But the whole plan of salvation, and the coming of Jesus Christ to die for us on the cross, began in God’s own heart.
II. Sin alone exiled us from the presence and favour of God. Absalom fled from his native land and from the presence of the king, his father, because he had not only sinned against David’s love and fatherhood, but had broken the law of the land. It was his own deed which sent him into banishment. So it is not because God has ceased to love us and long for our salvation that sin makes us unhappy and that the sinner is the victim of remorse and fails to find peace; it is rather that man was made to find happiness in the presence of God and in the consciousness of harmony with him.
III. It is possible for the sinner to thwart God’s love, and make all the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ of no effect so far as he is concerned. Absalom did just that with those who sought so earnestly to save him. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
God’s banished ones
I. God’s banished ones. Strip away the metaphor, and it just comes to this--you cannot be blessedly and peacefully near God unless you are far away from sin. If you take two polished plates of metal and lay them together they will adhere. If you put half a dozen tiny grains of sand or dust between them they will fall apart. And so our sins have separated between us and our God. They trove not separated God from us. His thought, and His knowledge, and His tenderness, all come to every soul of man. But they have rent us apart from Him, in so far as they make us unwilling to be near Him, incapable of receiving the truest nearness and blessedness of His presence. That banishment is self-inflicted. God spurns away no man, but men spurn Him, and flee from Him. Many of us know what it is to pass whole days, and weeks, and years, practical Atheists. God is not in all our thoughts. Away down in the luxurious islands of the Southern Sea you will find degraded Englishmen who have chosen rather to cast in their lot with savages than to have to strain and work and grow. Those poor beach-combers of the Pacific, not happy in their degradation, but wallowing in it, are no exaggerated pictures of the condition, in reality, of thousands of us who dwell fat from God, and far, therefore, from righteousness and peace.
II. God’s yearning over his banished ones. The woman in our story hints at, or suggests, a parallel which, though inadequate, is deeply true. David was Absalom’s father and Absalom’s king; and the two relationships fought against each other in his heart. The king had to think of law and justice; the father cried out for his son. The young man’s offence had neither altered his relationship nor affected the father’s heart. All that is true, far more deeply, blessedly true, in regard to our relation, the wandering exile’s relation, to God. The whole preciousness of the Revelation of God in Scripture is imperilled unless we frankly recognise this, that His love is like ours, delights in being returned like ours, and is like ours in that it rejoices in presence and knows a sense of loss in absence. And it is you, you, that He wants back; you that He would fain rescue from your aversion to good and your carelessness of Him.
III. The formidable obstacles to the restoration of the banished. The words “banished” and “expelled” in my text are in the original the same; and the force of the whole would be better expressed if the same English word was employed as the equivalent of both. Now, note that the language of this “wise woman,” unconsciously to herself, confesses that the parallel that she was trying to draw did not go on all fours; for what she was asking the king to do was simply by an arbitrary act to sweep aside law and to remit penalty. She instinctively feels that that is not what can be done by God, and so she says that He “devises means” by which He can restore His banished. If there are to be any pardon and restoration at all, they must be such as will leave untouched the sovereign majesty of God’s law, and untempered with the eternal gulf between good and evil. God’s law is the manifestation of God’s character; and that is no flexible thing which can be bent about at the bidding of a weak, good nature. The motto on the blue cover of the Edinburgh Review, for a hundred years now, is true, “The judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted.” David struck a fatal blow at the prestige of his own rule when he weakly let his son off his penalty. And, if it were possible to imagine such a thing, God Himself would strike as fatal a blow at the justice and judgment which are the foundations of His throne if His forgiveness was such as to be capable of being confounded with love which was too weakly indulgent to be righteous.
2. Further, if there are to be forgiveness and restoration at all, they must be such as will turn away the heart of the pardoned man from his evil. The very story before us shows that it is not every kind of pardon which makes a man better.
3. If there are to be forgiveness and restoration at all, they must come in such a fashion as that there shall be no doubt whatsoever of their reality and power.
IV. The triumphant, Divine solution of these difficulties. The work of Jesus Christ, and the work of Jesus Christ alone, meets all the requirements. That work of Christ’s is the only way by which it is made absolutely certain that sins forgiven shall be sins abhorred; and that a man once restored shall cleave to his Restorer as to his life. God has devised a means. None else could have done so. We are all exiles from God unless we have been brought nigh by the blood of Christ. In Him, and in Him alone, can God restore His banished ones. In Him, and in Him alone, can we find a pardon which cleanses the heart, and ensures the removal of the sin which it forgives. In Him, and in Him alone, can we find, not a peradventure, not a subjective certainty, but an external fact which proclaims that verily, there is forgiveness for us all. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Means for restoring the banished
I. A great and universal outlawry proclaimed by God against us all, as members of a rebel race. We have all broken His law, wilfully and wickedly have we rebelled against the majesty of heaven; we are, therefore, in our natural estate, banished ones, expelled from his love and favour, waiting the time when the sentence of His wrath shall be fulfilled, and “Depart, ye cursed,” shall flash its lightning flame into our spirits. The ever-blessed God has devised means by which we may be delivered from this state of exile; and the means are very similar to that which was alluded to by the woman of Tekoah, and precisely what occurred to the manslayer occurs to us. Now, what did happen to the man-slayer? First of all, as soon as he had killed a man inadvertently, knowing that the next of kin would be after him to avenge the death, he fled hot foot, as we say, to the nearest city of refuge; and when he had once reached the gates of that city he was secure. Even thus the Lord Jesus Christ was to us in days gone by a city of refuge, and we fled to Him. But though this is the grand means for restoring exiled man to communion with his God, yet through the depravity of our nature it would fail to be of any service to us, did not God further ordain means to make us willing to avail ourselves of it. In most cases it is the preaching of the Gospel which restores the wandering. The preaching of the Word is God’s great saving agency among mankind. But besides the vocal preaching of the Gospel, the printed word of God itself is a preacher through the eye. Many are brought to repentance and faith by sickness. So, too, with Christian influence.
II. Our secondary banishments. Alas! the people of God sometimes fall into sin; they grow careless, and they walk at a distance from their best friend, and then sin prevails against them; but the Lord has provided means for bringing them back from their wandering. “He restoreth my soul.” The Holy Spirit, though grieved, wilt return, convince His servants again of sin, and lead them with weeping and supplication to their Saviour. There is another kind of banishment which is produced not so much by sin primarily as by despondency.
III. A practical lesson to be gathered from all this.
1. The first application of that rule is this: there may be some one a father, a mother, or some other relative, who has been compelled, as he has thought, to deny and no longer to acknowledge a child or a brother. Great offences have at last brought anger Into your bosom, and, as you think, very justifiable anger. Oh, celebrate this day by a full forgiveness of all who have done aught against you! And do not merely say, “Well, I will do it if they will ask me;” that is not what God does, he is first in the matter, and devises means. Try. Consider. Devise means. “Would you have me lower myself?” Sometimes to lower ourselves is to make ourselves much higher in God’s sight. The last application of the lesson shall be this: let every Christian devise means for bringing to Jesus those banished ones who surround Him. We must, as a Christian Church, be indefatigably industrious in seeking out the Lord’s expelled and banished ones who live in our neighbourhood. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Exiles brought back
What do you mean by banishment? Well, it means being driven away, and wearing fetters. It means bitter absence from home. It means in some places, and on some occasions, an expatriation to Siberia to delve in the mines, and to be fastened in a chain gang. Yes, the whole race is banished. Our first parents banished from Paradise. The recreant angels banished from heaven. The whole family banished from peace. Where is the worldly man who has anything worthy of the name of happiness? What are those anxious looks of the brokers, of the bankers, of the merchants, of those men in the club house, of that great multitude of people who tramp up and down Broadway? Banished from God. Banished from peace. Banished from heaven. You are banished, “Yet doth God devise means by which the banished ones shall not be expelled from Him.” Well, what are some of the means that “God has devised that the banished be not expelled from Him?”
I. In the first place, the footpath up through the rifts of skull-shaped Calvary. Constantine has designated that hill as the one on which Jesus died. Dean Stanley says there are on that hill shattered fragments of limestone rock cleft evidently of the crucifixion earthquake. And it is through that fissure of the rock that our path to pardon lies; through the earthquake of conviction, under the dripping crimson of the cross.
II. Among the means that God has devised that the banished be not expelled from Him, I notice still further, spiritualistic influences. I do not mean any influence gone up from earth and etherialised, but the Divine Spirit. Some call Him the Comforter; it is best for my purpose that I call Him the soul-saving power of the nations. When that influence comes upon a man how strangely he acts. He cries. He trembles. He says things and does things that five minutes before he could not have been coaxed or hired to say or do. O it is a mighty spirit.
III. Among the means that “God has devised that the banished be not expelled from Him, I notice, also, Christian surroundings. There is the influence of ancestral piety. Was there not a good man or woman in your ancestral line? Is there not an old Bible around the house, with worn cover, and turned-down leaves, giving you the hint that there was some one who prayed? Was there a family altar at which you used to bow? The carpet may have been worn out, and the chair may have been sold for old furniture, and the knee that knelt on the one and beside the other may never again be pliant in earthly worship; but you,remember--do you not remember? Ah! that Christian homestead, the memory of it to-night almost swamps your soul. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
A foregleam of the Gospel
Expositors generally consider that the woman of Tekoah, in this appeal, alludes to the merciful Divine provision by which a manslayer might, at the death of the High Priest, return to his home from the city of refuge, to which he, red-handed, had fled from the red-handed avenger of blood. Doubtless David would understand more; and to us, Gospel in hand, the words mean more than to her or to David. They illustrate the great facts:
I. That sinful men are moral exiles. This is borne out:
1. By Scripture
2. By the experience of the sinful
3. By the confession of the penitent.
II. The Gospel is God’s means of recovering moral exiles. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.” The Gospel:
1. Reveals clear way of return;
2. Supplies sufficient motive;
3. Pro-raises abundant help. (U. R. Thomas.)
The restoration of God’s banished ones
These words occur in the course of a very wonderful piece of womanly pleading. With marvellous power, and with a woman’s keen instinct where the heart is concerned, this otherwise unknown Tekoite pleads the cause of the ill-starred Absalom. Though Joab’s was the mind that directed her, hers was the art which threw such a colour upon the cause she had to plead, that the king’s soul was touched, and her suit was gained. It is not quite easy to see the force of the reasoning which links together these statements. Probably, instead of being logically connected, there is a gradation in thought, so that the closing phrase is the strongest, and intended to do the most effective work. The thing the woman wants is the restoration of the banished one; and she refers to the Divine clemency in order to provoke and to justify the human.
I. His banished ones; who are they? In a sense we are all banished ones, since for the present our relation to the Infinite Father is obscured; even those who have in them the stirrings of the spiritual sonship, though they may say, “Now are we the sons of God,” must yet add, “it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” And those who have not entered into the light and sweetness of that recognised sonship are very far, as one may say, from their true home. Time would fail, even to epitomise the story of God’s banished ones. The wanderings of David; Elijah’s flight into the wilderness; the captivity of the tribes; and the story of the prophets, all illustrate the truth of our text. They are not God-deserted even in the strange land. The story of the outcasts is ever interesting. Look at the scattered flock through the persecutions, now of the Jewish, now of the Romish authorities. Come down to more recent times and read the story of the Waldenses, the Huguenots, and the Scottish Covenanters. These men also knew how God devises “means that His banished ones be not expelled from Him.” Take away their outward freedom of worship; drive these men into the wilderness; let their bodies be incarcerated in foul prisons, or given up to torture or death; the spirit finds its way to the secrecies of Divine love, and summers in its smile. Though outcast, they are not expelled from Him. But come yet nearer home; individual life even now illustrates the truth. Take the case, not at all an uncommon one, of the compelled retirement and withdrawal of any one from all that had before seemed helpful, even essential, to the religious life.
II. Go back to that garden-scene, told us in the first book. When we come to that story, and hear how the man and woman were expelled the garden; if we were to read it thoughtlessly, we should say--How terrible a thing to lose so much; and now of course God is always angry. “So He drove out the man;” and he was banished, and, into whatever gardens he may have entered, he has not entered the garden of Eden since. All his life now is in some sense a groping after Eden. How strange--had we never read something like it out of our life-story and the story of men’s lives from day to day--God seems to contrive against Himself. He banishes, “yet doth he devise means that His banished be not expelled from Him.” One thing leads on to another; whither doth this banishment lead? Why, it leads to a thorn-covered earth; yes, but also to a thorn-crowned Saviour. It leads to much toil and bitterness of men’s hearts, but it also leads to God’s labour and Christ’s travail of soul, of which He shall be satisfied. The way from Eden becomes (through God’s devising) the way back to Eden; an Eden, we may say truly, where palms wave and laurels bloom, to wave over and deck the conqueror’s brow.
III. The varied agencies by which this good thought and feeling of God are conveyed to His banished ones, What do I mean by this? But that all the varied network of Christian endeavour is proof of the priesthood of the whole Church of God. And it is this priesthood that needs more clear manifesting. The interlacings of what we call Divine and human effort may be in a few simple words set forth. When we come much into contact with men, I mean with that which betrays their inner life, while we find much in them that pains and perplexes us, we do not fail to find repeated and startling proofs of the truths of the Bible, and especially of the truth I am trying to unfold. Well, although in these and countless ways we see proof of the exigency and earnestness of God’s love, it is for those who are enlightened from the Light Divine to stretch forth the torch and give a meaning to the vague and unexpressed cravings of the human heart after God. Among the God-devised means are those ties of kinship, of common humanity, which, being sanctified by the love and illumined by the light of God, are only rightly directed under the guidance of Him who came to seek and to save that which is lost. Lost, yet His! “His banished,” though their natures be sodden through with the cruel damps of their long wilderness banishment. His, not to be passed over by Him. O think of it in the light of your neglect of them, and your neglect of Him too. The King and the Father unite in this, the restoration of the banished ones. (G. J. Procter.)
The Tekoite and Divine devising
I. Those who are in a state of exile or alienation from God are so by their own act and wish, not by God’s. Like Absalom, who was vain, cruel, treacherous, selfish, heartless, ambitious and murderous, we have yielded to sin. Like him, conscious of guilt, but finding temporary security in the Court at Geshur, we have known we were sinful, but we have thought that any time would do to acknowledge it. We in this world are where God can reach am. Hope and restoration are possible here; but, alas; there is a state in which alienation can become eternal, in which hope and faith in Divine mercy are impossible. Banished now, alas, by our own act, by our own hardness and unbelief, we may be, we can be, certainly still further banished. God pities us but He cannot and will not compel us to love Him. A stream among the Mendip Hills, after rising in the darkness far away under the hills, pursues for miles its rapid, winding way among the caverns, and then, just beneath one of those rocky buttresses of the sky,” in the Cheddar gorge, suddenly emerges into the light, spreads itself in a small lake, then rushes over a weir, turns a mill, cleanses pampas grass, receives the poisonous washing and refuse of paper mills, plunges under dark tunnels, then away through the open meadows to the sea. Thus with our life, rising in mystery it pursues its way subject to various evil influences, and call either be cleansed or can plunge again into the caverns of darkness or be carried on into the bright open sea. We are in the light now. We have the power, which is denied to a river, of refusing to be subject to the inflow of evil. We can pray. We can look up to God. We can say pardon, cleanse, save us. We can implore God to turn again our captivity as streams in the South. We call say with intensity, “God, save thy banished from being expelled from Thee!”
II. The means God devises to save man from further estrangement. The Tekoite in speaking of God as “devising means” to bring back the banished, had caught a marvellously clear glimpse of a coming Gospel. This was one of the rays shot up above the sombre hills of intervening years and ceremonial observances, telling of that rising sun of Divine love that afterward shone in midday effulgence from the cross on Calvary.
1. The Sabbath is His institution to give man rest and an opportunity of thinking of his eternal interests. It was “made for man,” and was intended not only for physical rest but spiritual.
2. Revelation is another way of bringing man back. To Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, God has revealed Himself. Through them and others He has spoken to us.
3. By the institution of public worship, whether round the altar on the hill-top, in the tent at Shiloh, in the temple at Jerusalem, in the synagogues scattered in many lands, or in the churches that have risen all over the world. He has been arranging to draw men from sin and make them glad when they “go up to the house of the Lord.”
4. The arrangement of a sacrificial system is in harmony with the ideas of all ages and all races as a means of restoration to the Divine presence. In the sacrifice of Christ our restoration is assured by the death of Him who suffered, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” The sacrifice of Calvary was not a mere device, but the natural outcome of the Divine love. Through the intervention of the woman of Tekoah, an exiled son was restored, but only to yield to deeper sin. When we are brought back by Divine mercy, it should be to let the purity of the life emphasise the gratitude of the heart. Christ intercedes; God waits to receive the banished; but the means He has devised are not always availing. Man’s indifference and devilish opposition, alas! can spoil the effect of even the Divine devisings. (F. Hastings.)
The return of the banished
The arrow went straight to the mark. The play that was aroused had its current turned at once to Amnon, and Joab arose and fetched home the banished one from Geshur, and once again Absalom dwelt at home. For us who look back on the Old Testament scene through all the light and glory of the Cross of Christ these words have a blessed fulness of meaning. “Yet doth He devise means that His banished be not expelled from Him.”
1. It may be that in the clearest and most literal sense of these words the appeal needs to be made as it was made to David. The wise women of Tekoah, they come into our midst to-day and take their places before some of us, and make the appeal that we fetch home the banished. You have been wronged and hurt, but you do yourself a greater wrong by nursing your bitterness. You have been vexed, ashamed, humiliated. True. Yet is it not time that bygones should be bygones? You cannot undo the mischief. There it is. But does not your perpetual thought and talk of it make it all a thousand times worse? Is it not better to let the dead bury the dead than to keep a dead past alive by thought and anger, and to give it such power to hurt and annoy? Remember that this hard and bitter spirit is agrievous sin. You undo your own prayers and choke the better life within you by this nursing of your wrath. How can you bow and ask God’s forgiveness if you withhold your own forgiveness?’ If this woman, with her stratagem, could prevail with the king, surely the Cross of Christ should prevail with us. Lift up your eyes to the Crucified. For His dear sake fling open wide the door of the heart, and let love flow forth as freely, as graciously as His love greeted us. Devise means. Be ingenious in finding out ways of love. We have but one life.
2. But further: Here is a blessed word for all of us. This is the story of all ages: a summary of the Gospel. Time began with the scene of the banished ones as they go forth from the Garden of Eden. Then comes the centre of all time, of all things--Christ and the Cross, the Cross whereon hangs the Saviour of the world, bringing us who are afar off nigh unto God by His blood. And far away we see the end of all time in the scene of the banished ones brought home; and the cry is heard, “Hallelujah! for the Tabernacle of God is with men.” What means hath our God devised that His banished be not expelled? The gift of His Son, the great provisions of His grace in Jesus Christ, the appeal of love and wisdom and glory in Him, the thousand precious promises that speak to us from the Word, the prompting and influence of His Spirit, the force of holy example and teaching--all these are means of His devising for bringing us home to Himself. How ingenious is the love of God, how unwearied and skilful! How many devices have to be baffled, how many entreaties have to be resisted, if we will still persist in dwelling in the far country. Never any circumstance is there in the daily life, never any occasion, but the blessed Spirit seeks to turn to account for our home-coming. Think of these banished ones; let them pass before us. Like Absalom they dwelt of old time in the palace of the King. The happy freedom of the King’s chamber was theirs; they sat at the King’s table and saw the King’s feast; they had the joy of a communion deep and constant, and easy was it for them to pass softly within the banqueting chamber, and rest in the peace of His love. What music filled the soul! They laughed at fear. All was deep peace and thankfulness that knew no want, and scarcely knew a desire beyond Himself. Alas! of how many, of how very many all this is true. They came up to the city from the country, from some little company of Christians, happy and devout, where glad service for Him filled all the days. But here the attachment was loosened. There was, perhaps, no welcome as the stranger came and went. Perhaps the country shyness as well as the city indifference had something to do with it. At any rate, it came about that old ways were forsaken; doubtful things were trifled with until they became almost necessities; doubtful companions were tolerated until they became friends and their ways had to be accepted. By a stratagem the pity of the king was roused, and Joab fetched home the banished, but for two whole years he dwelt in Jerusalem and saw not the face of the king. Oh l not so is it that our Father deals with us. Listen, let the heart take hold of it: “When he was yet a great way off his father saw him and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” Nothing was enough to do; nothing was enough to give. That great love could not be satisfied. (M. G. Pearse.)
The atonement a necessity
Now, observe, David did not cease to be a father because he was a king, and he did not cease to be a king because he was a father. Now, contemplate the everlasting God in the relationship in which He stands to His creature man. Observe, first, in a certain limited sense, God is the Father of us all. “We are all His offspring.” But remember, this is only in a certain definite sense; that is to say, every one is a child of God, inasmuch as he is the offspring of man, who was created by, and received his life directly from, the Supreme Being, and inasmuch as each of us are called into existence by His sovereign will. Now, you wilt find that those who are indisposed to accept the Atonement will always lay great, stress upon this view of the fatherhood of God. They will say, “Is not God a Father? and if He is our Father, is it not natural for Him to grieve for His children?” To which I reply by pointing to our story. Was not David a father, and had he not a father’s heart? Yes. Why did not David forgive Absalom? Because he was more than a father: he was a king. You tell me that God is your Father. Yes, I am ready to admit that in the sense I have defined He is. Let me point out, however, that He is not the Father of us all in the full sense of that word. If you have not received “the Spirit of His Son”--that “spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father,” you are not occupying the filial relationship towards Him to which you have a right, and hence you are not entitled to draw such inferences as you otherwise might from the analogy of the earthly relationship. Now let us look closely at this picture. I observe, first, that the heart of the old man David is yearning over his son Absalom. Though Absalom is a criminal, the father would fain forgive him; but justice and honour forbade his doing so. How eager was he to do it: but then, you know, he was a king. Another thought rises up against the ardent desire: “I am king, and if I forgive my own son, people will say I am guilty of favouritism.” Well, what was to be done? It won’t do for the king to become depressed and miserable about the matter. Somehow or another Absalom must be got back. So Joab felt, moved, no doubt, partly by sympathy, and partly by policy, hoping to make the best of his relations both with the present and with the future monarch. So he devises a plan. He gets hold of a wily woman, as crafty as himself, and sets her in the king’s way; and as the king passes by, she gains his ear with a dolorous wail of distress--“Help, O king!” One was dead; she could not get him back, and the sacrifice of the life of her only remaining son would not recall him to life. He was dead; and now the representatives of the law were coming to take the last support, the only joy she had left her in the world. The widow gained the day, but what had happened? Mercy had triumphed over judgment. And what is the sequel of this victory of mercy over judgment? By-and-by, the crushing and overwhelming outburst of Divine indignation upon those guilty tribes and their guiltier leader. I see the forest of Mount Ephraim reeking with human gore, and twenty thousand corpses strewn upon the ground, and suspended on yonder oak--a spectacle for all time--I see the traitor-hearted parricide, with the javelins in his heart! That is the sequel. And, as I contemplate the blood-drenched battlefield; as I think of the tears of the widows and the wail of fatherless children; as I think of the misery, the devastation that cursed the land; as I hear the wail of a stricken country ringing up into the ears of God, I discover what mere fancy does, when mercy is allowed to triumph over justice. I point to the vast holocaust, to the ghastly corpses piled one over another, and I ask, “Who slew all these?” The reply is, “Mercy slew them.” Not least, I point to yonder fatal oak, where the body of Absalom hangs suspended, with the javelins thrust through his quivering body, and into his very heart, and I ask, “Who slew that miserable wretch?” and the answer is, “Mercy slew him.” He never would have been present at that battlefield, or have been in a position to raise that standard of revolt, and so he would never have brought on his own head that terrible retribution, if he had not been the object of that royal mercy to which he had no claim. Mercy was the undoing of him; this is the solemn moral of this tragic tale. With such a lesson as that before our eyes, shall we turn to the Mighty Monarch of the Universe, and venture to say, “O God! why shouldest Thou require an atonement? Why shouldest Thou not forgive us without any atonement at all?” I wonder what sort of a world we should have if God were to act on such principles. I wonder what sort of a universe we should have if God were to act on such principles. God does not. God will not. Now, I proceed to ask, what would have been needed in order that Absalom might have been brought back from his banishment without danger to his king, his country, or himself? Two things, at least, would have been required. First, it would have been necessary that the moral dignity and majesty of law should be vindicated in an exemplary manner. Surely not less than this was demanded by the circumstances of the case. If Absalom is to be recalled to the king’s court, it must somehow or other be so arranged as that the law shall not suffer by it--that the criminal shall not be able to point to that prince, and to say, “Ah! there is a premium upon sin.” Second, and not less, it would have been necessary that a radical change should have been effected in Absalom’s character, so that a repetition of such offences might have been rendered most improbable, if not impossible. But mere mercy did not, could not, produce this; on the contrary, it might be expected to breed callousness and indifference to the threats of the law, and to dispose the pardoned culprit to think lightly of an offence which could be so readily overlooked. He was the same man morally after receiving the king’s pardon as before--as vindictive, ruthless, treacherous, cruel. Hence, his presence at David’s court was a necessary danger to society, and the results that followed are not surprising. We conclude, then, that these two things are necessary before the prerogative of mercy can be exercised by a sovereign wisely and well, and without injury to his authority, to the state, or to the individual recipient of it. Keep these in mind, and then you will be better able to understand the necessity of the atonement. First, the vindication of the majesty of the taw; arid, second, the complete transformation of the character of the offender. David could not compass either in this case. No human ingenuity could solve the problem; so in justice and right there could be nothing for it but that Absalom should remain in bonds. Now we have observed that this wise woman of Tekoah, when she argues the matter with David, points to God’s dealings with man as her justification of her plea; but it is worthy of notice that she does so in a very cautious and guarded way. The truth is, she knew a deal more theology than many of our modern professors. What does she say? If you examine her argument carefully you will see that, strictly speaking, it does not carry its own conclusion. There is a logical fallacy in it. Put it thus--“You should follow the example of God, David; you can’t be wrong in doing what God does. God devises means whereby His ‘banished’ shall not be expelled from Him--therefore you may recall yours without devising any means at all, but by a mere arbitrary and despotic exercise of the prerogative of mercy. You may not be able to do it as God does it, but, means or no means, get it done.” You see the argument does not hold water. It was a sophistry; but it was a sophistry that carried the day, because it was addressed to the heart rather than to the head. Now she teaches us here a great truth. God indeed “devises means whereby His banished shall not be expelled from Him.” What are the means? I point unhesitatingly to Calvary’s Cross, and I say, “There are the means.” You may he sure that if any other means would have answered the great purpose, God would have adopted them. If anything else would have met the requirements of the case, surely, surely, in some other way the mighty problem would have been solved. But there was only one means--I say it reverently--that even the wisdom of God could suggest. “We preach Christ crucified.” The Jews called this a stumbling-block. They did not see their need of an atonement; they wanted a king. Do you believe that God can show mercy? I suppose we certainly all agree to that, at least. Those who repudiate the atonement admit that God can show mercy. Next, do you believe that God should show mercy? Surely here also we are all agreed--we are all of us poor, frail, fallible creatures, and under these circumstances it is very necessary that mercy should be extended to us. Very good; we start with two points in common. Is this as far as we can go together? Can we not find another point in common? Will you not agree with me that, in showing mercy, God has a right to condition the exercise of His sovereign prerogative in any way that seems most in accordance with wisdom and goodness? Surely you will not object to that position, will you? If I am giving away favours, free favours, unmerited favours, and I choose to attach any condition to those favours, surely I have a right to do so if I will. Is not that so? Certainly. Does mercy come of right or of grace? Surely you will agree with me that it comes of grace. No sinner has a claim on the Divine mercy. Well, if it comes of grace--that is, if it is a free gift--God has a right to qualify it according to His own mind, whatever that mind may be. “Well,” you reply, “but God does not act on any such arbitrary and despotic fashion.” Quite true. But what if God chooses to qualify His administration of mercy in such a fashion that mercy, instead of being a premium on crime, shall be a preventive of crime? What about that? Oh, if men who despise the Atonement could only see the wonderful wisdom, the true philosophy, that lurks underneath the Atonement, we should have an end to the supercilious criticism which so often stands between the soul and God. When God elected to extend mercy towards the fallen world, He also made up His mind that that mercy should be a double blessing; and in order that it might be a double blessing He took care that His mercy should not be bestowed promiscuously, so to speak, but that it should be bestowed in such a form that, on the one hand, the majesty of God’s law and the eternal and changeless antipathy of God against sin should be clearly manifested to the eyes of all; while, on the other hand, the moral character of the sinner should be so completely changed and revolutionised that instead of mercy being s premium upon guilt, on the contrary, mercy should render sin impotent, and strip the tyrant powers of hell of all their dominion over man. That is the true meaning of atonement. How is it to be done? “God devises means whereby His banished shall not be expelled from him;” and the first means is that He vindicates His law, and makes it honourable. You say it was not lust that He should bear our sins. Stop a moment. It would not have been just if He had been anything less than God. It would not have been just if the everlasting God had laid the burden of one creature’s guilt upon the head of another: but do you mean to tell me that God has not a right to do what He likes with Himself? Do you mean that God has not a right to vindicate His own taw? And the second is that not only was the Sufferer Divine, but that He suffered in human form, and as a man, and that as such there was a “joy that was set before Him.” What was that joy? The joy of pure benevolence; the joy of being able to rescue the children of earth on their way to perdition; the joy of being able to restore a fallen race, and reconsecrate to His Father a desecrated world; the joy of triumphant love. The crown and the reward of the Man Christ Jesus is to be obtained by Him in His humanity according to the words of the prophet, “When He shall see His seed”; “When He shall see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied”; when a ransomed Church gathered in His presence, and clustering round His person, shall pour forth through a bright eternity the continuous offering of unwearied, grateful praise to Him who hath loved them and given Himself for them. Well now, there it is; God’s wondrous means. Have you anything to say against it? Had not God a right to provide such a means if it seemed good to Him? Now let us consider its effects. First, we have a supreme vindication of God’s attitude towards sin. What more is wanted? One thing more, or the Atonement may yet fail of its purpose. One thing more is demanded by the circumstances of the case. What is it? That the acceptance of the benefit shall necessarily involve a radical transformation of the sinner. How is it to be effected? By a man’s trying to turn over a new leaf. No; that won’t effect it. If I do turn over a new leaf, I am still the same man now as I was yesterday, with the same motives, the same impulses, the same temptations, the same infirmities. Do you mean to say that you can make a new man of yourself by a resolution? How silly of people when they talk in this way. Do they not know something about the force of habit? “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.” When the weary soul makes its way to the Cross of Calvary, what does it see? The first thing it sees is a dying man. You have seen that, all of you. You ask what His life has been. You read the record of it here, and you say, “Why, what evil has He done?” and even while you wait in vain for an answer, you look again, and this time you discover, under the form of a dying man, the august presence of the living God. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.” Then, bewildered and amazed, once again you turn your eyes on this strange spectacle. More inquiringly than ever, you fix your gaze upon the overwhelming sight. What does it mean? You have seen the dying man; you have seen the present God; what do you see now? The thing above all others that is opposed to God--sin. “He was made sin for us who knew no sin.” But observe--it is sin crucified, not sin triumphant--sin nailed to the tree and executed, not sin doing its own deadly work. Once again you turn your gaze to the cross of Christ. Is there anything more to be seen? You strain your powers of vision to the utmost, with the eager concentrated gaze of faith. What do you see now? You have seen the dying man; you have seen the Son of God; you have seen crucified sin. What do you see there now? I will tell you what I see. I see my guilty self nailed to that cross--myself, the felon, represented in the person of Him, the Holy One, who has voluntarily consented to identify Himself with me; I see my corrupt “old man” obtaining what its sin has deserved. St. Paul saw this as he looked at the cross, and boldly exclaimed, “I am crucified with Christ.” What then? If I be crucified with Christ, then, thanks be to God, between me and my old self, upon which the law of God has done its work, there is an actual separation. I have done with that old life of mine. The crucified old nature is left in Jesus’ tomb; there the burden of my sins is cast. Henceforth the power of my sins is broken, and I enter into a new life, and rote novel and blessed relationships. “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Do you not see that a man cannot claim the benefit of the Atonement without admitting first the justice of the sentence illustrated by the Atonement; and, in the second place, without seeing himself by faith as cut off by force of that sentence, thus undergone, from all connection with the former life of sin; nor, in the third place, without entering into a new and glorious relationship with the living God. He who is buried and raised again with Christ is already in possession of the power of an endless life, and thus enjoys a new moral force, animated by new motives, and fired with new desires. Thus he goes forth from the cross a “new creature” in Christ Jesus. You cannot afford to dispense with the Atonement. Your heads need it, your hearts need it, your lives need it. Would to God we all understood its mystic power motet Now, our text states that God has devised means whereby His banished should not be expelled from Him. At this moment we are banished, but, thank God, we are not yet expelled. Those of you who are not yet restored to the Divine favour are banished. The joyful light of God’s mercy does not rest upon your lives or upon your hearts. You are banished: the terrible sentence of banishment has already been recorded against you. Young men, do you know what it is to be in anything like spiritual communion with God? Is God a reality to you--a present Friend? Does He dwell in your hearts? Nay: for you are banished--already banished--some of you. But remember, though you are banished, the heart of God is yearning over you. The message from the Cross to you--if you will but hear it--surely amounts to this: “Come home, come home, ye banished! Come home, come home, ye wandering souls! ye who have found your way out from the Divine presence, and have lost your way in a desolate world, come home!” (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The banished restored
I. The banishment. Absalom is living at Geshur. It is not his native place, it is not his fatherland; he is there an exile and a foreigner; he is living a life of banishment. As a transgressor Absalom is under sentence of the law, and in order to escape that sentence he is living at Geshur, a banished man. He has banished himself; his conscience acknowledges the crime that he has committed, and the justice of the doom that hangs over him, so he flees from his country, from his father’s house. Here we have a picture of man’s state as a sinner. Man, as a sinner, is living in banishment. Sometimes this banishment will make itself felt: there are times in which the soul of man will cast a longing thought back upon the Father’s house, like the prodigal in the far-off land, when the famine pinches, when the pleasures of sin have worn themselves out, and a sense of want presses; then the memory of home comes up, These longings are but the memories of home, the sighing of men in banishment, for though the banishment has gone on through long generations, the memories of home have not altogether faded from the soul.
II. The means devised. “Yet doth He devise means, etc.” The expression seems to imply that there was a difficulty in the way. Means must be devised, wisdom must set to work to discover a plan, a scheme whereby the banished might be restored. What was the difficulty? The king was very anxious that Absalom should come back (2 Samuel 13:39). He made no secret of it. Joab perceived it. Here, then, was the king longing after his banished son. He loved him though he was a transgressor. Now translate the temporal into the spiritual. There is man,. as we have shown you, in a state of banishment, an exile from God’s presence on account of sin, living far off from God; and there is God, full of love to the banished, longing for his return; but there is the difficulty--His love cannot set aside His justice. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” What means shall be devised? Where shall wisdom be found to solve the difficulty? The text says, God doth devise means. In the history you see there is a third person brought upon the scene. The king says nothing of bringing Absalom back. Absalom sends no request to be restored; but Joab takes the matter up, and by the political craft of which he was such a thorough master, he gains his end. Now in the means that God has devised, a third person appears, one comes between the Father and the banished one. He sees the Father’s heart yearning over the lost; He knows that while God hates the sin He loves the sinner, and so he undertakes the matter. “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.” Here is the means that He doth devise. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Yet doth He devise means.” The gospel message is just the declaring of this. The difficulty is overcome; the barrier is removed; the way is open; there is nothing now to prevent God from receiving back the sinner, nothing to prevent the sinner from coming back in confidence to God. When the king was pacified toward Absalom, because of Joab’s intercession, Joab, we read, went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem. There was no hesitation, no unwillingness on the part of Absalom to return. Joab told him that all was made right with the king, that the king longed for his return, and so he came at once to Jerusalem. But in spiritual things the matter is very different. The ambassador of Christ is continually urging the exiles to return. He tells them that peace has been made, propitiation for their sin, and that the Father is longing for their return, ready to welcome them, and receive them in His embrace of love. Yet there is hesitation, indifference, disinclination, procrastination, if not absolute neglect and scorn. Is banishment so sweet, is exile so to be desired? You know you are not happy, you cannot be, away from God, away from home. Then why hesitate; why demur; why halt between two opinions? Is it that you think of what you will have to give up? What! things which cannot satisfy, can impart no solid happiness, but must perish in the using, put them all into the balance, and you shall find them lighter than vanity itself.
III. The result. You have it in the last verse. “The king kissed Absalom.” That kiss was the kiss of peace. It told of perfect forgiveness, it told of a reinstatement in the father’s heart of love. So with those who accept the gospel message, and by faith in Christ return to God. They have the Father’s kiss of peace. Theirs the promise, “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins.” “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” They are reinstated in the Father’s favour and affection. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us that we should be called the sons of God.” “The king kissed Absalom.” There was no distance, no reserve. Freedom of access to God at all times through Christ is the portion of every true believer. The Father has no word of reproof or upbraiding for his repentant child. It is written, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (R. Page, M. A.)
The Christian scheme a device of love
It is a Divine device, consisting of moans arranged by our Father in heaven to prevent his banished ones being finally expelled from him. It is not a scheme for awakening God’s compassion, but a design which manifests and reveals and expresses and conveys the mercy which endureth for ever. This Divine design is therefore a scheme of Divine paternal love. And seeing that love in its ordinary forms cannot reach objects when they sink below their normal state, the love which planned the Christian system is that variety of love which we call “grace,” that is, love going after its objects as they retire clad in the scarlet robe of guilty shame, love clinging to it, objects when they have proved themselves most unworthy, love overcoming evil with good, and love assuming a gracious form to the unloving and unlovable. Such love is like a plant of renown, or a flower of paradise, blooming in a horrible pit; it is like a choice vine or a tree of precious produce bearing its golden fruit, not in its own rich and warm soil, but in cold and miry clay; it is like an ark of refuge floating on waters so stormy that they have caused every other craft to founder; it is like precious light lingering, above the horizon after the sun has suddenly set in awful storms. It is like--ah! to what shall we liken it? We want a high class of figures beyond all we have ever seen, and a style of metaphors which we have no power to create. Never do we feel our poverty and helplessness as when we try to speak of the grace of God. But what we wish now to say is that the Christian scheme is created by the genius of Divine grace. All love can devise and design, but this form of love is most skilful and fertile in invention. The genius of the imagination can write poetry, but the expressions of grace are the sweetest, deepest, divinest poetry. The former can paint beauty, but grace creates and restores beauty, giving beauty for ashes. The former may represent life, but grace restores life. The Christian scheme is the product of Divine love. (Samuel Martin.)
2 Samuel 14:25
But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty.
Absalom a contradiction
The ancients, and in particular the Orientals, were very fond of remarking upon a man’s height. Their notion was that the greater the stature the more fit the man was for the society of the gods. The Old Testament is to a large extent a book which takes notice of outward features, and praises physical excellence, and estimates at high price all material blessings. But what an irony there is in such a case as Absalom’s! Given, a grand physique and a little soul, and say if any irony can be more ghastly and humiliating. Such contradictions we are to ourselves sometimes, and to one another. Our circumstances may be the best part of us: the house may be greater than the tenant; the furniture may be more worthy than its owner. What, then, is to be done? A blot like this ought not to be tolerated. Wherein a man is conscious that he represents this irony, he should look about him, and say that to-day shall end the intolerable disharmony, and at least seek to introduce a reconciliation as between the outward and the inward, so that the soul may prosper and be in health as the body, or the body may prosper and be in health as the soul, according to the special circumstances of each individual case. (J. Parker, D. D.)
2 Samuel 14:29-32
Absalom sent for Joab . . . but he would not come to him.
The barley-field on fire
Absalom had fled from Jerusalem under fear of David’s anger; he was after a time permitted to return, but he was not admitted into the presence of the king. Earnestly desiring to be restored to his former posts of honour and favour, he besought Joab to come to him, intending to request him to act as mediator. Joab, having lost much of his liking for the young prince, refused to come; and, though he was sent for repeatedly, he declined to attend at his desire. Absalom therefore thought of a most wicked, but most effective plan of bringing Joab into his company. He bade his servants set Joab’s field of barley on fire. This brought Joab down in high wrath to ask the question, “Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?” This was all that, Absalom wanted; he wished an interview, and he was not scrupuluous as to the method by which he obtained it. The burning of the barley-field brought Joab into his presence, and Absalom’s ends were accomplished. Omitting the sin of the deed, we have here a picture of what is often done by our gracious God with the wisest and best design. Often he sendeth for us, not for his profit, but for ours; he would have us come near to him and receive a blessing at his hands, but we are foolish, and cold-hearted and wicked, and we will not come. He, knowing that we will not come by any other means, sendeth a serious trial--he sets our barley-field on fire, which he has a right to do, seeing our barley-fields are far more his than they are ours. In Absalom’s case it was wrong; in God’s case he has a right to do as he wills with his own. He takes away from us our most choice delight, upon which we have set out heart, and then we enquire at, his hands, “Wherefore contendest thou with me?”
I. The text with reference to believers in christ. We cannot expect to avoid tribulation. If other men’s barley-fields are not burned, ours will be. If the Father uses the rod nowhere else, he will surely make his true children smart. Your Saviour hath left, you a double legacy, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but in Me ye shall have peace.” Gold must be tried in the fire: and truly the Lord hath a fire in Zion and his furnace in Jerusalem.
1. You have first, this sweet reflection, that there is no curse in your cross.
2. That your troubles are all apportioned to you by Divine wisdom and love. As for their number, if He appoint them ten they never can be eleven. As for their weight, he who weigheth the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance, takes care to measure your troubles, and you shall not have a grain more than His infinite wisdom sees fit.
3. That under your cross you have many special comforts. There are cordials which God giveth to sick saints which He never putteth to the lips of those who are in health. Dark caverns keep not back the miners, if they know that diamonds are to be found there: you need net fear suffering when you remember what riches it yields to your soul. There is no hearing the nightingale without night, and there are some promises which only sing to us in trouble. It is in the cellar of affliction that the good old wine of the kingdom is stored. You shall never see Christ’s face so well as when all others turn their backs upon you.” When you have come into such confusion that human wisdom is at a nonplus, then shall you see God’s wisdom manifest and clear.
4. That your trials work your lasting good by bringing you nearer and nearer to your God.
II. A few words to the sinner.
I. God also has sent for you, O unconverted man, God has often sent, for you. Early in your childhood your mother’s prayers sought to woo you to a Saviour’s love, and your godly father’s first instructions were as so many meshes of the net in which it was desired that you should be taken; but you have broken through all these and lived to sin away early impressions and youthful promises.
2. If God is sending these, are you listening to them? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Burning the barley field
Now, just as the shrewd young prince dealt with Joab in order to bring him unto him, so God employs a regimen of discipline very often in order to bring wayward hearts to Himself. Many a reader may have had his barley-field set on fire; there are some even now whose fields are wrapped in flames or are covered with the ashes of extinguished hopes. With backsliders this method is often God’s last resorts. He sees that the wayward wanderers care more for their earthly possessions than they do for His honour or His service. So He touches them in the tenderest spot, and sweeps away the objects they love too well. They have become idolaters, and He sternly dashes their idols to atoms.
For two whole years Joab paid no attention to the returned son of David, but the moment his barley-field was set on fire he paid Absalom a visit of inquiry. It was crafty on the part of Absalom. Perhaps he looked upon it as a last resort and thought the end would lustily the means. But there is a spiritual use of this incident which is well worth considering. Is it not so that when we will not go to God lovingly, voluntarily, He sets our barley-fields on fire, saying, Now they will pray? We desert His Church, we abandon His book, we release ourselves from all religious responsibilities; God calls, and we will not hear; then He sets all the harvest in a blaze, and we become religious instantaneously. We are richer if we have lost a barley-field, and found the God of the harvest. He will make up the barley-field to us, if so be we accept the providence aright, and say, “This is God’s thought concerning us.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
2 Samuel 14:33
And the soul of King David longed to go forth unto Absalom.
A father’s tender solicitude for his son
“I well remember,” says a present-day writer, “the effect produced on my mind on being told by a servant, soon after I had recovered from a dangerous illness, that during the crisis of the malady my father was seen to shed tears. Though far from being a stern parent, he was not an emotional man; and the statement was a revelation to me, at least in degree. It is now more than half a century ago, but it will never be forgotten.”.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany