2 Samuel 14:1
The king's heart was toward Absalom. Again there is a diversity of view as to the right rendering. The preposition does not usually mean "toward," but "against," and is so rendered in 2 Samuel 14:13. The whole phrase occurs again only in Daniel 11:28, and certainly there implies enmity. The whole attitude of David towards Absalom is one of persistent hostility, and, even when Joab had obtained his recall, for two full years he would not admit him into his presence. What has led most commentators to force the meaning here and in 2 Samuel 13:39 is the passionate burst of grief when news was brought of Absalom's death following upon the anxious orders given to the generals to be careful of the young man's life. But David was a man of very warm affections, and while this would make him feel intense sorrow for the death of a son by his brother's hand, and stern indignation towards the murderer, there would still lie deep in the father's heart true love towards his sinning child, and Absalom's fall was sad enough to cause a strong revulsion of feeling. David's grief would be not merely for the death of his son, but that he should have died so miserably, and in an attempt so shameful. Was not, too, the natural grief of a father made the more deep by the feeling that this was the third stage of the penalty denounced on his own sin, and that the son's death was the result of the father's crime?
2 Samuel 14:2
Tekoah. This town, famous as the birthplace of the Prophet Amos, lay upon the borders of the great wilderness southeast of Jerusalem. As it was only five miles to the south of Bethlehem, Joab's birthplace, he had probably often heard tales of this woman's intelligence; and, though he contrived the parable himself, yet it would need tact and adroitness on the woman's part to give the tale with tragic effect, and answer the king's questions with all the signs of genuine emotion. If her acting was bad, the king would see through the plot, and only by great skill would his heart be so moved as to three him to some such expression of feeling as would serve Joab's purpose.
2 Samuel 14:4
When the woman of Tekoah spake. All the versions and several manuscripts read, as the sense requires, "when the woman of Tekoah came." There is an interesting article in De Rossi, fixing with much probability the twelfth century as the date of this error. Though Absalom subsequently (2 Samuel 15:4) complained of the lax administration of justice in the realm, yet evidently this woman had the right of bringing her suit before the king; and we may be sure that Joab would take care that nothing unusual was done, lest it should awaken the king's suspicions. But possibly there was a want of method in judicial matters, and very much was left in the hands of the tribal officers, such as we find mentioned in Joshua 24:1.
2 Samuel 14:7
The whole family. This does not mean the kinsfolk, in whom such a disregard of the mother's feelings would have been cruel, but one of the great divisions of the tribe. In 2 Samuel 14:15 she rightly calls them "the people." We have thus a glimpse of the ordinary method of administering the criminal law, and find that each portion of a tribe exercised justice within its own district, being summoned to a general convention by its hereditary chief; and in this case the widow represents it as determined to punish the crime of fratricide with inflexible severity, and we may assume that such was the usual practice. The mother sets before David the other side of the matter—her own loneliness, the wiping out of the father's house, the utter ruin of her home if the last live coal on her hearth be extinguished. And in this way she moves his generous sympathies even to the point of overriding the legal rights of the mishpachah. In modern communities there is always some formal power of softening or entirely remitting penalties required by the letter of the law, and of taking into consideration matters of equity and even of feeling, Which the judge must put aside; and in monarchies this is always the high prerogative of the crown. And we will destroy the heir also. The Syriac has the third person, "And they will destroy even the heir, and quench my coal that is left." This is more natural, but there is greater pungency in the widow putting into the mouth of the heads of the clan, not words which they had actually spoken, but words which showed what would be the real effect of their determination. There is great force and beauty also in the description of her son as the last live coal left to keep the family hearth burning. In another but allied sense David is called "the lamp of Israel".
2 Samuel 14:9
The iniquity be on me. The king had given a general promise to help the widow, but she wants to lead him on to a definite assurance that her son shall be pardoned. Less than this would not help Absalom's case. Instead, therefore, of withdrawing, she represents herself as dissatisfied, and pleads for full forgiveness; and as this would be a violation of the letter of the Levitical Law, in order to remove David's supposed scruples, she takes upon herself the penalty.
2 Samuel 14:11
I pray thee, let the king remember, etc. Thenius says that the woman plays well the part of a talkative gossip, but really she was using the skill for which Joab employed her in bringing the king to give her son a free pardon. Nothing short of this would serve Absalom, who already was so far forgiven as to be in no fear of actual punishment. It is remarkable that David does not hesitate finally to grant this without making further inquiry, though he must have known that a mother's pleas were not likely to be very impartial. Moreover, while in 2 Samuel 14:9 she had acknowledged that there might be a breach of the law in pardoning a murderer, she now appeals to the mercy of Jehovah, who had himself provided limits to the anger of the avenger of blood (see Numbers 35:1-34.). He had thus shown himself to be a God of equity, in whom mercy triumphed over the rigid enactments of law. The words which follow more exactly mean, "That the avenger of blood do not multiply destruction, and that they destroy not my son." Moved by this entreaty, the king grants her son full pardon, under the solemn guaranty of an oath.
2 Samuel 14:13
Against the people of God. Very skilfully, and so as for the meaning only gradually to unfold itself to the king, she represents the people of Israel as the widowed mother, who has lost one son; and David as the stern clan folk who will deprive her of a second though guilty child. But now he is bound by the solemn oath he has taken to her to remit the penalty; for literally the words are, and by the king's speaking this word he is as one guilty, unless he fetch home again his banished one. She claims to have spoken in the name of all Israel, and very probably she really did express their feelings, as Absalom was very popular, and the people saw in Tamar's wrong a sufficient reason for, and vindication of, his crime.
2 Samuel 14:14
Neither doth God, etc. This translation is altogether wrong. What the woman says is, "God taketh not life [Hebrew, 'a soul'] away, but thinketh thoughts not to banish from him his banished one." Her argument is that death is the common lot, and that there is no way of bringing back the dead to life. But though death is thus a universal law, yet God does not kill. Death is not a penalty exacted as a punishment, but, on the contrary, he is merciful, and when a man has sinned, instead of putting him to death, he is ready to forgive and welcome back one rejected because of his wickedness. The application is plain. The king cannot restore Amnon to life, and neither must he kill the guilty Absalom, but must recall his banished son. The argument is full of poetry, and touching to the feelings, but is not very sound. For God requires repentance and change of heart; and there was no sign of contrition on Absalom's part. The power of the woman's appeal lay in what she says of God's nature. He is not intent on punishing, nor bent on carrying out the sentences of the Law in their stern literalness; but he is ready to forgive, and "deviseth devices" to bring home those now separate from him. There is also much that is worth pondering over in the distinction between death as a law of nature, and death as a penalty. The one is necessary, and often gentle and beneficial; but death as a penalty is stern and terrible.
2 Samuel 14:15-17
Now therefore that I am come, etc. The woman now professes to return to her old story as the reason for her importunity, but she repeats it in so eager and indirect a manner as to indicate that it had another meaning. Instead, too, of thanking the king for fully granting her petition, she still flatters and coaxes as one whose purpose was as yet ungained. The king's word is, for rest: it puts an end to vexation, and, by deciding matters, sets the disputants at peace. He is as an angel of God, as God's messenger, whose words have Divine authority; and his office is, not to discern, but "to hear the good and the evil," unmoved, as the Vulgate renders it, by blessing and cursing. His mission is too high for him to be influenced either by good words or by evil, but having patiently heard both sides, and calmly thought over the reasons for and against, he will decide righteously. Finally, she ends with the prayer, And may Jehovah thy God be with thee! By such words she hoped to propitiate the king, who now could not fail to see that the errand of the woman was personal to himself.
2 Samuel 14:19
Is the hand of Joab with thee in all this? The "not," inserted by the Authorized Version, must be omitted, as it alters the meaning. The king really was uncertain, and asked dubiously, whereas the Authorized Version admits only of an. affirmative answer. David had seen the general drift of the woman's meaning, but she had involved it in too much obscurity for him to do more than suspect that she was the mouthpiece of Joab, who was standing by, and whose face may have given signs of a more than ordinary interest in the woman's narrative. She now frankly acknowledges the truth, but skilfully interweaves much flattery in her answer. And her words are far more expressive than what is given in our versions. Literally they are, By thy life, O my lord the king, there is nothing on the right or on the left of all that my lord the king has spoken. His words had gone straight to the mark, without the slightest deviation on either side.
2 Samuel 14:20
To fetch about this form of speech; correctly, as in the Revised Version, to change the face of the matter hath thy servant Joab, etc. The matter was that referred to in 2 Samuel 14:15, which the king now understands to refer to Absalom. For in the earth, translate in the land. The Hebrew has no means of distinguishing the wider and narrower significations of the word; but while the king would be flattered by the supposition that he knew all that happened in his dominions, the assertion that he knew all that was done in all the world was too broad and general to be agreeable. The Authorized Version has been misled by the thought of what an angel might know; but while it was a compliment to ascribe to the king an angel's intelligence in his own sphere, it would have been bad taste and unmeaning to ascribe to him omniscience. Nay, it is an assumption without proof that even an angel knows "all things that are in the earth."
2 Samuel 14:21
I have done this thing. This is an Oriental form of assent, just as we say in English, "It is done," that is, as good as done, now that the order is given. A few manuscripts, nevertheless, support a Massoretic emendation (K'ri), namely, "Thou hast done this: go therefore," etc. But both the Septuagint and Vulgate agree with the written text (K'tib), and it is less flat and commonplace than the supposed emendation.
2 Samuel 14:22
In that the king hath fulfilled the request of his servant. Keil concludes from this that Joab had often interceded for Absalom's pardon, and that this had made the king suspect him of being the prime mover in the affair. But this is to force the meaning, Joab now stood confessed as the person who had brought the woman before the king, and had employed her to gain a hearing. Had he been allowed to plead freely, her intervention would not have been necessary. We have seen, too, that the king's suspicions have been made in the Authorized Version much stronger than they really were. Many commentators also assume that Joab had a friendship for Absalom, but there are few traces of it in his conduct, and more probably Joab was chiefly influenced by politic motives. It was injurious to the well being of the nation that there should be discord and enmity between the king and his eldest son, and that the latter should be living in exile. The K'ri, thy servant, placed in the margin, is to be decidedly rejected, with all other attempts of the Massorites to remove little roughnesses of grammar.
2 Samuel 14:24
Let him turn to his own house, etc. This half forgiveness was unwise, and led to unhappy results. It seems even as if Absalom was a prisoner in his house, as he could not leave it to visit Joab. Still, we must not assume that even kind treatment would have made Absalom a dutiful son, or weaned him from his ambitions purposes. The long plotted revenge, carried out so determinately, gives us a low idea of his character, and probably during these two years of waiting, he had brooded over David's criminal leniency, and regarded it as a justification for his own foul deed. And now, when allowed to come home, but still treated unkindly, thoughts condemnatory of his father's conduct were cherished by him. It seems, too, as if a protracted punishment is always dangerous to the moral character of the criminal. And must we not add another reason? Absalom, we may feel sure, saw with indignation the growing influence of Bathsheba over the king. A granddaughter of Ahithophel, she was sure to be an adept in those intrigues in which the women of a harem pass their time; and even if, upon the whole, we form a favourable judgment upon her character, yet undoubtedly she was a very able woman, and could have no affection for Absalom.
2 Samuel 14:26
Two hundred shekels after the king's weight. Unless the royal shekel was smaller than the shekel of the sanctuary, the weight of Absalom's hair would be six pounds. But we cannot believe that the king's shekel was not full weight; for to imagine this is to suppose that the king had tampered with the coinage; for the shekel was a coin as well as a weight, being originally a fixed quantity of silver. As a matter of fact, David had amassed too much silver to have need of resorting to what is the expedient of feeble and impoverished princes. Nor can we grant an error in the number; for the versions all agree with the Hebrew, so that any mistake must, at all events, be of great antiquity. Josephus says that Solomon's body guard wore long hair powdered with gold dust, and undoubtedly Absalom's hair was something extraordinary (2 Samuel 18:9). But six pounds is so enormous a weight that it is just possible that some ancient copyist has enlarged the number, to make it accord with a legend current among the people, in which this feature of Absalom's beauty had been exaggerated.
2 Samuel 14:27
Three sons. Their names are not given, because they died early (see 2 Samuel 18:18). Of his daughter Tamar, named after her aunt, and, like her, possessed of great beauty, the Septuagint adds that she became the wife of Rehoboam, and mother of Abijah. In 1 Kings 15:2 we are told that Abijah's mother was "Maachah the daughter of Abishalom;" and in 2 Chronicles 13:2 that her name was "Michaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah." We thus gather that Tamar married Uriel, and that it was the granddaughter of Absalom who became Rehoboam's queen. It is strictly in accordance with Hebrew custom to call Absalom's granddaughter his daughter, and, as Uriel was a man of no political importance, he is passed over, as the narrator's object was to show that Abijah's mother was sprung from the handsome and notorious son of David (see also 2 Chronicles 11:20, 2 Chronicles 11:21).
2 Samuel 14:29
Absalom sent for Joab. As Joab had been the means of bringing him back, Absalom naturally regarded him as a friend. But Joab had performed the former service for other reasons, and it does not seem as if he really had any affection for Absalom.
2 Samuel 14:30
Go, and set it on fire. The Hebrew has, Go, and I will set it on fire. Absalom represents himself as doing in his own person what his servants were to be his instruments in accomplishing. The versions, however, agree with the Massorites in substituting the easy phrase in the text. But few languages are so indifferent to persons and numbers as the Hebrew.
2 Samuel 14:31
Then Joab arose. This high-handed proceeding forced Joab to pay the wished for visit. But, while we cannot acquit Absalom of petulance, we must not regard his act as one of angry revenge; had it been so, Joab would have openly resented it, and he was quite capable of making even the heir apparent feel his anger. It was probably intended as a rough practical joke, which taught Joab better manners, and which he must laugh at, though with inward displeasure.
2 Samuel 14:32
If there be (any) iniquity in me, let him kill me. The word "any," wrongly inserted in the Authorized Version, as omitted in the Revised Version. It would have been monstrous for Absalom to profess innocence, with the murder of Amnon fresh in his memory; but the phrase, "if there be iniquity in me," means, "if my offence is still unpardoned." If year after year he was to be treated as a criminal, then he would rather be put to death at once. And Absalom's plea succeeds. Joab, who had been unwilling to visit the prisoner, now consents to act as mediator, reports to David his son's vexation at such long continued coldness, and obtains full pardon.
2 Samuel 14:33
The king kissed Absalom. The father's kiss was, as in the case of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20), the sign of perfect reconciliation, and of the restoration of Absalom to his place as a son, with all its privileges. But God's pardon was immediate (2 Samuel 12:13), while David's was unwilling, and wrung from him. The kiss, we may feel quite sure, was preceded by a conversation between David and his son, the record of which is omitted simply for the sake of brevity. Evidently it satisfied the king, and ended in the kiss which gave the son all he desired. But whatever may have been his professions, Absalom's subsequent conduct is proof that he still regarded Amnon's death as a just retribution for his conduct to Tamar, and secretly cherished a sullen anger against his father for not having punished the wrong doer himself. It was the contrast between his own five years of punishment and the mere verbal reproof which was all that Amnon had to suffer for his shameless conduct, which rankled in Absalom's mind, and gave him an excuse for finally plotting his father's ruin.
2 Samuel 14:1-20
The facts are:
1. Joab, observing that the king's heart was still adverse to Absalom, devised, in order to bring him round to a different feeling, that a wise woman from Tekoah should appear before him and plead a cause.
2. The woman appears before the king, and narrates as facts certain circumstances, namely,
3. David, touched with her story, undertakes to grant her request, whereupon the woman, recognizing the usage in such cases, desires to exonerate the king from blame in this exercise of his clemency.
4. The king giving her a renewed assurance of safety, should any reproach her for thus trading on his clemency, she again, by a reference to God's presence and knowledge, dwells on the royal promise; whereupon he swears most solemnly that the son shall be spared.
5. The woman then ventures to bring the royal concession to her to bear on the case of Absalom, by suggesting that, in granting her request as a just one, he virtually brings blame on himself for cherishing revengeful feeling against a banished one, and he one of the people of God.
6. She fortifies her argument by alluding to man's inevitable mortality and to God's way of dealing with wrong doers, namely, that he devises means of restoring the exile.
7. Reverting to her own suit, she next pretends that the people's desire for vengeance has caused the fear which prompts this her request, believing, as she does, in the king's magnanimity and superior discrimination.
8. David, perceiving that she is presenting a parabolic case, now asks whether Joab is not at the origin of it, which, with an Oriental compliment to his discernment, she candidly admits.
Astuteness in human affairs.
There are a few facts which, put together, seem to warrant the conclusion that David was hostile in mind to Absalom, and that therefore the expression in 2 Samuel 14:1, rendered "toward," should be "adverse to," עַל. These facts are, his evident sorrow for Amnon; the related flight of Absalom and absence for three years, but no mention of any messenger of peace being sent to him; the necessity of the device of the wise woman to awaken kindly interest in the king; and his unwillingness to see Absalom lot two years after having yielded to the force of the argument for his restoration (2 Samuel 14:28). It was in the endeavour to overcome the king's hostility that Joab manifested the remarkable astuteness of his nature. Taking Joab's conduct in this instance as our exemplar, we may get an insight as to what constitutes the astuteness in human affairs which then gave and always has given some men an advantage over others.
I. THERE IS A SHREWD OBSERVATION OF EVENTS. Joab was not a mere military man, whose range of observation was limited by his profession. He had his eyes wide open to notice, in their bearing one on the other, the various incidents in the history of Israel, embracing both the private and public life, king and people. The remark that he perceived that the king's heart was adverse to Absalom is but an index of the man's character. Some generals would simply have confined their attention to military duties, paying little or no heed to what passed in the mind of the king, and what was the effect of his attitude on the nation. The widely and minutely observant eye is a great blessing, and, when under the government of a holy purpose, is a means of personal and relative enrichment. All men astute in affairs have cultivated it with zeal, and its activity and range account in part for the superiority they have acquired over their fellow creatures. Human life is a voluminous book, ever being laid, page by page, before us; and he who can with simple and steady glance note what is there written, and treasure up the record for future use, has procured an advantage, which, in days to come, will be converted into power. "The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness" (Ecclesiastes 2:14).
II. THERE IS A CONSTANT LOOKING AHEAD. This characteristic of Joab is seen in many instances (e.g. 2 Samuel 11:16, 2 Samuel 11:18-20; 2 Samuel 12:28; 2 Samuel 13:19). He was a man who sought to forecast the issue of events at present transpiring, or conditions that might arise to modify his plans. He seemed to see the complications that might arise should Absalom be kept in perpetual exile, both on account of his fine manly bearing being popular with the people, and of the possible strife should the king die, and the exile then return to contend with a nominee of David's. The prophetic forecast is a vision of coming reality; the forecast of astuteness is the clever calculation of the bearings of passing events on what may be, the tracking out by anticipation the working on men and things of the various forces now in operation. In so far as a man possesses this quality, he certainly is a power in society, and his opinions with reference to contingencies, and the provision wherewith to meet them, should have weight. The degree to which some men injure themselves and others because they have no prevision, no power of anticipating events, is often very painful. In so far as this kind of prevision can be cultivated in early years, apart from the cunning with which it is sometimes allied, so will be the gain for the entire life.
III. THERE IS A SEEKING OF PERSONAL ENDS COMBINED WITH PUBLIC GOOD. Selfish cunning looks on, but looks only for self, and cares not for general interests. Astuteness looks on, but seeks deliberately to combine the personal and the general good. The former may be a prominent consideration, but the latter has a real place sincerely given. In Joab we have a striking example of this. Even in the killing of Abner Joab probably felt that the presence of such a rival might bring on troubles in Israel. When, by complicity with David's sin (2 Samuel 11:17), he advanced his own ambition by gaining power over David, he had an idea that the country would be the stronger for king and general to be of one mind. His sending for David to conquer Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:26-30) promoted his own influence over the king, and at the same time gave the nation the advantage of a regal triumph. No doubt he foresaw that, as Absalom was now the eldest son, he might possibly come to the throne, and hence it was important to secure his favour by being the instrument of procuring his recall; at the same time, he saw it would be better for king and people that this family quarrel should be adjusted. There is no astuteness in pure benevolence, and there is no pure benevolence in astuteness. Its characteristic is that it uses a knowledge of men and things, and an anticipation of coming and possible events, in such a way as to secure personal interests in promoting public good. There is too much conscience for pure selfishness, and too little for pure benevolence. These children of the world are certainly wise in their generation (Luke 16:8).
IV. THERE IS A SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE OF HUMAN NATURE, AND OF THE MEANS OF ACTING ON IT. Joab knew men—their foibles and their strength. He had acquired that kind of penetration which comes of having much to do with men of divers temperaments and preferences. He knew how to touch David's natural ambition at Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:28-30). He understood how he would feign displeasure and sorrow at the assault which brought about the death of Uriah, and how the courtiers could be put off suspicion (2 Samuel 12:20, 2 Samuel 12:21). He knew that a story appealing to generous, magnanimous feelings would be sure to touch the king's heart (2 Samuel 14:2). This knowledge of men is an inestimable treasure for practical purposes. Some persons never acquire it, and consequently are at a great disadvantage in the struggle for life. Others avail themselves of it for low, cunning purposes, which are more becoming fiends than men. The astute man, whose character is toned by a moral aim, uses his knowledge to avoid some and secure the favour of others, and also to bring men round to the furtherance of the objects he has in hand. There is not in such a quality the simplicity which sometimes passes for Christian guilelessness; it may even seem, in some cases, to savour of cunning; but there are instances in which it combines the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove. The Apostle Paul was certainly an astute Christian. He knew men, and how to deal with them on Christian principles. His addresses before his judges and his Epistles bear witness.
1. All who wish to be effective in Christian service should endeavour to extend their knowledge of human nature; for it is said of Christ that he knew what was in man (John 2:25).
2. In seeking a more thorough knowledge of human nature, we should avoid the risking the habitual feeling of distrust and suspicion which many of the sad facts of life may well suggest; for our Saviour, who knew all that is in man, the worst and the best, acted in his relations to them on the principle of generous consideration.
3. We should see to it that the intellectual qualities of astuteness are allied in us with Christian qualities that will save us from low cunning and mere utilitarian motive, and make duty the guide of action.
4. It behoves us to make use of all innocent means—"wise women," if need be—parables, or direct argument, to bring others to act in accordance with the will of God.
5. In dealing with men we should endeavour to touch the better springs of action in their nature, and assume that they are prepared to do justly and generously.
Means to bring back the banished.
The woman of Tekoah showed her wisdom in very deftly blending the argument suggested by Joab with thoughts and pleadings designed to meet the successive replies of the king. To gain her point, she proceeded from the assumption of his natural sympathy with a distressed widow up to the overwhelming argument derived from a consideration of God's method in dealing with his children when they are, by reason of their sins, banished from his presence, There may seem to be a weakness in the parallel she implies between the case of her sons and the case of Absalom and Amnon, inasmuch as the death of Amnon was brought about by a deliberate design, while the death of the other was a consequence of a sudden strife; but in reality she was right. The strife of her sons was "in the field," but there may have been antecedents which led to that mortal conflict; and, so far as concerned the sons of David, it was to all intents and purposes a family quarrel, brought on by the wrong done to Absalom in the ruin of his sister, and the wise woman evidently regarded the whole affair as a "strife in the field." Provocation had been given by Amnon, and the anger of Absalom, thus aroused, occasioned his death. Amnon would not have died, but for his attack on the honour of Absalom. Two things in the final argument come home to David.
I. MAN'S CONDITION BY REASON OF SIN IS ONE OF BANISHMENT. As truly as Absalom was now banished from David as a consequence of his transgressions, so man is separated from God. The information given us of the fallen angels is slight, but it amounts to this—that they are banished because of sin (2 Peter 2:4; Jud 2 Peter 1:6). Our first parents were banished from Paradise because of sin. Those who are not welcomed at last to heaven will have to refer the banishment to sin (Matthew 7:23; Matthew 25:45, Matthew 25:46; Revelation 21:27). The state of mankind, while sin is loved and followed, is one of alienation. The carnal mind is not subject to the Law of God. We are as sheep going astray. Apart from any positive decree, the fact of sin constitutes moral severance from God. The child wanders, heedless of the Father's love, and all the moral laws of the universe combine with psychological laws to keep him, while in that state, outside the blessed sphere of fellowship and rest. It was instinctive for Absalom to flee from the face of the king. He banished himself by his deed, and the king could not render it otherwise. It is instinctive for one in sin to rice from the face of the holy God, and the Eternal, though omnipotent, cannot render it otherwise. The constitution of nature renders it inevitable. To suppose that it is an arbitrary arrangement is to imagine an impossibility. No power can make sin equivalent to holiness, and consequently no power can confer on sin the blessedness of the Divine favour.
II. GOD NEVERTHELESS REGARDS THE BANISHED AS HIS. Absalom was the son of David, though an exiled wanderer. David felt for him the mingled sorrow and displeasure of a just and good parent. The change of character and position does not destroy natural relationship. Adam was God's wandering child when, with sad heart, he turned his back on Paradise. The prodigal son is represented as being a son, though wasting his substance with riotous living. Our Saviour, in teaching us how to pray, would have us think of God as our Father. The whole tenor of his life on earth was to cause sinful men to feel that God the Father locks on them as his, even while in rebellion against his will. Had he disowned us in this respect, there would indeed have been no hope. It is much to know, in our sins and errors and dreadful guilt, that we are God's offspring, that he has a proprietary right in us, and thinks of us as only a father can think of his children (Ezekiel 33:11).
III. GOD MAKES PROVISION FOR BRINGING THE BANISHED BACK TO HIMSELF. "He doth devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him." Wonderful words for that age, and from a widow! The great and precious truth is the comfort of myriads all over the world, and the occasion of wonder and joy in heaven. Such an incidental statement reveals to us that the pious of Israel in those times possessed much fuller and clearer knowledge concerning God and his salvation than they sometimes get credit for, or would be inferred from the outlines of national history contained in the Bible. The history is designed to trace the great historic line along which Christ came, and the fact that God was, through the Jewish people, working out a great purpose to be gradually revealed in Christ. We are not told of all the detailed teaching of holy priests and prophets. We may fairly regard this wonderful statement of the widow as an index of truth widely possessed, distinct from the provision of such means of blessing as the brazen serpent and the cities of refuge. There is a twofold sense in which the expression may be understood.
1. God provides means for the redemption of the world. The Mosaic economy was, in some of its institutions, a shadow of the provision that centres in the cross of Christ. Our salvation is of God. If he does not find means to cover sin and influence our evil hearts, there is no hope. We cannot, and are unwilling. He deviseth means (John 3:16). There is an intimation of the wisdom requisite. Sin produces such confusion in the moral sphere, and runs so against the order of government, and lays so strong a hold on the human heart, that only infinite wisdom could find out the way by which we might come back to God. Hence the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the appointment of faith as the condition and of preaching as the instrumentality, are all ascribed to the wisdom and goodness of God. It is by the Church thus saved that the wisdom of God is revealed to all ages (Romans 3:23-26; Romans 4:16; Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians 1:21-30; Ephesians 3:10).
2. God provides means for the restoration of those who backslide from him. By chastisements, by the voice of prophets and conscience, by the pleading of the Spirit, by the varied events of providence causing the erring child to feel how evil and bitter a thing it is to depart from God, he opens a way by which they are brought back again. David knew this. "He restoreth my soul" (Psalms 23:3). How wonderfully wise and gentle these means often are is well known to many who once were as sheep going astray, and had lost the blessedness of fellowship formerly known.
"Return!… O chosen of my love!
Fear not to meet thy beckoning Saviour's view
Long ere I called thee by thy name, I knew
That very treacherously thou wouldst deal;
Now I have seen thy ways, yet I will heal.
Return! Wilt thou yet linger far from me?
My wrath is turned away, I have redeemed thee."
IV. GOD'S WAYS IN DEALING WITH HIS BANISHED ONES ARE A MODEL FOR US. The wise woman had spoken of the ways of God with his banished ones in order to induce David to follow in the same course with respect to Absalom—the implication being that, when once a good man is reminded of the ways of God, he will without further urging act in the same manner. The parallel between the relation of Absalom to David and the relation of a sinner to God may not in every detail be perfect; but there being a resemblance in the substantial facts—banishment of a son because of high-handed deeds of wrong—it follows that there should be a resemblance, in the bearing of the earthly father king to his son, to that of God to his sinful child. The two features of God's bearing toward his own are:
The reference evidently is not to the legal code, which in several cases recognizes capital punishment for certain offences, for ends civil and social, but to the general principle and method of God's dealing with sinful man in his highest relations to himself. He desireth not the death of the sinner, and therefore he, speaking after the manner of men, finds out some way of bringing about a restoration to favour consistent with his own honour and the claims of righteousness. In the New Testament this example is set forth in strong and varied terms (Matthew 5:43-48; Matthew 6:14, Matthew 6:15; Ephesians 4:31, Ephesians 4:32). The fact that there is a model in God's bearing toward us is only half the truth. It is our duty and privilege to act according to it. It is not enough to be kindly disposed. We are to "devise devices"—take the initiative—in seeking to restore those who may have done wrong and merited our displeasure. This is the hard lesson taught by Christ, which even his own people are so slow to learn. When will Christians be as Christ was and act as Christ did? It is often easier to sing hymns, hear sermons, and bow the knee in prayer.
1. The proper course for the poor and sorrowful and oppressed is, after the example of this widow, to have recourse to him who sitteth as King in Zion; for his ear is ever open to their cry, and there is an open way of access to his throne.
2. In all our approaches to the supreme throne we may, with more confidence than was displayed by this widow in David, act on the assumption of a mercy and wisdom that never fail.
3. It is not only a solace to the weary heart, but a sure means of help in our domestic cares, if we bring them before the notice of our God.
4. We see how often the best and most exalted of men, in their conduct and feelings, come far short of the character they should manifest, and how they may require even the teaching which comes from the spirit and deeds of the poor and troubled to raise them to a higher level of life.
5. It is possible for good men to be kind and generous towards others, and at the same time be unaware, till forced to see it, that there are features in their personal conduct day by day not in accord with the general generosity which they recognize and display.
6. We need to be reminded that the death of those we have cared for, should it come about while we are not acting kindly toward them (2 Samuel 14:14), is an unalterable event, a change which renders acts of kindness impossible—as water spilt on the ground cannot be gathered up again; and consequently we should seize passing opportunities of blessing them.
7. The sinful state of man is as unnatural as is exile to a king's son, and should ever be so represented (Isaiah 1:2, Isaiah 1:3).
8. All thanks and praise are due to God, in that he needed not any one to procure our restoration; all is of his own eternal love and free grace.
9. We should distinguish between the human setting of a truth and the truth itself. To "devise a means" is a human way of expressing the truth that God, from the beginning, before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8), ordained and arranged for our salvation, but that we see the prearrangement coming into form subsequent to the advent of sin, and think of it as being devised to meet that event after its occurrence. We say, "the sun rises," but it does not. Our forms of expression consequent on the appearance of things to us is not the exact utterance of absolute truth.
10. The force of a Divine example, when brought to bear on men who recognize the government of God, will often compel conviction when other means fail.
2 Samuel 14:21-33
The facts are:
1. David, referring to the promise he had made, sends Joab to bring Absalom from Geshur, Joab expressing in lowly form his thanks for the king's gracious attention to his request.
2. On Absalom's return he is ordered to abide in his own house, and not to see the king's face.
3. The personal beauty of Absalom is famous throughout Israel, and of his four children the only daughter is also reputed to be fair.
4. For two years Absalom remains in Jerusalem without seeing the king, whereupon he becomes dissatisfied, and sends to Joab, hoping, to send him to the king.
5. Joab, for some unexpressed reason, declines to give heed to the message, and, as a consequence, Absalom orders his field of barley to be burnt.
6. This event bringing Joab to him, Absalom remonstrates with the king through him against this semi-imprisonment, and demands to see the king.
7. The king yielding to the request, Absalom presents himself, and receives his father's kiss. Whatever may have been the secret causes operating on both sides, the course of the narrative clearly shows us that, although Joab seemed to have gained his point through the wise woman of Tekoah, yet the restoration of Absalom to his father's love and confidence was not perfect. There are, in the account here given of the relation of David to his son, illustrations of several important truths or recurring incidents of human life.
I. CONCESSIONS WITH RESERVATIONS. In the interview with Joab (2 Samuel 14:21, 2 Samuel 14:22) David distinctly intimated to him that he had "done this thing"—consented to Absalom's return in consequence of having been caught within the coils of the parabolic pleadings of the wise woman whom he had employed for that purpose. Apart from the force of the argument, the king was no doubt willing in some degree to comply with the request of so influential a man, especially as he knew more of his own life than was comfortable to reflect upon. Joab regarded it as a work of special grace that his wishes were thus considered; and most probably he went to Geshur to fetch Absalom, with cheerful expectations of a speedy removal of family difficulties. But although the king kept the letter of his concession in Absalom's permitted return, it is evident that he either repented of his original decision or had made, when giving it, a private reservation that, though returned, he should not give him a hearty welcome. Both Joab and Absalom (2 Samuel 14:24) appear to have reported themselves at the king's house, in expectation of full restoration, for he "returned to his own house." Such concessions as this are valuable in so far as they confer privileges otherwise not attainable, but they lose much value in being extracted by pressure and especially by the reservation which becomes subsequently known. It had been well, perhaps, had conditions been stated from the first. If possible, our agreements and promises should be expressed in terms that cover all we think and intend. The mutual confidence of society depends on the cultivation of frankness and candour. The first inconvenience is the least. The promises of God are "yea and Amen." There is no disappointing reservation for us when we arrive at the palace of the great King.
II. EMBARRASSMENTS OF PATERNAL CONDUCT. Great consideration is due to David when we endeavour to form an estimate of his conduct. His position, brought on, it is true, by his own sad sin, was most perplexing. On the one side there was
Then on the other side there was
III. THE DISCIPLINE OF PARTIAL PRIVILEGE. It is a severe but wholesome discipline for Absalom to be kept two years without full restoration. Possibly David may have ascertained from others that his temper was not much improved, and that he did not show the signs of penitence or regret becoming one who looked for full restoration to paternal favour. Then, also, David could not but remember that, with his own restoration to God, there was attached a temporal chastisement, which, while it did not touch the reality of the Divine forgiveness, was designed for public good; and possibly he may have thought that the privilege of returning to Jerusalem only might be accepted as a sign of actual personal forgiveness, and at the same time put Absalom under wholesome restraints. This kind of discipline does exist in human affairs and in Church life. Children and men are caused to feel that some inconvenience has resulted from their conduct, even though they are no longer punished. In so far as we fall in with the natural or designed tendency of this discipline, we may turn its annoyances into a means of recovery from the moral failings which have been our bane.
IV. THE PERILS OF PERSONAL ATTRACTIONS. The beauty of Absalom is referred to in such a way as to suggest that he was not only aware of it, but that it exercised a fascinating influence over others, and tended to gather around him persons likely to be influenced by personal appearances, and therefore not the most helpful to one who needs the stimulus and support of high moral principles. Personal beauty is a gift of God, and, were not sin in the world as a disturbing element in the physical and moral development of the human race, the probability is that the average beauty of form and expression would equal or surpass what is now regarded as exceptional. Unfortunately, it is sometimes allied to a vain and frivolous spirit, and in that case it becomes a snare. There are instances in which beauty has been associated with the devout earnest spirit of religion, and has been made tributary to obtaining a hallowed influence over others. Special prayer and strong safeguards are required for our sons and daughters whoso personal attractions may lay them open to the flatteries and friendships of the unwise and unholy.
V. THE INTIMATIONS OF DANGEROUS TENDENCIES. It was natural for Absalom to be restless under the restraint of two years, though, had his spirit been very lowly and penitent, he would have kept it within due limits. The treatment of Joab was an intimation that the daring temper which slew Amnon was still there. He who could set a field of barley on fire in order to get his messages attended to was capable, unless the tendencies were checked, of producing a more serious conflagration. The presence within a young man of strong passions, a violent temper, a hatred of restraint or love of pleasure, is a sign of danger. It is in the nature of forces to work their way outward. If we say, "the child is father to the man," we may also say that the moral forces within are the creators of the life without. Unless strong counter-influences are brought to bear to neutralize their action or to extirpate them, they will gain power by being daily cherished, and a free, jovial, handsome Absalom may become the notorious rebel, whose hand turns against his own father. Human life exhibits such developments still. Young men should interrogate their own nature, and fairly face the moral dangers that may lie there, before their power renders introspection and suppression difficult if not impossible. Those who have charge of the young should note signs of struggling forces, and adapt the moral education according to the individual requirement.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
2 Samuel 14:1-20
The woman of Tekoah.
1. In David "the king" we hero see that fatherly affection may come into conflict with regal justice. He must have perceived the ill effects of sparing Amnon, and felt constrained to punish Absalom. But his grief and resentment were mitigated by the lapse of time (2 Samuel 13:39). Nevertheless, though prompted by natural affection to recall his son, he was deterred from doing so by political and judicial considerations. And to overcome his reluctance a stratagem was devised, which, as the sequel shows, was only too successful. For by his weakness towards Absalom "he became guilty of the further dissolution of the theocratic rule in his house and in his kingdom" (Erdmann).
2. In Joab "the son of Zerniah" (2 Samuel 3:39) we see that a man may promote another's interest out of regard for his own (2 Samuel 3:22-30; 2 Samuel 11:16-21). "He may have been induced to take these steps by his personal attachment to Absalom, but the principal reason no doubt was that Absalom had the best prospect of succeeding to the throne, and Joab thought this the best way to secure himself from punishment for the murder which he had committed. But the issue of events frustrated all such hopes. Absalom did not succeed to the throne, Joab did not escape punishment, and David was severely chastised for his weakness and injustice" (Keil). "Joab formed a project by which the king, in his very capacity of chief judge, should find the glimmering fire of parental love suddenly fanned into a burning flame" (Ewald).
3. In the "wise woman" of Tekoah we see that skilful persuasion may so work upon natural feeling as to induce a course which is neither expedient nor just. The cleverness, insight, readiness of speech, tact, boldness mingled with caution, and perseverance, which she displayed (under the direction of Joab, who perhaps "stood by at some distance whilst she addressed herself to the king," 2 Samuel 14:21) are remarkable. Such qualities may be employed for a good or an evil purpose. In contrast with the reproof of Nathan, her persuasion
I. AN AFFECTING BUT FICTITIOUS APPEAL. (2 Samuel 14:4-11.) "And the woman of Tekoah came to the king," etc; making her appeal for help in an acted parable, like that of Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-4). "Parables sped well with David; one drew him to repent of his own sin, another to remit Absalom's punishment" (Hall). This parable of the hapless son, or the avengers of blood, was intended, adapted, and employed:
1. To excite compassion toward the unfortunate: a son who had slain his brother "unawares" Numbers 35:11) in the field, and whose life was imperilled by the avengers, "the old family" (Numbers 35:7); and his widowed mother, whose only stay and comfort he was, whose "live coal which is left" would be quenched, and whose husband's "name and posterity" would be destroyed. "The power of the discourse lies in the fact that they are represented as already doing what their words show to be their purpose."
2. To procure protection against the avengers; who, according to ancient custom, sought to take his life (2 Samuel 3:22-30); their conduct being portrayed as persistently pitiless (Numbers 35:11), "and actuated, not so much by a wish to observe the Law, as by covetousness and a desire to share the inheritance among themselves" (Kirkpatrick); obscurely suggestive of the hostility exhibited toward Absalom. "Her circumstances (as a widow and living at some distance from Jerusalem, which rendered the case difficult to be readily inquired into), her mournful tale, her widow's weeds, her aged person, and her impressive manner, all combined to make one united impression on the king's heart" (A. Clarke). "In all this she intended to frame a case as like to David's as she could do; by determining which in her favour, he might judge how much more reasonable it was to preserve Absalom. But there was a wide difference between her case and his, however plausible soever their likeness might appear" (Patrick).
3. To obtain assurance of preservation from the king; which was given at first as an indefinite promise (Numbers 35:8), afterwards (through her importunity) in a more definite engagement (Numbers 35:10), and finally confirmed by an oath (Numbers 35:11). "Had David first proved and inquired into the matter which with cunning and deceit was brought before him, he would not have given assurance with an oath" (Schlier). "We should learn from David's example to be more guarded over all our feelings and affections, even such as are in their proper degree essential to a religious character" (Lindsay). "Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause" (Exodus 23:3).
II. AN EFFECTIVE BUT FALLACIOUS ARGUMENT (Numbers 35:13, Numbers 35:14); based upon the assumed resemblance between the case of the hapless son, of whom she had spoken, and that of Absalom, to whom she alluded as fully as she might venture. For her appeal had "a double sense," or twofold purpose—one clear, immediate, feigned, subordinate; the other dark, ultimate, real, supreme; and to the latter she now comes. "And why dost thou think [devise] such a thing as that of which I am now permitted to speak] against people of God? And by the king's speaking this word ['As Jehovah liveth,' etc; Numbers 35:11] he is as one that is guilty [or, 'self-condemned'], in that the king does not bring back his banished one." "My banished one!" he must have thought, as the main object of the woman's appeal flashed upon him. But she went on: "For we must die ['shall surely die,' Genesis 2:17], and are as water poured out on the ground that is not gathered up. And God takes not away a soul [nephesh, equivalent to 'individual life'], but thinks thoughts [devises devices] to the end that he may not banish from him [utterly] a banished one." She thus sought to persuade the king to recall his son by:
1. The obligation of his oath, in which "he had acknowledged the possibility of an exception to the general rule of punishment for murder;" sworn to save her son, who had killed his brother under severe provocation; and was consistently bound to spare and restore his own son in similar circumstances. But the difference between them, here kept out of view, was fatal to the argument. Absalom's crime was deliberately planned, executed by his servants under his order, and seen by many witnesses.
2. The welfare of the people of God, involved in the preservation and return of the heir to the throne. Although the king's sons and the whole court were against Absalom (Genesis 2:7), a large party of the people was in his favour. But the general welfare would have been more promoted by his just punishment, or continuance in exile, than by his restoration, as the subsequent history shows.
3. The mortality of men—the inevitable and irreparable decease of Amnon, Absalom, the king himself; the consideration of which should induce compassion and speedy help, lest it should be too late. But "even compassion, amiable as it is, will not justify our violation of the Divine Law, or neglecting the important duties of our station" (Scott).
4. The clemency of God; in forbearance and long suffering toward sinful men, and devising means for their restoration to his presence; such as David himself had experienced (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalms 51:11). His example should be imitated. But his forbearance is limited—he pardons only those who repent, and punishes the guilty; and for the king to spare the guilty on insufficient grounds, or pardon the impenitent, would be to harden the wicked in their wickedness, and to act contrary to the purpose, for which he is made "an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil." The reasons assigned, though excellent in themselves, were inapplicable and fallacious. The noblest truths may be perverted to a bad purpose. A weak argument appears strong to one who is already disposed to accept its conclusion; and is a sufficient excuse for a course which he is inclined to pursue. By the manner in which her words were received by the king, the "wise woman" perceived that her point was practically gained; enough had been said, and leaving it to work its effect on his mind, she returned to the ostensible occasion of her petition for help; and "now she would go home happy (she said), as if this reference to the king's behaviour had been only the casual chatter of a talkative woman" (P. Thomson).
III. AN APPROPRIATE BUT FLATTERING APOLOGY for intrusion on the king (Genesis 2:15-20); expressive of:
1. The anxious fear and hope with which she had been impelled to make her request (Genesis 2:15).
2. The joyful anticipation and grateful assurance of rest which she now felt (Genesis 2:16, Genesis 2:17).
3. Devout admiration and praise of the king, on account of his wisdom in judgment; with a prayer for his prosperity: "May Jehovah thy God be with thee!" Fully acknowledging that, as the king surmised, she had acted under the direction of Joab," in order to bring round the face [aspect] of the matter" (to alter Absalom's relation to his father), she again commends the discernment of the king: "My lord is wise," etc. (Genesis 2:18-20). "When we are most commended for our discernment we generally act most foolishly; for those very praises cloud and pervert the judgment'" (Scott). "And the king said unto Joab, Behold now, I have done this thing: go and bring the young man Absalom back" (Genesis 2:21). "The feelings of the father triumphed over the duty of the king, who, as supreme magistrate, was bound to execute impartial justice on every murderer, by the express Law of God (Genesis 9:9; Numbers 35:30, 81), which he had no power to dispense with (Deuteronomy 18:18; Joshua 1:8; 1 Samuel 10:25)" (Jamieson). Although neither the end of the woman's address nor some of the means are employed can be approved, yet much may be learnt from it concerning the art of persuasion; e.g. the importance of
2 Samuel 14:14
As water spilt upon the ground.
Water is a gift of God, very precious, especially in lands where it is scarce, and often longed for as a means of quenching thirst, renewing strength, and preserving life (2 Samuel 23:15; Psalms 63:1). But it may be thrown away, poured out and lost, by design or accident, through the overturning or fracture of the vessel in which it is contained. Human life, also, is a Divine gift, precious beyond all earthly possessions. But it is contained in "a body of fragile clay" 2 Corinthians 4:7), which is sooner or later destroyed like "the pitcher shattered at the well" Ecclesiastes 12:6); and thus "we are as water," etc. We have here—
I. AS IMPRESSIVE ASPECT OF DEATH.
1. It must take place in all, without exception. "It is appointed," etc. (Genesis 3:19; Romans 5:12; Hebrews 9:27).
2. It may occur to each of us at any moment (1 Samuel 10:3).
3. It puts an end to the useful service which might have been rendered. Only while the water remains in the vessel can it be of immediate use.
4. It cannot by any possibility be repaired, or "gathered up again." "As the waters fail from the sea," etc. (Job 14:11; Job 7:10); "as waters melt away," etc. (Psalms 58:7; Psalms 39:13; Psalms 49:7-10; Psalms 103:16). "Death is of all things the most terrible, for it is the end" (Aristotle).
"What is your life? 'Tis a delicate shell,
Cast up by Eternity's flow;
On Time's bank of quicksand to dwell,
A moment its loveliness show.
Returned to its element grand
Is the billow that brought it on shore;
See, another is washing the strand,
And the beautiful shell is no more."
II. AN INSTRUCTIVE ADMONITION FOR LIFE. Is it so? Then:
1. Restrain immoderate indulgence in sorrow, "the grief that saps the mind, for those on earth we see no more." No weeping, anger, nor endeavour can bring back Amnon (2 Samuel 12:23). Accept calmly what cannot be altered.
2. Repress improper feelings of resentment toward others. Even though it he just, it should not be perpetual (Ephesians 4:26). They and you alike must die and pass away. "Be reconciled."
3. Regard all around you with sympathy and kindly affection. Before tomorrow they may be gone.
4. Redeem the rest of your time "in the flesh," by prompt, diligent, zealous use of every opportunity of serving God and doing good, according to the pattern of long suffering and benevolence which he has set before you, in "not taking away a soul," etc. (latter part of the verse).
1. The death of the body is not the end of the man. He disappears here only to appear elsewhere as water in the cloud; gathered "with sinners" (Psalms 26:9; Matthew 13:30) or with saints (Genesis 25:8; 2 Kings 22:20; 2 Thessalonians 2:1).
2. The life which a man leads "in the body" determines his condition in the unseen and eternal world.
3. The conviction of these things makes the view of death more impressive, and should make the course of life more just, merciful, and devout.—D.
2 Samuel 14:14
God's restoration of his banished.
It is hardly possible for a father to be so completely estranged from his child as to lose all affection for him. He may have just cause to feel angry with him; but, with absence and the lapse of time, his anger dies away, and his natural affection springs up afresh. It was thus with David in relation to his son Absalom. Yet he hesitated to give way to his parental feelings, to set aside the claims of public justice, and exercise his royal prerogative of showing mercy toward the guilty. And to induce him to do this it was urged (among the means devised for the purpose) that God, who has ordained that men should die, permits them to live, and even devises means for their restoration. Was not this an indication that Absalom should be spared? Was not this an example which the king should imitate? It bus been supposed that there is allusion to the cities of refuge (Numbers 35:9-34; Deuteronomy 19:6; Joshua 20:1-9.), where the manslayer, "though banished from his habitation for a time, was not quite expelled, but might return again after the death of the high priest" (Patrick). The argument used was not properly applicable to the particular instance, but the truth expressed is profound and striking. Notice—
I. THE ALIENATED CONDITION OF MAN. "Banished;" estranged, separated, "cast out of God's presence," away from his sanctuary, fellowship, and inheritance (2 Samuel 14:16), in "a far country" (Luke 15:13). That this is the moral and spiritual state of man (naturally and generally) is not only testified by the Scriptures, but also by his own heart and conscience; his aversion and dread with respect to God. It is:
1. Voluntary. By his own free act Absalom broke the Law, incurred the displeasure, fled from the face of his father, and continued in exile. So has it been with man from the first.
"The nature with its Maker thus conjoin'd,
Created first was blameless, pure, and good;
But, through itself alone, was driven forth
From Paradise, because it had eschew'd
The way of truth and life, to evil turn'd?
(Dante, 'Paradise,' 7.)
Of his own accord he departs from God and seeks to hide himself from him.
2. Unhappy. Absalom found friendly associates and material comforts in Geshur, but he could not have been at home there, and must have carried in his breast a restless and troubled heart. And it is impossible for him who departs from God, and tries to live without him, to possess inward rest and peace. The soul is made for God: how can it be satisfied with anything short of him? Oh the misery that multitudes at this moment endure because they have forsaken the "Fountain of living waters," and seek their happiness where it can never be found!
3. Perilous. The sinner is under condemnation. The "avengers of blood" are on his track. Life is precarious and must soon terminate, with all its alleviations, privileges, and possibilities; "and after that the judgment," when voluntary exile becomes involuntary, partial unhappiness complete wretchedness, temporary estrangement "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
4. Not hopeless. Absalom was still a son, though a disobedient one; still "in the land of the living;" and might entertain the hope that, through his father's affection, his banishment would not be perpetual. However far man may have wandered from the Father's house, he is still an object of the Father's love. "Behold, all souls are mine," etc.; "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth" etc. (Ezekiel 18:4, Ezekiel 18:32; Ezekiel 23:11); "Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope" (Zechariah 9:12).
II. THE MERCIFUL MEANS DEVISED FOR HIS RESTORATION. Man's misery is from himself, but "salvation is of the Lord" (Psalms 3:8; Jonah 2:9). It is effected by and through:
1. The long patience and forbearance which he shows toward the transgressor; restraining the outgoings of wrath (Luke 13:7), sparing forfeited life, affording space for repentance, "making his sun to rise," etc. (Matthew 5:45). "The long suffering of our Lord is salvation" (2 Peter 3:15; Romans 2:4).
2. An extraordinary provision, whereby the way of his return is opened, consistently with the requirements of eternal righteousness, and his fatherly love is revealed in the highest degree. By restoring Absalom without due regard to the demands of justice, and even without repentance, David weakened his own authority as king, contributed to a popular rebellion, and well nigh lost his throne and life. But in the method which God in infinite wisdom has "devised" for the restoration of man, justice and mercy are alike manifested, an adequate ground or reason for forgiveness is furnished, sinners are "put in the capacity of salvation" (Butler), and the Law is magnified and "established" (Romans 3:19-31). "God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8); "redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13); "suffered for sins once, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18).
Man in himself had ever lacked the means
Of satisfaction …. Then behoved
That God should by his own ways lead him back
Unto the life from whence he fell, restored;
By both his ways, I mean, or one alone.
But since the deed is ever prized the more,
The more the doer's good intent appears;
Goodness celestial, whose broad signature
Is on the universe, of all its ways
To raise ye up, was fain to leave out none.
Nor aught so vast or so magnificent,
Either for him who gave or who received,
Between the last night and the primal day,
Was or can be. For God more bounty show'd,
Giving himself to make man capable
Of his return to life, then had the terms
Been mere and unconditional release.
And for his justice, every method else
Were all too scant, had not the Son of God
Humbled himself to put on mortal flesh."
(Dante, 'Paradise,' 7.)
3. Numerous messages, efficient motives, and gracious influences, in connection with that provision, to dispose him to avail himself thereof: the Word, with its invitations, warnings, appeals to reason, affection, conscience, hope and fear; messengers (2 Samuel 14:31)—ministers and teachers of the Word; above all, the Holy Spirit, striving with sinners, convicting of sin, etc. (John 16:8), and renewing the heart in righteousness.
4. The end of all is reconciliation (2 Samuel 14:33), filial fellowship, perfect,, holiness, and endless blessedness in God. "Return;" "Be ye reconciled to God."
1. How wonderful is "the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man" (Titus 3:4)]
2. How entirely is man his own destroyer (Hosea 13:9)!
3. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another;" and to devise means in order that no "banished one" may be utterly banished from him.
"Oh let the dead now hear thy voice;
Now let thy banished ones rejoice."
2 Samuel 14:20
"My lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God," etc. Commendation is often proper and beneficial (2 Samuel 2:5-7). But flattery (false, partial, or extravagant praise) is always improper and pernicious. This language was not mere Oriental compliment, but a flattering speech, intended to make the king pleased with himself in doing what he was urged to do.
1. It is agreeable to most persons when skilfully administered. "Flattery and the flatterer are pleasant; since the flatterer is a seeming admirer and a seeming friend" (Aristotle, 'Rhetoric').
"When I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does; being then most flattered."
"We believe that we hate flattery, when all which we hate is the awkwardness of the flatterer" (La Rochefoucault).
2. It assumes various forms, and is usually obsequious and disingenuous; is direct or indirect; is shown in praising personal qualities, advantages, achievements, etc; giving "flattering titles" (Job 32:1-22 :31-32), "good Master", "my Lord," etc. Making or suggesting favourable comparisons, it may be, by detracting from the good name of others (2 Samuel 4:8). It is sometimes sincere; but "people generally despise where they flatter and cringe to those they would gladly surpass."
3. It is commonly designed by those who employ it to serve some interest of their own (2 Samuel 14:22). Hence it is so frequently used to gain the favour of kings, and such as possess authority, influence, or wealth (Jud 2 Samuel 1:16). When Alexander the Great was hit with an arrow in the siege of an Indian city, and the wound would not heal, he said to his flatterers, "You say that I am Jupiter's 'son, but this wound cries that I am but man."
4. It blinds those who listen to it to their defects, ministers to their vanity, and fills them with perilous self-complacency, "It's the death of virtue."
5. It also induces them to pursue erroneous and sinful courses, which they might otherwise have avoided. "A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet" (Proverbs 29:5; Proverbs 26:28). "Ah! how good might many men have been who are now exceedingly bad had they not sold their ears to flatterers! Flatterers are soul murderers. Flattery is the very spring and mother of all impiety. It put our first parent on tasting the forbidden fruit. It put Absalom upon dethroning his father. It blows the trumpet and draws poor souls into rebellion against God, as Sheba drew Israel to rebel against David. It makes men call evil good and good evil, darkness light and light darkness" (T. Brooks).
6. It is only less culpable in those who listen to it than in those who employ it. They are willing captives. "As a wolf resembles a dog, so doth a flatterer a friend. Take heed, therefore, that, instead of guardian dogs, you do not incautiously admit ravening wolves" (Epictetus).
7. Its folly and guilt are sometimes discovered too late; when its ruinous consequences cannot be repaired (2 Samuel 15:13; Psalms 12:3; Acts 12:23).—D.
2 Samuel 14:25
Physical beauty. "And in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty," etc. (see 1 Samuel 16:7, 1 Samuel 16:12; 2 Samuel 11:2; 2 Samuel 13:1; 2 Samuel 13:27).
"Of all God's works, which do this world adorn,
There is no one more fair and excellent
Than is man's body, both for power and form,
Whilst it is kept in sober government;
But none than it more foul and indecent,
Distempered through misrule anti passions base;
It grows a monster, and incontinent
Doth lose its dignity and native grace:
Behold, who list, both one and other in this place"
(Spenser, 'The Faerie Queens,' canto IX.)
I. AN ADMIRED ENDOWMENT; involuntarily conferred, without personal effort and beyond human control (Matthew 5:36; Matthew 6:27); yet one of the most personal and enviable of human possessions. "Beauty is a thing of great recommendation in the correspondence amongst men; it is the principal means of acquiring the favour and good liking of one another, and no man is so barbarous and morose that does not perceive himself in some sort struck with its attraction" (Montaigne). "Beauty is, indeed, a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked".
"A beautiful and fair young man is he;
In all his body is no blemish seen;
His hair is like the wire of David's harp,
That twines about his bright and ivory neck;
In Israel is not such a goodly man."
II. A SUPERFICIAL DISTINCTION; shadowing forth, indeed, beauty of mind and character; and heightened by the latter, when present; but often, in fact, disassociated from it; and covering, "skin deep," dreadful moral deformity (Proverbs 11:22). Absalom was beautiful externally, but not "beautiful within," Wisdom, truth, humility, modesty, purity, patience, meekness, piety, mercy; charity,—these constitute inward, substantial, spiritual beauty, "the beauty of holiness," the product of the grace and the reflection of the beauty and glory of the Lord (Psalms 90:17; Psalms 149:4); in which he delights, and which all persons may acquire (Ephesians 4:24; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 2:5). "Whatsoever things are lovely, etc. (Philippians 4:8). "The graces of the Spirit are the richest ornaments of the reasonable creature."
III. A DANGEROUS INFLUENCE; on its possessors, making them vain and presumptuous, and exposing them to many temptations; on its beholders, directing undue attention to "the outward appearance," disposing to excuses for mental and moral defects, alluring to evil (2 Samuel 15:1-6). The beauty of Absalom was a snare to the people. "His hair was his halter" (2 Samuel 18:9).
"Where is the virtue of thy beauty, Absolon?
Will any of us here now fear thy locks,
Or be in love with that thy golden hair,
Wherein was wrapt rebellion 'gainst thy sire,
And words prepared to stop thy father's breath?"
IV. A TRANSIENT POSSESSION. Precarious, short lived, inevitably turning to dust (2 Samuel 14:14); "a fading flower" (Isaiah 28:4; Isaiah 40:8; Psalms 39:11), whose "root is ever in its grave."
"A doubtful good, a gloss, a glass, a flower,
Lost, faded, broken, dead, within an hour."
"So have I seen a rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and at first it was fair as the morning, and full with the dew of heaven as a lamb's fleece; but when a ruder breath had forced open its virgin modesty, and dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on darkness, and to decline to softness and the symptoms of a sickly age; it bowed the head, and broke its stalk, and at night, having lost some of its leaves and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and outworn faces. The same is the portion of every man and every woman" (Jeremy Taylor, 'Holy Dying'). But goodness is immortal; it "fadeth not away" (1 Peter 1:4). "Beauty belongs to youth and dies with it, but the odours of piety survive death and perfume the tomb."
"Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust."
2 Samuel 14:28-33
Restored, but act reformed.
"Wherefore am I come from Geshur? it were better for me that I were there still; and now I will see the king's face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him put me to death" (2 Samuel 14:31). While in Geshur Absalom showed no repentance for his crime; sought no forgiveness of it; rather justified himself in its commission. On this account, perhaps, David would not permit him, when recalled, to see his face, but ordered him to remain at his own house (2 Samuel 14:24); testifying his abhorrence of the crime, and desiring "to carry further the discipline of approval, to wait till his son was more manifestly penitent." If Absalom had been in a proper frame of mind, it might have been beneficial; as it was, "this half forgiveness was an imprudent measure, really worse than no forgiveness at all, and bore very bitter fruit" (Keil). "The end showed how fatal the policy of expectation was, how terribly it added bitterness to the sense of alienation that had already been growing only too strong within him" (Plumptre)."A flash of his old kingliness blazes out for a moment in his refusal to see his son. But even that slight satisfaction to justice vanishes as soon as Joab chooses to insist that Absalom shall return to court. He seems to have no will of his own. He has become a mere tool in the hands of his fierce general; and Joab's hold upon him was his complicity in Uriah's murder. Thus at every step he was dogged by the consequences of his crime, even though it was pardoned sin" (Maclaren). Yet immediate and full forgiveness might have failed to subdue the heart of Absalom, and win filial confidence and affection. "Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness," etc. (Isaiah 26:10). In his spirit and conduct we observe:
1. Ingratitude for the favour shown toward him. He estimated it lightly (knowing little of the fatherly love from which it proceeded), save as a means to his own honour and advancement. Than ingratitude nothing is more odious.
2. Impatience, fretfulness, discontent under restraint and chastisement; which a true penitent would have endured humbly and cheerfully; increased as time passed away (two years) and no further sign of royal favour appeared.
3. Presumption on account of the privilege already granted to him, but which be repudiated as worthless, unless followed by other privileges, such as became his royal birth and involved his reinstatement in his former dignity. He looked upon himself as rightful heir to the throne. He may, however, have suspected a rival in the youthful Solomon (now six or eight years old), and feared the influence of Bathsheba on behalf of her son.
4. Resentment and revenge for the neglect, contempt, and wrong which (as he conceived) he suffered (2 Samuel 14:29). "See, Joab's field is beside mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire" (2 Samuel 14:30). This appears to have been an act of passion rather than of policy. Joab's slackness, in contrast with his former zeal (2 Samuel 14:23), was doubtless due to his desire to make the most of his influence with the king, to constrain Absalom humbly to entreat his intercession, and so to increase his feeling of dependence and obligation; it was only when he perceived that he had to deal with "a character wild, impulsive, and passionate," that he deemed it necessary again to alter his tactics.
5. Wilfulness in seeking the attainment of his ambitious aims. "I will see the king's face." His presence at court was essential to the accomplishment of the daring design upon the crown, which he may have already formed; and he would brook no denial. Possibly his bereavement (2 Samuel 14:27; 2 Samuel 18:18) intensified his determination. "The strongest yearning of an Israelite's heart was thrown back upon itself, after a short-lived joy, and his feelings towards his own father were turned to bitterness and hate."
6. Defiance of conviction of guilt. "If there be any iniquity in me," etc. "The manner in which he sought to obtain forgiveness by force manifested an evident spirit of defiance, by which, with the well known mildness of David's temper, he hoped to attain his object, and in fact did attain it" (Keil). He also doubtless relied on the support of a party of the people, dissatisfied with the king's severity toward him, and favourable to his complete restoration. Even Joab yielded for the present to his imperious and resolute demand.
7. Heartless formality. "He bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king: and the king kissed Absalom" (2 Samuel 14:33). His heart was not humbled, but lifted up in pride; yet he openly received the pledge of reconciliation; and herein David's blindness and weakness reached their culmination. "He did not kiss the ill will out of the heart of his son" (Krummacher). "When parents and rulers countenance such imperious characters, they will soon experience the most fatal effects." (Here is another "meeting of three remarkable men," 1 Samuel 19:22-24, Joab, Absalom, David.) Remarks.
1. No hard and impenitent heart is prepared to receive and profit by forgiveness.
2. Such a heart is capable of turning the greatest benefits into means of further and more daring rebellion; and "treasures up for itself wrath against the day of wrath."
3. Whilst "God is good and ready to forgive," he grants forgiveness only to those "who call upon him" in humility and sincerity, confessing and forsaking their sins (Psalms 86:5; Psalms 138:6; Psalms 32:5; Psalms 51:17).—D.
HOMILIES BY G. WOOD
2 Samuel 14:11
Remembrance of God.
"Let the king remember the Lord thy God." This passage occurs in a singular bit of history, which illustrates, inter alia, the carefulness which even the most favoured and powerful of the subjects of an Eastern monarch must at times exercise in seeking to influence him; and, on the other hand, the accessibility of such a monarch to the meanest subject desirous of his interposition. Perhaps, however, this "wise woman" may have belonged to a class which, like prophets, could (or would) take special liberties with royal and other great persons. This woman showed herself "wise" in her management of the case which Joab had entrusted to her. It was after she had succeeded in making a favourable impression upon David, that, desirous of a more solemn and specific assurance, she addressed him in the words of the text. This appeal had the desired effect: the king declared with an oath that no harm should be done to her son, whom she had represented as in danger of death from having killed his brother. The exhortation is over suitable and seasonable.
I. THE REMEMBRANCE OF GOD WHICH SHOULD BE PRACTISED. It includes mindfulness of:
1. His existence and perfections.
2. His relation to the universe and to ourselves—Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Redeemer, Father of spirits, etc.
3. His revelations and commands.
4. His goodness to us. What he has done, is doing, and has promised to do.
II. WHEN WE SHOULD REMEMBER HIM. When should we not? The remembrance should be:
1. Habitual. "I have set the Lord always before me" (Psalms 16:8); "Be ye mindful always of his covenant" (1 Chronicles 16:15).
2. At stated times. Without special remembrances the habitual will not be maintained. Hence the value of the hours of devotion, private and public.
3. At times of special need. When duty is hard, temptation urgent, trouble pressing.
III. WHO ARE REQUIRED TO REMEMBER HIM. All—kings as well as subjects. The higher men are raised above their fellow men, the more they need to keep in mind him who is higher than they, and who will call them to account. The greater the trust God has committed to any, and the more they are independent of others in discharging it, the more they need to look to God for help in discerning and practising what is right. In an unlimited, or only. partially limited, monarchy, the king has peculiar reason to keep the King of kings in mind, that he may be preserved from injustice, partiality, and oppression. But people of all classes are bound to remember God, and live as in his sight.
IV. WHY WE SHOULD CHERISH SUCH REMEMBRANCES.
1. It is our duty. From our relation to God, and from his commandments. And it is no less absurd than impious to forget him "with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13) more than with any and all others.
2. It is greatly for our profit. It will be productive of:
3. It will save from the pangs of too late remembrances on earth or in hell. (See Proverbs 5:11-14; Luke 16:25, "Son, remember.") Mindfulness of God is universal in the eternal world, for joy or sorrow.
V. THE NEED THERE IS TO REMIND MEN OF THIS DUTY. "Let the king remember," etc. Men are apt to forget God, even when the memory of him is most desirable and incumbent. Such forgetfulness may spring from:
2. The pressure of other thoughts. The worldly. The anxious and troubled. It is often a great kindness to remind troubled Christians of their God.
3. Dislike of God. Unwillingness that he should interfere with life and action.
4. Love of sin. The pleasure of sin, if not sin itself, would be impossible if God were thought of.
5. Pride and self satisfaction (Deuteronomy 8:10-19).
1. Remembrance of God, spontaneously and lovingly cherished, is a good evidence of sincere piety.
2. The compatibility or incompatibility of it with any act or habit furnishes a safe guide when distinct precepts are wanting.—G.W.
2 Samuel 14:14
God fetching home his banished.
The "wise woman," having succeeded in that which she pretended to be her object in coming to David, skilfully approached the real purpose of her visit. She insinuates, in general and guarded language, that he was cherishing thoughts which were "against the people of God," and that the decision he had given in favour of her son was inconsistent with his not fetching home again his own banished one. Then, in our text, she presents, still in a general and indefinite way, reasons why the king should restore his banished one.
1. The universal mortality of mankind. "We must needs die," etc. This may contain a hint that it was useless longer to be grieved or angry about Amnon's death—nothing could restore him to life. Or, just as likely, it may be mentioned as a reason for doing rightly (in this case, exercising mercy) while we may, since we and those we can benefit will soon be alike in the grave; and for doing nothing to embitter this brief life to any while it lasts, or to shorten it needlessly by our conduct. Or it may be intended to soften the king's heart and prepare him to exercise compassion, as God is said to pity us because "he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust" (Psalms 103:13, Psalms 103:14).
2. The long suffering of God. "Neither doth God take away life" (Revised Version); i.e. He does not usually strike down the sinner at once in his sins, but bears long with him, and gives him space for repentance. This may be a skilful allusion to the mercy shown to David himself (2 Samuel 12:13, "Thou shalt not die").
3. The provision which God makes for the return of sinners to himself. "He deviseth means, that he that is banished be not an outcast from him" (Revised Version). In this also there may be an allusion to God's treatment of David, in sending to him Nathan to rouse his conscience, bring him to repentance, and then assure him of pardon. Or the woman may have in her mind the provisions of the Mosaic Law for restoring to the congregation and the temple services those who had been separated from them through contracting some uncleanness or committing some sin (see Leviticus 4:1-35; Leviticus 5:1-19; Leviticus 6:1-7). Or she may, by a flash of inspiration, have had a glimpse of the great principles underlying these legal and ceremonial appointments, and which are more fully made manifest in Christ. We, at least, can hardly err in interpreting her words in the light of the gospel. Thus regarded, they suggest to us—
I. THE CONDITION OF SINNERS. That is, of mankind apart from Christ. They are "banished," and in danger of being "expelled," from God, and becoming utterly outcast.
1. "Banished;" self banished, like Absalom.
2. "Banished," but not yet utterly outcast.
II. THE PURPOSE OF GOD. To secure "that his banished be not expelled from him;" but be brought back, reconciled, restored to himself, his family, and service. To "fetch home again his banished." Whence this purpose?
1. The Divine knowledge of the nature and consequent worth of man. That he is not as the brutes, but was "made after the similitude of God" (James 3:9). That, though he "must needs die" and become as spilt water, he must needs also live after death. Hence he is worthy of much Divine expenditure in order to his salvation. The spiritual nature and the immortality of man render him an object of intense interest to his Maker, and to all who recognize them.
2. The desire of God that his purpose in the creation of mankind should not be frustrated.
3. The abounding love of God. Though the sinner is banished from his favour, he is not from his heart. He yearns over him while he expresses his displeasure with his conduct. He expresses his displeasure as one step towards his restoration. He desires the happiness of the sinner, but knows he cannot be happy apart from himself. He is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
III. THE MEANS HE DEVISED FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF HIS PURPOSE.
1. The incarnation and work of his Son Jesus Christ. He came "to seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10). By his personal manifestation of God, his teaching, example, and especially his death, he became the Way to the Father (John 14:6). He "suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18).
2. The gospel. Which is God's message to his banished ones, calling them back to him, and showing the way of return.
3. The Church, its ordinances anal ministries. One main business of the Church, its ministers, yea, of all its members, is to labour to "fetch home again" God's banished ones.
4. The events of life. The providence of God is subservient to his grace. The Lord Jesus is "Head over all things," that all may further the accomplishment of the purposes for which he lived and died on earth, and lives and reigns in heaven. Hence providential events, on the wide scale and in individual life, are often rendered effectual unto salvation.
5. The gift of the Holy Spirit. To render all other means effectual in the hearts and lives of men. To convince, incline, persuade, convert, sanctify, save.
IV. THE IMITATION OF GOD IN THIS RESPECT TO WHICH WE ARE CALLED. The woman thus spoke that she might induce David to recall his banished son, Absalom. So we are called to imitate God:
1. By a readiness to forgive and restore our own banished ones; those who have forfeited our favour by misconduct. Some are implacable even toward their own children, however penitent they may be; but this is contrary to Christ, and quite unbecoming those who owe their own place in God's family to his forgiving mercy.
2. By hearty cooperation with God in the work of restoring those who have departed from him. This is the most glorious purpose for which we can live, the Divinest work in which we can engage. In this work we must bear in mind that to be successful we must conform to the methods which God has devised and furnished; as, in fact, in all departments of life, success springs from learning the Divine laws, and acting in harmony with them. There is no room for our own inventions, no possibility of independent action. In such imitation and cooperation we should be impelled to faithfulness and diligence by the consideration that both ourselves and those we are to benefit "must needs die" (see John 9:4). And let the same consideration lead those who have departed from God to return with all speed (see John 12:35; 2 Corinthians 6:1, 2 Corinthians 6:2). Let not all the Divine thoughts and methods of mercy be, in your case, in vain. For all had respect to you individually. This we may be aided to realize by the singular number used here, "his banished one." "It was for me that all this movement of Divine love took place, add all these wonderful means have been employed. For me the Saviour died; to me the Divine message is sent," etc. Let not your return, however, be like Absalom's, in outward act only, but in heart. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7).—G.W.
2 Samuel 14:17
An all-comprehensive blessing.
"The Lord thy God be with thee" (Revised Version). The "wise woman," in closing her address to David and taking leave, as she thought, of him, pronounces this blessing upon him. It was a usual form of salutation amongst the Israelites; and, like our similar forms ("Adieu," equivalent to "to God [I commend thee];" "Good-bye," equivalent, perhaps, to "God be with thee"), was doubtless often employed without thought or feeling as to its significance. But in its full meaning it is the best blessing we can pronounce on our friends, the most comprehensive prayer we can offer for them. "The Lord Jesus be with thy spirit" (2 Timothy 4:22) is a similar benediction.
I. IT IS A PRAYER OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP. We can desire nothing more or better for our friends than what these words express. For consider:
1. What is included in God being "with" men. Not simply his nearness, but:
2. Whose friendship is thus invoked. That of "Jehovah thy God." The living God, the Eternal, the Almighty, the All-wise, the All-good, etc. Better to have him with us than all the world, all the universe. In fact, if God is with us, all things are really with us (see Romans 8:28, Romans 8:31-39; 1 Peter 3:13).
II. IT IS A PRAYER NATURAL TO A PIOUS MAN. Springing from his personal experience of the blessedness of those who have God with them, and his desire that all, and especially those in whom he feels the deepest interest, should be partakers of the same blessedness.
III. IT IS A PRAYER ESPECIALLY SUITABLE TO BE OFFERED ON CERTAIN OCCASIONS. To express feelings of friendship, gratitude, benevolence, affection:
IV. IT IS A PRAYER WHICH WILL BE FULFILLED TO THE RIGHTEOUS. The unrighteous can only secure the blessing for themselves by becoming righteous (see 2 Chronicles 15:2), through repentance and faith in Immanuel (equivalent to "God with us").—G.W.
2 Samuel 14:25
This remark, thrown in by the way, has more to do with the main course of the narrative than at first appears. The personal beauty of Absalom accounts in part for the excessive fondness of David for him, for his vanity and ambition, and for his powerful influence over others; and, so far as it consisted in abundance of fine hair, appears to have been the immediate occasion of his miserable end. It may serve us as the starting point of some remarks on beauty of person.
I. ITS WORTH.
1. It is in itself good as a fair work and gift off God. A sober divine (Manton) calls it "a beam of the majesty of God."
2. It is pleasant to look upon.. Beautiful people are so many pictures moving about in society for the innocent gratification of beholders, with this superiority to other pictures, that they are alive and present continual variety.
3. It may be off great advantage to its possessor. It attracts others; makes it easier to secure friends. A comely face and form are an introduction to notice and favour.
4. It may be a power for good to others. In a ruler, a preacher, any leader in society, it is an element of influence. Is not, therefore, to be despised either by its possessor or by others;
II. ITS PERILS.
1. It is apt to excite vanity and pride—themselves the parapets of many sins.
2. When overvalued, it leads to the neglect of higher things—the culture of mind, heart, and character.
3. In children it may awaken in their parents a foolish fondness which hinders parental discipline.
4. It attracts flatterers and seducers, and thus often occasions moral ruin. It was Tamar's beauty that kindled Amnon's lust (2 Samuel 13:1). It is a very perilous endowment to young women, especially among the poor.
5. It may lead its possessor to become a tempter of others; and renders his (or her) temptations all the more seductive. Lord Bacon (in his essay 'On Beauty') says, "For the most part it makes a dissolute youth, and an age a little out of countenance; but yet certainly again, if it light well, it maketh virtues shine and vices blush."
III. ITS INFERIORITY. In comparison with mental, moral, and spiritual beauty.
1. In essential nature. The latter belong to a far higher region, are a far more valuable product of the Divine hand. The beauties of holiness are the features of the Divine Father appearing in his children, and manifesting their parentage.
2. In appearance. Moral loveliness is far more beautiful than physical in the sight of God and the good, and it has the power of rendering very plain faces interesting and attractive, if not beautiful.
3. In value to its possessor and to others. Beauty of character is a priceless treasure (1 Peter 3:4), indicating one still more precious—the character itself; it excites the deepest and best kind of admiration and commendation (Proverbs 31:30); and it gives those in whom it appears a power over others for their good which incalculably surpasses the influence of mere beauty of person; and which "adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour" (Titus 2:10)—the chief instrument of good to men—wins for it a readier acceptance.
4. In facility of attainment. Beauty of person, if not a gift of nature, cannot be acquired; but that of the soul can. The Lord Jesus came to earth to make it possible for the ugly and deformed to become lovely; he lives to effect this great transformation. Those who are in him become the subjects of a new creation: "Old things are passed away; all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Holy Ghost adorns the soul with heavenly grace and attractiveness (Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23). And when the process is complete on the whole Church of Christ, he will "present it to himself" as his beauteous bride, "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but … holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27). Faith in, and habitual converse with, him who is "altogether lovely," is the way to experience for ourselves this wondrous change. "Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18). Even the body will at length be beautified (Philippians 3:21).
5. In duration. The beauty which is of earth fades and passes away, but that which is of heaven abides evermore. The former may vanish even in youth through the ravages of disease; will almost certainly in afterlife, unless heightened and ripened by sense and goodness; and certainly will turn to corruption after death. But the latter will survive the decay and destruction of all things, and adorn the "Father's house" forever.
In conclusion, this subject appeals especially to the young. Let them seek with all their heart the beauty which is spiritual and everlasting; and regard as of small account that which is in itself of little value, and at best of short duration; and which, if separate from moral excellence, is like the beauty of a sepulchre, covering death and corruption.—G.W.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany