2 Samuel 18:1
And David numbered. The verb really means that he organized his army, and arranged it in companies and divisions. As Absalom gathered all Israel to him, there would be some delay; and David, like a wise general, made use of it for training the brave but undisciplined men who had joined him, chiefly from Gilead. Besides these, he had with him numerous veterans, whose skill and experience would be invaluable in such service. The result was that when the rebels came to close quarters, they had a vast body of men, but David a disciplined force, which, under skilful generalship, scattered Absalom's raw levies with ease. The arrangement into thousands and hundreds was in accordance with the civil divisions (Exodus 18:25), both being, in fact, dictated by nature as multiples of our hands.
2 Samuel 18:2
A third part. Armies are usually divided into three divisions: a centre and two wings when drawn up for battle; a van, the main body. and a rearguard when on the march. But the Israelites had no settled rule upon the point, and. when occasion required, Joab divided his army into two parts (2 Samuel 10:9, 2 Samuel 10:10). The reason of the threefold division in this case was that Ittai had brought his clan, or taf, with him, and as these would certainly not have fought under an Israelite leader, nor the Israelites under Ittai, David placed all foreigners under his command, while he gave his own nephews the command of the native troops. He thus avoided all jealousies; and Ittai's men, honoured by being made a distinct portion of the army, would feel their reputation at stake, and would rival the Israelites in valour.
2 Samuel 18:3
It is better that thou succour us out of the city. David thought it to be his duty to go out with the men who were risking their lives in his cause, but they felt not only how painful it would be for a father to fight against his son; but also that there would certainly be a picked body of men who would try to bring the battle to a rapid end by slaying David. But while they partly urge personal considerations, their chief argument is that David would be of more use if, posted with a body of troops at the city, he held himself in reserve to succour any division that might be in danger. And David, seeing how earnest their wish was, yielded to this representation, feeling that it would give steadiness to his men if they knew that so experienced a general was watching the fight, and was ready to succour them if they needed aid. As the people say that it would not matter "if half of us die," and that David "is worth ten thousand of us," Ewald draws the reasonable conclusion that their whole number was about twenty thousand men. The Hebrew literally is, "For now ('attah) as us are ten thousand," which might mean, "There are ten thousand such as we are, but no one like thee." But the Septuagint and Vulgate read, "But thou (attah) art as ten thousand of us." The Syriac, however, like the Hebrew, reads "now."
2 Samuel 18:5
All the people heard. The king spake so earnestly and strongly to the generals that the words ran from rank to rank as they marched forward. So in 2 Samuel 18:12 the man says to Joab, "In our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai," etc. It does not follow that each one heard the sound of the king's voice, but only that the command was given publicly again and again, and in the presence of the army.
2 Samuel 18:6
The wood of Ephraim. There is a diversity of opinion as to the locality thus described. It might mean the large forest tract in the highlands of Ephraim; but if so, the battle must have been fought on the west of the Jordan, whereas the general tenor of the narrative makes it plain that it took place on the eastern side, near Mahanaim. It is true that no wood of Ephraim is ever mentioned elsewhere in the Bible as situated in Gilead, and those who cannot believe in such a wood except within the borders of the tribe, argue that, after the three divisions had marched out to battle, there was long skirmishing, in which Absalom drew David's men across the Jordan, and there gave battle. But Absalom's army was evidently surprised, and as we are told that "he pitched in the land of Gilead" (2 Samuel 17:26), for him to have retired would have been a confession of weakness; and Joab, after seeing him cross the Jordan, would not have followed him, but let this retrograde movement have its effect upon his followers. Such a movement is absolutely incredible on the part of an army at least three times as numerous as those whom they attacked, and confident of victory. Moreover, armies in those days were not composed of men receiving pay, and bound to remain with their colours, but of yeomen unwilling to be kept long absent from their farms, and liable, therefore, rapidly to melt away. A quick decision was plainly necessary for Absalom, while David could afford to wait. But besides this, when his forces moved out of Mahanaim, David took his post at the gate with the reserves, and he was still there, sitting "between the two gates," when news was brought him of the victory (2 Samuel 18:24). The only real argument in support of the view that the battle was fought on the west of the Jordan is that "Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain" (2 Samuel 18:23), Hebrew, the kikkar—a name specially given to the valley of the Jordan near Jericho. But then Cushi must also have run through the same valley, and it is evident that his route was in this very respect different from that taken by Ahimaaz. Really, kikkar, which in Hebrew means "circuit," may be used of the country round any city, and is applied in Nehemiah 12:28 to the environs of Jerusalem. Here the meaning probably is that, while the Cushite took the route back over the battlefield through the wood, Ahimaaz went to the left of it, over the more level ground, nearer the Jordan. And though the name is chiefly used of that part near Jericho, it was probably applied popularly to every stretch of level ground near the river. This argument, therefore, is inconclusive; while, on the other side, it is plain that David's army returned that same day to Mahanaim, that they knew at once of his distress, and that they were beginning to steal away home when Joab made David come forth to thank them, and encourage them to remain with him. The most probable explanation of the difficulty is that "the wood of Ephraim" was so called because it was the spot where Jephthah defeated the Ephraimites when they invaded Gilead to punish him for daring to go to war without their consent, they being then the dominant tribe, to whose arbitrament belonged all imperial matters ( 12:4-6).
2 Samuel 18:8
The battle was there scattered. The word in the Hebrew is a noun, which the Massorites have changed into a participle. But the noun is right: "The battle became a scattering," that is, it was a series of disconnected encounters, in which David's three divisions attacked and routed Absalom's men, while still on the march, without giving them an opportunity of collecting and forming in order of battle. And the wood devoured more people that day thin the sword devoured. The woodland was difficult, full of gorges and begs and steep defiles leading down to the Jordan, and the fugitives easily lest their way in it, and wandered about till they were hopelessly entangled in thicket and morass.
2 Samuel 18:9
Absalom met the servants of David. The verb means that he came upon them by chance. Evidently in the intricacies of the forest, Absalom. had lost his way, and, finding himself suddenly in damager of being captured by some of David's men, he urged his mule through a thicket, as the open ground was blocked by his pursuers. But in the attempt his head was jammed between the boughs of a great terebinth, and the mule, struggling onward, left him hanging in mid-air. Nothing is said about his hair having caused the accident, and apparently it was his neck which became fixed. Probably, too, he was half stunned by the blow, and choked by the pressure; and then his hair would make it very difficult for him to extricate himself. And so, after one or two efforts, in which he would be in danger of dislocating his neck, he would remain suspended to await his fate. Now, this adventure makes the whole affair perfectly plain. Absalom was riding his mule, evidently unprepared for battle. The chariot and horses, with fifty men as his body guard, used by him at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:1), are nowhere near him. Chariots, of course, would have been useless on such rough ground, but Absalom would have had a picked body of young men round him in the battle; and mules were only for use on the march, and were sent into the rear when the fighting began. But the last thing that Absalom expected was that he should be attacked on the march. He was advancing with an army infinitely more numerous than that of David, and assumed that David would wait at Mahanaim, and, if he fought at all, would fight under its walls. His defeat he regarded as certain, and then the vain glorious prince and all Israel would drag the city into the nearest ravine. In this over confidence he was riding in advance of his army, which was struggling on over most difficult ground. For "rising as the country does suddenly from the deep valley of the Jordan, it is naturally along its whole western border deeply furrowed by the many streams which drain the district; and our ride," says Canon Tristram, "was up and down concealed glens, which we only perceived when on their brink, and mounting from which on the other side, a short canter soon brought us to the edge of the next". Struggling along over such ground, Absalom's men were not merely tired and weary, but had lost all order, and "become a scattering," and probably Absalom had cantered on in order to find some suitable spot for reforming them. Suddenly he sees at a little distance before him one of the three detachments of David's army, which had marched out a few miles from Mahanaim, and posted themselves on some fit spot to attack the rebels on their march. Apparently they caught no glimpse of him, but he immediately became aware of the tactics of the king's generals, and discerned the extreme danger of his position. Everything depended upon celerity. If he could warn his men, the foremost would halt until the others came up, and a sufficient force be gathered to resist Joab's onslaught. There was no cowardice on his part, but simply the discharge of his duty as a general. He turns his mule round, and dashes away in order to halt and form his men, keeping to the wood that he may not be seen. In his great haste he is not careful in picking his route, and possibly his mule was stubborn, and swerved; and so, in attempting to force his way through the thicket, he is stunned by a blow from a branch of a terebinth tree, and so entangled in its boughs that he cannot free himself; and as none of David's men had seen him, he might have hung there to be the prey of the vultures, and only his riderless mule have been left to bear witness to his having met with some disaster. Meanwhile his followers struggle on, until they come upon David's men, who put them to the sword. There is no battle, but the three divisions, advancing in order, make merciless slaughter of their opponents. For some time Absalom's forces, extended over many miles of march, do not even learn what is going on in their front, and twenty thousand men had fallen before, becoming aware of their defeat, they fly in wild confusion, to lose more men in their panic than had fallen in fighting. Their loss would even have been greater had not Joab stopped the pursuit upon Absalom's death. But where was Amasa, and what was he doing? He had led his troops miserably, had taken no precautions against surprise, and did nothing to rally them. Had Absalom got back in safety to the van, he might have saved his men from so disastrous a defeat; but Amasa, doubtless a brave soldier, proved himself quite incompetent to the duties of a commander-in-chief, and no match for the sagacious Joab.
2 Samuel 18:11
A girdle. This was an important article of dress (Ezekiel 23:15), and was often richly embroidered. Absalom's death was well deserved, and there can be little doubt that, if he had gained the victory, he would have massacred David and all his family. The dishonour done to his father at Jerusalem was even intended by Ahithophel to render all reconciliation impossible. But Joab was disobeying the king's express orders, and as Absalom was incapable of making resistance, he ought to have taken him prisoner, and left it to David to decide what his punishment should be.
2 Samuel 18:12
Though I should receive. The Hebrew text expresses the horror of the man at Joab's proposal much more vividly than the tame correction of the Massorites admitted into the Authorized Version: "And I, no! weighing in my palm a thousand of silver, I would not put forth my hand against the son of the king."
2 Samuel 18:13
Against mine own life. Again the K'tib is better: "Or had I wrought perfidiously against his life—and nothing is hidden from the king—so wouldst thou have set thyself against me." Not only was the man faithful to the king, but he was perfectly aware of Joab's unscrupulous character. If only Absalom were put out of the way, Joab would have readily consented to the execution of the unimportant person who had been the means of gratifying his wish.
2 Samuel 18:14
Three darts; Hebrew, three staves (see 2 Samuel 23:21). The weapons of the ancients were of a very inferior kind, and stakes sharpened at the end and hardened in the fire were used by the infantry, until the increasing cheapness of iron made it possible to supply them with pikes. Joab's act was not one of intentional cruelty, but, picking up the first weapons that came to hand, he hurried away to kill his victim. His thrusts with these pointed sticks were brutal, and inflicted mortal wounds; but as they were not immediately fatal, Joab's armour bearers, who had followed him, and who had with them Joab's own better weapons, were called upon to put an end to Absalom's sufferings. His heart does not mean that organ anatomically, but the middle of his body. So at the end of the verse, in the midst of the oak, is, in the Hebrew, in the heart of the terebinth.
2 Samuel 18:16
Joab blew the trumpet. Stem and unscrupulous as he was, yet Joab is always statesmanlike. He had slain Absalom more for public than for private reasons, though he may have grimly remembered his own blazing barley field. But the rebellion being now crushed, further slaughter was impolitic, and would only cause sullen displeasure. The people, at the end of the verse, are those under Joab's command, and a translation proposed by some, "Joab wished to spare the people," is to be rejected.
2 Samuel 18:17
A great pit; Hebrew, the great pit; as though there was some great hollow or well known depression in the wood, into which they cast Absalom's dead body, and raised a cairn over it. Such cairns were used as memorials of any event deemed worthy of lasting remembrance, but the similar cairn piled over the dead body of Achan (Joshua 7:26) makes it probable that the act was also intended as a sign of condemnation of Absalom's conduct. All Israel fled every one to his tent. The Israelites were still a pastoral people, with tents for their abodes, though houses were gradually taking their place. The cry, "To your tents, O Israel!" (1 Kings 12:16), meant, "Go away to your homes!" and not "Gather for war!" It is remarkable how constantly Absalom's followers are described as "Israel" while the loyal men are "David's servants." Absalom's was evidently the popular cause, and, besides Uriah's murder, there must have been political reasons for discontent at work to make David's government so distasteful.
2 Samuel 18:18
Absalom … had taken and reared up for himself a pillar. In contrast with the heap of stones cast over his dishonoured body, the narrator calls attention to the costly memorial erected by Absalom in his lifetime. The three unnamed sons mentioned in 2 Samuel 14:27 seem to have died in their infancy, and probably also their mother; and Absalom, instead of taking other wives to bear him sons, which would have been in unison with the feelings of the time, manifested his grief by raising this monument. We have no reason for supposing that it was the result of vanity and ostentation. Ostentatious he was, and magnificent, but his not marrying again is a sign of genuine sorrow. The king's dale is "the Valley of Shaveh," mentioned in Genesis 14:17; but whether it was near Jerusalem, as Josephus asserts, or near Sodom, is uncertain. The pillar was probably an obelisk, or possibly a pyramid, and certainly was not the Ionic column of Roman workmanship shown in the Middle Ages and at the present time as "Absalom's grave." This is in the Kidron valley, about two furlongs from Jerusalem. Absalom's place; literally, Absalom's hand; that is, memorial (see note on 1 Samuel 15:12).
2 Samuel 18:21
Cushi. This is not a proper name, but signifies that he was an Ethiopian, that is, a negro slave in Joab's service. Joab was unwilling to expose Ahimaaz to me king's displeasure, and we gather from 2 Samuel 18:27 that the sending of a person of low rank would be understood to signify evil tidings. The bearer of good news received a present, and therefore the passing over all Joab's personal friends to send a slave was proof that the message was not expected to bring the bearer honour or reward. And Joab was quite right in supposing that David would be more displeased at his son's death than pleased at the victory.
2 Samuel 18:22
Seeing … thou hast no tidings ready. This was not true; there were most important tidings ready. But it is the translation which is in fault. What Joab said is, "Seeing thou hast no tidings that find," that is, no message that will find for thee the king's favour and a reward.
2 Samuel 18:23
Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain; Hebrew, the kikkar, or Jordan valley. The battle, as we saw in 2 Samuel 18:6, was fought on the eastern side of the river, and Absalom's army, in their flight, would endeavour to reach the fords of the Jordan (comp. 12:5); and probably Joab had pursued them for some distance before the man found in the thicket the body of the unfortunate Absalom. The large slaughter of twenty thousand men (2 Samuel 18:7) proves that the defeated rebels were vigorously followed. In carrying the news the negro evidently went back by the route which the troops had followed; while Ahimaaz, using his more developed intellect, took a longer course to the west, but one that avoided the tangles and the deep defiles of the forest. Strictly, the Kikkar, as we have seen, was the name of the Jordan valley near Jericho; but it was probably applicable also to the same sort of formation further north. On approaching Mahanaim, Ahimaaz would strike inland, and the two routes would join one another; and one reason which made Ahimaaz go more to the west was that he did net wish the Cushite to know that he had a rival. He would thus go at a steady pace, picking his way through the forest, while Ahimaaz was using his utmost speed.
2 Samuel 18:24
David sat between the two gates. The gateway was in a tower in the city walls, and David was sitting in the space between the inner and outer gates. Over this space was a chamber, mentioned in 2 Samuel 18:33, while the sentinel was posted upon the front wall over the outer gate.
2 Samuel 18:25
If he be alone. In case of defeat there would have been a crowd of runaways in eager flight. And when soon afterwards a second courier is seen, as he also is alone, and comes by a different route, his appearance only suggests the idea of completer tidings. And quickly the foremost is recognized by his running as the son of the high priest, and David is then assured that all has gone well, because Joab would not have sent a man of such rank to be the bearer of bad news. The word good may also mean that Ahimaaz was too brave a man to have fled from the battle, and must, therefore, have come on an errand from Joab.
2 Samuel 18:28
And said unto the king, All is well; Hebrew, Peace. This was the ordinary salutation among the Israelites, but its hurried exclamation on the part of the breathless runner was probably intended to convey the idea given in the Authorized Version. Hath delivered up the men, etc; Hebrew, hath hedged, or shut in (see upon this expression the note on 1 Samuel 17:46, and comp. Psalms 31:8). Both there and in 2 Samuel 22:20 prosperity is compared to the being in a broad place, where there is freedom to act (see also note on 2 Samuel 13:2).
2 Samuel 18:29
Is the young man Absalom safe! literally, Is there peace to the lad Absalom? Was this mere love for the handsome but rebellious son, whose image comes back to the father as he was when just reaching manhood? Certainly not. David was thinking of the ominous words, "The sword shall never depart from thine house" (2 Samuel 12:10). The sword had devoured one son; was it now to claim another? And then? and then? Where would it stop? And Ahimaaz saw the king's distress, and gave an evasive answer. He understood now Joab's unwillingness to let him carry such painful tidings, and was glad that this part of the news had been entrusted to the Cushite. When Joab sent the king's servant, and (me) thy servant. This distinction is strange, and probably one of these phrases has crept in from the margin. But if the Ethiopian was technically "the king's slave," and Ahimaaz "thy slave" (by courtesy), we might imagine that negro attendants already formed part of the state of kings. It was long afterwards that Ebedmelech was a Cushite in the service of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38:7).
2 Samuel 18:31
Tidings, etc. The literal meaning is more fit for the mouth of a slave. "Let my lord the king learn the tidings that Jehovah hath judged (and delivered) thee this day from the hand," etc; that is, God, sitting as Judge at the assize of battle; hath given sentence for thee, and pronounced thy acquittal. The same phrase occurs in 2 Samuel 18:19.
2 Samuel 18:32
Is the young man, etc.? Alarm for Absalom is the dominant feeling in David's mind; and as Cushi had been sent for the very purpose, he at once communicates the news to him in words that leave no doubt of his meaning.
2 Samuel 18:33
The king was much moved. The Hebrew word properly refers to agitation of body. A violent trembling seized the king, and, rising, he went up to the guard chamber over the two gates, that he might give free course to his lamentation. The whole is told so vividly that we can scarcely doubt that we have here the words of one who was present at this pathetic scene, who saw the tremor which shook David's body, and watched him as he crept slowly up the stairs, uttering words of intense sorrow. And it was conscience which smote him; for his own "sin had found him out." In Psalms 38:1-22, and Psalms 40:1-17. he has made the confession that it was his own iniquity which was now surging over his head.
2 Samuel 18:1-18
The facts are:
1. David, refreshed by the aid sent him, sets himself to the work of organizing his followers, and divides them into three corps, under Joab, Abishai, and Ittai respectively.
2. On his proposing to head the force, the people urge him to desist from doing so, pointing out that, in case of a conflict, the enemy would be sure to make an endeavour to kill him rather than to fight a regular battle.
3. The king yields to their persuasions, and, as they suggest, abides by the city to render succour if required.
4. Having seen his men march out, he lays strict injunction on his captains, in the hearing of their forces, to deal gently with Absalom for his sake.
5. A severe battle takes place, in which the followers of Absalom are defeated with great slaughter.
6. Absalom, in riding through a wood, is entangled in the branches by his head, and, while hanging there, is seen by a man who reports the fact to Joab.
7. On being reproached for not slaying Absalom, the man reminds Joab of the solemn injunction of the king, and that he was restrained by that, as also by the fear of being discovered should he attempt the deed in secrecy.
8. Joab in a rage takes three darts, and thrusts them through the heart of Absalom, and his armour bearers also join in the infliction of wounds on his body.
9. Joab thereupon recalls the people from the pursuit, and causes Absalom to be buried in a pit and covered by a heap of stones, the only monument in his memory being the pillar which he himself had erected during his lifetime.
10. On the death and burial of Absalom becoming known, his forces are dispersed, each man fleeing to his tent.
The discharge of painful obligations.
The hasty flight of David from Jerusalem was not the result of cowardice, but of prudence and of spiritual penetration. He thought it possible that a movement which had won over so able a man as Ahithophel, and which had developed so secretly, might issue in a sudden rising which would involve the city in bloodshed. Moreover, with the keen spiritual insight which ever characterized him, he could not but see in this rebellion the chastising hand before which it became him in his lifelong penitence, mingled with sincere trust, to bow. But now that Jerusalem was safe from bloodshed, and the sanctuary of God was undefiled, and his faithful adherents were refreshed and in personal safety, the time had come to consider his position and devise such measures as Providence might render possible; and he thus at once found himself face to face with the unwelcome necessity of waging war against his own son. We may, then, take this as illustrating the obligations under which good men sometimes find themselves to pursue a course most distressing to their feelings.
I. AS A MATTER OF FACT, OBLIGATIONS INVOLVING MUCH PAIN IN THEIR DISCHARGE DO ARISE SOME TIME OR OTHER IN THE COURSE OF A GOOD MAN'S LIFE. Our entire life is a continuous duty. Obligations attend us every day. Right action means fulfilment of purposes, obeying laws, harmony with moral necessity. The pressure is incessant, and ordinarily is, for the Christian, a not unwelcome yoke. But now and then duty is in forms requiring all the resources of a strong will, and in a direction against some of the most cherished feelings of the heart. David was bound to care for the kingdom over which he had been appointed by God. The validity of his anointing was still unrevoked by him who ordained it. It was, therefore, due to himself, his kingdom, and his God that he should take means to put down the usurpation of his own son. Paternal feeling might be pained, but the obligation was imperative. The Church furnishes many such instances. The most tender of ties have been severed in order to be true to Christ's commands. The doing of his work in the world often costs much pain because of its apparent antagonism to those best loved. Peter did not exercise discipline in the early Church without anguish of spirit (Acts 5:1-5). The reproofs of the Apostle Paul were with much sorrow of heart. Letters are daily written with tears. Parents daily have to resist the self-will of sons and daughters, and they mourn the sad necessity. Fidelity to right is, in many instances, a secret martyrdom.
II. IN THE MENTAL CONFLICT INCIDENT TO THE DISCHARGE OF DUTY, THE SENSE OF RIGHT RISES ABOVE PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS. The whole history of David proves that when, at Mahanaim, he began to collect his thoughts and consider the path of wisdom, a most painful conflict must have arisen in his mind as to the course to be taken. The clearer the conviction that, as God's anointed, he was bound to put down the force that was driving him from the throne, the sharper the pang awakened by the thought of raising the sword against his own child. The battle had to be fought out within his own nature before it was transferred to the open field. The human spirit is the arena of great struggles and victories, before men see visible triumphs. The dreadful disaster had for a time taken away David's strength; the pains of hell got hold of him: he was poor, weak, and forlorn. But now the recollection of duty to God and man brought back his old courage and resolution; and the calm and sober way in which he began to marshal his forces showed that help had come from God to subordinate the anguish of his heart to the sense of duty. Providence seems to work along these lines in the training of the best men. Character is strengthened by the triumph of conscientious regard for the will of God over the strivings of personal considerations. If to fight against a son, to face the possibility of much slaughter, and to see a prosperous reign darkened by civil war, were evils endured by David in order to carry out the kingly purposes of his anointing, how does it become Christians, in carrying out the purposes of their special anointing, to bring every thought, desire, and preference into subjection? Christ has left us the noblest example of this.
III. A RESOLVE TO SUBORDINATE PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS TO A SENSE OF DUTY BEING TAKEN, A GOOD MAN WILL DEVISE MEANS OF MEETING DIFFICULTIES AND SECURING THE END IN VIEW. The season of mental conflict being passed, and stern duty being accepted, David proves his courage and sagacity by his calm determination, his collection of resources, his estimate of his numerical strength, his dispositions for meeting difficulties and accomplishing the end in view, his preparedness to incur personal risks, his acceptance of good and generous counsel, and his precautions against disaster at the outset (2 Samuel 18:1-5). The king's soul was evidently sustained by the assurance often expressed in the Psalms that the Lord was his Salvation; and this, instead of encouraging neglect and carelessness, stimulated, as it always does, energy to work along the lines of the Divine purpose. The emotions of the father are kept under by prompt and energetic application of all the powers of body and mind to the performance of kingly duty. Our faith in God and in the realization of his purpose will appear in the zeal with which we work to bring that purpose to pass.
IV. IN SUBORDINATING PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS TO A SENSE OF DUTY, A GOOD MAN WILL NEVERTHELESS CHERISH SENTIMENTS NATURAL TO HIS RELATIONSHIPS. David suppressed the pain of making war on his son because it was right so to do; but that did not imply the uprooting from his heart of those feelings of tenderness and compassion and yearning sorrow which are proper to a father, even for a prodigal son. He did not waver in his kingly design to subdue rebellion, nor did he show a wicked leniency towards an evil life in the son, when he, in the presence of the whole army, enjoined on Joab to "deal gently with the young man Absalom." The rebel was his own child, and a pious heart could not but wish to have opportunity once more to pour upon that child the full force of its sorrowful love, in hopes of winning him over to a sense of his guilt. No feeling so natural as the wish that a prodigal may not be cut off by unpitying hands in the midst of his sins. The legal question as to what would have to be done with a captured rebel was not yet for decision. Sanctified human nature simply yearned to save the sinner from men as cruel as the grave. Knowing the character of Joab, and being a stranger to mere personal revenge, David urged upon him, as a strong restraint, consideration for himself as king and father. There are many Christian parents today who feel for their erring ones just as David did for his, although, like him, they are obliged, out of regard to their families and themselves, to pursue a line of rigid duty. Hope of salvation never dies from a parent's heart. Beautifully does this adumbrate the compassion of God towards his prodigals! "Deal gently with him" seems to be the message sent forth to the forces which work out the king's purposes in the discipline of life. "Do not crush him" is the spirit of God's government. How much we each owe to that!
V. THERE ARE PROVIDENTIAL ENCOURAGEMENTS TO THE SUBORDINATION OF PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS TO A SENSE OF DUTY. David was helped in his mental conflict by reflection on the past and present. He was so far spared by God. Sympathetic friends had brought him aid when in great distress. His own followers were intelligently loyal (verse 3), and were obviously strong in their confidence in the justice of his cause. This kind of external support is of great service when a man is passing through a struggle as to whether he can perform a painful duty. Generally when God assigns duties involving pain in the performance, provision is made for encouragement. When our Saviour required his apostles to renounce all and to look on to persecution like that which he was suffering from, he cheered them by the promise of the Comforter, and a peace which the world could not give. The Resurrection made them strong to endure the loss of all things, and to subordinate love of home, friends, and country to the obligation of fighting against evil in the world.
1. In the time of disaster it behoves us, when occasion arises for reflection on the situation, to avail ourselves with vigour of the resources for recovering our position which God places around us.
2. One of the best preservatives from utter despondency is a remembrance that God has a work for us to accomplish in life, and hence, the more clearly this is kept in view, the more readily shall we be able to face disagreeable duties.
3. It is the duty of citizens to take precautions for the safety of those in high positions, since the welfare of the state is involved in their lives.
4. One of the elements of a perfect moral character to be attained to is the balance between the most rigid justice and the cherishing of feelings free from the taint of personal revenge.
5. As in the state we ought to do things for the "king's sake" which do not involve a breach of morality, so in the Church there are things we should do for Christ's sake, which would not be done did we simply follow out the bare tendencies of our imperfect nature and conform to the usages of society.
A revelation of sin and its issue.
The remarkable space given in the sacred history to the life and conduct of Absalom in their relation to David may arouse the question as to the reason. It is not easy to assign all the reasons that may have operated in the mind of the inspired collector of the annals of Israel to give such prominence to these details; but we may be safe in saying that it was the Divine will to set forth, for the instruction of all ages, the discipline of the "man after God's own heart" and also, for the same object, the development and issue of sin in a conspicuous instance. Men learn a lesson written out in large bold characters; and herein lies most of the teaching value of the Old Testament histories. We may, then, trace here, in a concrete instance and striking form, illustrations of what all sin more or less is and involves, though the particular forms it assumes may vary.
I. ALIENATION OF HEART AND LOSS OF THE GENUINE FEELING OF SONSHIP. Absalom had known a time when, in the assertion within his own spirit of self-hood, he virtually ceased to be a true son. This was his fall. The old child affection became weak; an aversion sprang up; father was no longer regarded as a father should be, and child ceased to be genuine child. This was the secret of all. It was a sort of moral death. The schism was more than political. Virtually he had said, "I will be free and do as I wish." This is also the essence of our sin against God. Adam lost somehow the sonship feeling. Self-will asserted its power. God became one, and he another. Union was gone. This is our Saviour's teaching in the parable of the prodigal son. The young man was weary of his father, and wanted to do as he liked away from him. If we examine our hearts, it will be found to be the same with ourselves. Sin is, negatively, destitution of the sonship feeling; positively, the assertion of self-hood as against God. In this lies its desperate evil, its incurable vice, its secret of doom.
II. A PERVERSION OF GIFTS. As soon as Absalom's heart was gone, he began to use up his beauty, his eloquence, his scheming, every faculty of his nature, to render himself happy in his self-hood, and to be able to dispense with his father's favour. In human nature all gifts flow in the line of one master feeling. Hence when the dominant feeling is alienation from God, the entire man goes away, and all powers are made subservient to self as against the rightful dominion of God. The prodigal son used his patrimony away from his father. Sinners use up their patrimony for self, and not in harmony with God. Kindness is abused.
III. A RESOLVE TO GET RID OF AUTHORITY. For a time Absalom simply cherished the feeling of alienation and knew the misery of a lost love. But evil is a force, and we cannot remain as we are when it once enters the soul. The wretchedness of a lost love put him on the way to get rid of the authority which existed in spite of his loss of loving delight in it. Thought begets thought, and so in due time positive rebellion arose. The royal father must be formally dethroned. There is a corresponding phase in the life of many a sinner. It is misery to be loveless and to know at the same time that God lives. Hence, thoughts flow in suggesting how, by what scepticism, or disbelief, or defiance, or desperation in vice, he can be dislodged from the conscience. Possibly the war becomes violent. No more welcome thought to some men than that God is not. Lost love means in the end antagonism.
IV. THERE IS FOR A WHILE AN APPEARANCE OF SUCCESS. Unhappy Absalom found abettors and flatterers. His independent spirit accorded with the temper of others. His endeavours to live without his father's love and blessing seemed most successful, for never did men make so much of him as now when he has shaken off the yoke of dependence and has gone in for a free life. His "strength was firm." The aim of his ambition seemed within reach. Wise and astute men encouraged and helped him, and threes were placed at his disposal. So all seems to go well for a while with those who are alienated from God the Father. No visible punishment comes on them. They are free from restraints to which once they submitted. They "become as gods, knowing good and evil." Others, some of them wise and learned and astute, encourage them in their mode of life and join in their aims. The forces of wit, learning, science, worldly sagacity, combine to enable them to put down the authority to which they ought to submit. These are the wicked who prosper in the world.
V. THERE ARE THE BEGINNINGS OF REVERSE. Absalom finds his forces scattered by a force the strength of which he did not expect to meet. The mighty array of power on his side receives a check (verses 6-8). He has to learn that the authority despised can make itself felt. And in the course of Providence there are times when events remind sinners that God still rules over forces which they cannot resist, that powers are at work before which they have to bow. Sickness, bereavement, adverse conditions of life, ruin of wicked helpers, pangs of conscience, and personal wretchedness, come and beat down the proud array of wit, learning, jovial companionship, and stoutness of will, as the rebel army was beaten down in the wood of Ephraim. Wicked men have intimations of destruction before it fails on them. The conscience sees, as with prophet's eye, the dark shadows of the future in passing events.
VI. VALUABLE GIFTS HASTEN DESTRUCTION. The pride of Absalom's person warn the means of hastening his death. The hair which had been so much admired, which he counted as a treasure, and made him conspicuous in Israel, now combined with the silent forces that ran through the forest trees to bring him into the judgment for which his course of rebellion had been preparing him. When God's time has come, he has many instruments for effecting his purpose. The best gifts of sinful men sometimes get so entangled with the stable order of nature as to prematurely bring their life to an end. There are always "branches" stretching out in the natural order of things, forming objects against which the powers and possessions of men run, to their detriment and speedy death. The young man's natural vigour, of which he is proud, may run against a resisting force which shatters it in proportion to its strength. Brilliant intellects, in their defiance of God, have, in modern times, become so absorbed in literary work bearing on their infidelity, as to be caught early in the arms of death. Of how many may it be said that their beauty has been their destruction!
VII. THEIR MEMORY IS DESTINED TO BE UNHONOURED. Absalom, proud of his name and ambitious of posthumous fame, erected a memorial pillar for himself—a mournful premonition, as it were, of his miserable end. Nothing could have been more mortifying to him, had he known it, than to be cut down from a tree like a common felon and be buried as a dog. The wicked are cut off; their memorial perishes. It may be that men who die in sin have reared to their memory tablets or monuments of marble or brass; but the truth remains that they shall have no everlasting memorial in the assembly of the upright in the new Jerusalem. Earthly monuments are perishable. It is said of those who are so unfortunate and guilty as to die in a state of alienation from God, that their name shall "rot" (Proverbs 10:7). The only enduring order of things is that of the kingdom of God: it "cannot be shaken," and a place in that kingdom alone can ensure a perpetual memorial. Those who are true sons, who have recovered the lost feeling of love, shall shine in the kingdom of the Father, and shall be heirs with Christ of his glory and joy. The wicked shall go into "outer darkness."
1. The attention of all, especially of the young, should be called to the fact that the right feeling of sonship is that of loving submission, and that the loss of this towards earthly parents is really the fruit of a loss of the filial feeling towards the heavenly Father.
2. If we would form right notions of the guilt of sin, the need and nature of atonement, and the punishment awarded to sin in Scripture, we must pay due regard to what sin is in its essence—the assertion of self against God.
3. We see here the real nature of the change that is necessary in order to adoption into the redeemed family of God—a radical change of the governing feeling of the heart in relation to God. Regeneration is the inner antecedent of the conversion of the entire man.
4. Young men may take warning against the terrible power of evil when once thee break the bonds of love to parents, and in this first and chief sin they have the germ of unspeakable crimes and woes.
5. Let those who in the height of sinful prosperity imagine that all is going well, remember that, though they thus rejoice, yet for all these things God will bring them into judgment (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
6. Both the righteous and the wicked may accept it as a certainty that, in some way or other, the very inanimate creation will sooner or later be subservient to the ends of justice.
7. The best monument we can rear to ourselves, or that others can raise to our memory, is that blessed memory of the just which rests on a life of love to earthly parents and righteous fulfilment of all the obligations we owe to God and man.
The place of principles in conduct.
The controversy between the "certain man" and Joab near the oak where Absalom was hanging was natural, and sprang from diversity of views, which took their shape in each case from the character of the individuals. The man was an ordinary loyal subject of David's, simple in life and thought, governed, as such men generally are, by a few great first principles of conduct. Joab was an astute man of the world, true to David for reasons of a compound nature, entertaining such views of duty and life as generally sway the minds of men of the world, who regard present facts in the light of an unsentimental expediency. Each one was true to himself, and the discussion raised was well sustained on each side by reasons cogent to the men themselves who expressed them, but of no force beyond the individual to convert the other to his view. We see, then—
I. THAT LIFE MAY IN DIFFERENT MEN BE CONDUCTED ON DIFFERENT AND TOTALLY IRRECONCILABLE PRINCIPLES. Here was a simple countryman unwilling to touch the life of Absalom, solely because of the king's commandment (verses 5, 12, 13). The question of the prudence or imprudence of the act was not for a moment entertained. Obedience to the royal authority was the prime duty. This belief was the governing rule of conduct. No imaginary advantage to Israel, no example or persuasion of a great general, could turn the man from this fixed principle. On the other hand, Joab swept aside an such forceful pressure of supreme obligation to the royal will, because his conduct was governed, in this case at least, by a worldly wisdom, a consideration of what seemed to himself to be the best thing to do—a policy of expediency. There was a general admission of the existence and value of what the countryman regarded as primary principles of conduct on the part of subjects; but theory was good for theorists, and Joab was a man of deeds when matters were urgent! These men certainly represent two classes—those who accept first principles of obligation, primary conceptions of duty as lying at the very basis of society and of the individual life; and those who, while formally admitting the existence and propriety of such principles, nevertheless set them aside whenever, for prudential reasons, they think it well to do so. There are such primary principles: in government, the law of the ruler is supreme; in the family, e.g; the expressed will of the father is binding; in matters of religion, e.g; God prohibits unholiness of feeling, malice, cruelty, and commands men to repent, believe, and in all things do justly, irrespective of consequences. There are men who do base their action on these principles. But there are men who, like Joab, break the law of their land, and set aside supreme authority for reasons of their own; there are children who violate the fundamental principle of domestic order, because their judgment goes against their parents; there are men of the world who dare to disobey the Eternal King's commandment in relation to repentance, faith, and unswerving righteousness of life, for reasons which seem to them sufficient at the time. Do all Christians follow out the regal commands as to righteousness in all things? Is there not too much expediency in Christian conduct (cf. Matthew 6:1-34.)?
II. CONDUCT BASED ON PROMPT RECOGNITION OF FIRST PRINCIPLES IS MORE LIKELY TO CHARACTERIZE UNSOPHISTICATED MEN THAN MEN IMMERSED IN THE PUBLIC AFFAIRS. This plain countryman simply followed the order of the king because the king's will to him was sacred. He was not learned in casuistry, not versed in diplomacy, not skilled in keeping the letter and violating the spirit of the Law. He was amazed that any one should think of deviating from a command so plain. Its justice or injustice, its prudence or imprudence, were no matters for him to settle. Law was binding. The king must be obeyed. This was the instinct of a guileless nature. The force of the principle of obedience to the authority of God's anointed was recognized, because his spirit was politically and morally sound and pure. Joab was a man of the world, a man of many designs and combinations of thought, a man whose purity and guilelessness were gone. In the struggle of high and low principles within his nature, pure principle was deprived of its native force. Our Saviour, in reference to much higher matters, points out this difference of conduct proceeding from difference of character, when he thanks his Father that "these things," which were bidden from the "wise and prudent," were "revealed unto babes" (Matthew 11:25, Matthew 11:26). We must become as little children—guileless, unsophisticated, quick to act on primary principles apart from the warping influences of worldly prudence, if we would enter his kingdom and be as he was. There may be advantages in being versed in affairs, familiar with the tricks and ways of men, and famed for astuteness and such like qualities; but on the whole, in matters of pure right and strict adherence to clear duty to God and man, the guileless man is most likely to be the most dependable. Moral intuitions are swift in the pure hearted, and to debate their applicability is at once to weaken their force.
III. CIRCUMSTANCES MAY ARISE IN WHICH DEVIATION FROM PRIMARY PRINCIPLES MAY AT FIRST APPEAR MOST CONFORMABLE TO REASON. On the face of it most men would have said that Joab was justified in setting aside conscientious scruples about the sacredness of the royal command. The rebel deserved death, the only place of restraint for him was the grave, the king's paternal feelings were a danger to the state, Providence had evidently put Absalom's life in the hands of Joab, and the king would be sure to condone the deed,—all this might be said with force. So may it be argued still. Immediate repentance may be right; but surely a man whose livelihood is at stake may be cautious, and not by a sudden change of life bring himself and family into poverty! "Love your enemies" is a Divine command; but we are not so good as was he who gave the command, and so he will condone our cherishing some hatred! Be truthful in word and deed is the meaning to us all of Christ's life; but the pressure of business and the difficulties of diplomacy in national affairs are such that we cannot take this grand law of life into all departments of activity! Thus by arguments apparently conclusive the "commandments of God" are "made of none effect."
IV. THE TRUE INTERESTS OF ALL LIE IN ADHERENCE TO PRIMARY PRINCIPLES. Joab, by his deviation from the king's command, while seeming to secure an advantage to the state, was really sowing the seed of rebellion; for it set aside the supreme law, and its natural tendency was to weaken the royal authority throughout Israel. To gain a temporary advantage at the cost of damning the force of a cardinal truth is no real gain in the end, for the consequences of such an injury are incalculable. Once impair the supremacy of right principles in the national or individual mind, and you have prepared the way for all kinds of degeneracy. God never departs from right, and his ways always come out right. Moral principles are as rind in their demand for implicit and full recognition as any laws of physics, and they vindicate their neglect with as absolute a certainty. Christ has made it clear that strict and severe adherence to his authority alone will issue well. The sermon on the mount is a statement of unconditioned practical truth. The Church of Christ would have done more for the world had this sermon been more recognized, apart from the limitations of accommodating rules of interpretation.
2 Samuel 18:19-33
The facts are:
1. Ahimaaz being eager to convey tidings of victory to the king, is denied permission by Joab, who, however, sends Cushi.
2. Persisting in his desire to run after Cushi, Joab at last allows him to go.
3. The watchman at the gate of the city reports to the king that a runner is in sight, followed by another, whereupon David takes courage, and hopes for good news.
4. On Ahimaaz being the first to arrive, he briefly announces that all is well, and then prostrates himself before the king, and blesses God for having brought victory to the king's cause.
5. David, in his deep concern for Absalom, inquires after his safety, and receives from Ahimaaz an evasive reply.
6. Just then Cushi comes in and announces tidings of victory, and, in answer to the question as to Absalom's safety, bluntly makes known the fact of his death.
7. The king, overwhelmed with anguish, enters his chamber, and there pours out his soul in a most pathetic lamentation.
The relation of character to work.
The work recently accomplished by Joab now gave rise to another, which included elements of good and evil. He was keen enough to see that the communication of the fact of victory would be most welcome to David, but that a statement of the particulars would be most distressing; and, therefore, with his usual practical sagacity, he sought out for the work of conveying tidings to the king a man whose character would fit him for dealing with the evil side of the message very much as he himself would.
I. IN CARRYING ON HUMAN AFFAIRS THERE ARE OCCASIONS REQUIRING THE PERFORMANCE OF DISAGREEABLE WORK. It was a pleasant thing to have to announce to David a great victory over his foes, but far from pleasant to have to tell him what had become of his son, and who had slain him. On a former occasion, when evil tidings, blended with news of the fail of a foe, was brought to him, it went ill with the bearer (2 Samuel 1:13-16). In this case the disagreeable work arose out of the wrong deeds of Joab. One evil created another. Disobedience to absolute authority cannot but bring the transgressor into an awkward position and impose unpleasant obligations. The flow of human life is a flow of work. In consequence of transgression against God, and violation of social order, an immense amount of annoying work has to be done. The sons of Jacob, after the sale of their brother, found difficult work on their hands. The imperfect life in the Church creates the necessity of doing things that pain the tender heart, and which is more adapted to rough and hard men. Evil deeds create duties which always carry with them more or less of pain and sorrow.
II. THERE IS A NATURAL AFFINITY BETWEEN CERTAIN CHARACTERS AND DISAGREEABLE FORMS OF WORK. The reasons for Joab's rejection of Ahimaaz were probably these: fear lest he should so state the facts as to prejudice David against himself, and belief that his nature was too tender and sympathetic for what he regarded as the proper delivery of the dark side of the message. Joab was a hard and blunt man, and he wanted such a man for a work which, because disagreeable, had better be got rid of as quickly as possible. If David should be angry with the Cushite, and slay him, Joab would not care for that, provided, in the blunt and straight announcement of Absalom's death, no tenderness was displayed and no effort made to compromise himself. Such men as he scorn tenderness as weakness. They abhor what they term "sentiment." Joab's character fitted him to send the painful tidings so bluntly and unfeelingly announced by Cushi (2 Samuel 18:31, 2 Samuel 18:32). As a rule, character finds work in affinity with itself, and Joab was right in the adaptation he sought for his purpose. As character is often a prophecy of work that will be done when occasion arises, so work done is often a revelation of character. Not any one can be a hangman. Not any one can be a consoler of the sick and dying. Even in the Christian Church there are kinds of work for which a peculiar firmness and almost severity of character is most suited. Only an Ambrose could overawe an emperor. On the other hand, most departments of Church work give scope for men of the Ahimaaz stamp rather than that of Cushi.
III. AN INJURED CONSCIENCE READILY ADAPTS ITSELF TO PAINFUL WORK ISSUING OUT OF FORMER VIOLENCE TO ITSELF. Joab had done violence to his conscience in positive disobedience to the king's commands (2 Samuel 18:12-14). As every wrong to conscience renders its testimony for right the feebler, it was comparatively easy to frame a blunt, unsympathizing message for the Cushite to deliver to the king. There was as real disregard for David's feelings in the framing of the hard, unfeeling message as in setting aside his command to spare the life of Absalom. Thus it is seen that the human conscience has the wonderful and terrible power of adapting itself to the environment produced by its own abuse, and so of being continuously affected for evil. A "seared conscience" is another expression for the gradual deterioration of sensibility produced by the enforced habit of accommodating itself to deeds which are the natural outcome of former misdeeds.
The son of Zadok espoused the cause of David (2 Samuel 15:27, 2 Samuel 15:36) in spite of the attractions for young men of Absalom's manners (2 Samuel 15:1-6). It was a noble thing for this young man to hold to a right cause in the day of adversity, and to place the fleetness of his feet and the vigilance of his ears and eyes at the command of the exile. The zeal with which he offered his services to Joab to convey the news of success to the king, was in keeping with his past reputation, and, as the sequel shows, was blended with a tender regard for the king's feelings. In contrast with the action of Joab and his servant Cushi in relation to David, that of Ahimaaz is an instructive example of the elements that enter into a commendable, sympathetic enthusiasm.
I. A JUST AND GOOD CAUSE. There may be great enthusiasm, but it may be wicked because manifested in an evil cause. It was to the honour of the son of Zadok that all the force of his nature was devoted to the righteous claims of the Lord's anointed. He had identified himself with the servant of Jehovah in the day of trouble. In the great conflict of his age he was on the right side. This is the primary consideration with us all in the exercise of our powers, whether the questions at issue be political, social, or religious. We can take no credit for enthusiasm, and indeed it will be otherwise our sin, unless we take pains to see that we side with what is essentially just and good. Energy spent in advocacy or encouragement of a party, a movement, a system, a belief, or a practice, is not of moral worth apart from conscientious motive. Especially in the supreme question of every age, the claims of Christ as against the demand on our submission and service of lower and often unholy claims, the question comes—On which slide are we? Are we with the rightful King or with his adversaries?
II. ENTIRE SELF-DEVOTION. Ahimaaz had deliberately identified the whole interests of his life with the cause of the exiled king. He was not a mere observer of the conflict. His very life had been at stake when he entered into the compact (2 Samuel 15:27, 2 Samuel 15:33) and sought out the banished monarch. He had gone out to fight the battle with Joab, and was most eager to render the choicest service on the close of the day of victory. Enthusiasm which consists of approval and delight in the season of prosperity, or in verbal admiration, is of no substantial worth. The men who crossed hill and dale and lake because of the bread they ate (John 6:24-27) were not the whole-hearted disciples Christ cared to have. Christ would have the entire life (Luke 9:59-62).
III. PROMPT ACTION IN EMERGENCIES. The reality of this young man's enthusiasm appeared in his ready offer of the special powers with which he was endowed to the urgency of the hour. He laid his best and most cultivated gifts at the service of his king just when they were most required. It is a characteristic of entire absorption in Christ's work that there is not only the primal and imreserved surrender of life and all its interests to him and his kingdom, but also, as time passes on, a quick perception of entire work is needed, and an instant readiness to use any aptitude possessed for doing the work. "Here am I send me," is the feeling of true enthusiasm when any emergency arises. There are beautiful instances of the free and prompt devotion of special gifts to the service of Christ when occasions suddenly arise requiring them. Are men smitten with plague or sword? Nurses skilled in care of the sick are at hand. Does calamity come on a house or village? There are eager feet swift to carry gospel consolations.
IV. TRUE SYMPATHY GUIDING ACTION. It was the deep and genuine sympathy of Ahimaaz with what he knew were the most tender and sacred feelings of the king's heart that made him eager to go, and both gladden him with news of God's deliverance, and at the same time gently break the news of his personal loss. This gave extra speed to his fleet steps, and this explains his reference to God's goodness (2 Samuel 18:28), and also his evident desire to prepare the king for sad tidings (2 Samuel 18:29). He felt too much for that noble, generous heart to blurt out the intelligence which he knew would crush it. There is great value in a servant who understands and appreciates the most tender and cherished feelings of his master. This sympathy is a discriminating guide to words and actions. It is this intense sympathy with the heart of Christ, this power to enter more than others do into the very passion of the Redeemer for saving men, that accounts for the remarkable zeal and discriminating conduct in doing religious work which have characterized some of the noblest Christians. The nearer we get to the heart of Christ, the more true will our enthusiasm be. The natural gifts and aptitudes of body and mind then turn with zest to all wise devices for advancing the interests most dear to him.
In connection with the main event referred to in the narrative, there are incidents and statements which suggest a variety of truths bearing more or less on ordinary life or finding their parallels therein. Briefly stated, these aye as follows.
I. EAGER MEN AWAITING GREAT ISSUES. David and his followers at the gate of Mahanaim, looking out for news of the issue of the conflict then being carried on, sensible that interests more precious than life were involved, are but types of men still intent on learning the issue of undertakings in which they have embarked or in which they have an inexpressible interest. The disciples once awaited a wonderful issue when Christ was, during his trial and death, in conflict with powers of darkness. For forty days before Pentecost, men and women waited for signs of a great event. Often has the Church, in seasons of peril, waited in agony during the crisis. Men engaged in ordinary business know what it is to look out for the issue of great ventures; and in private religious experience there are times when the soul waits and watches more than those who watch for the morning. What great and momentous issues are being wrought out every day in this world for some of our fellow creatures!
II. QUALIFIED OPTIMISM. "All is well," said Ahimaaz, to break the painful suspense of the watchers, and bring early consolation to the king's heart. The words are few but wonderful. Taken in their strict sense, they meant to David more than could ever be expressed. Happy, indeed, is the man of whom and to whom these words can be unconditionally spoken. "All" is the term of widest range in human language; and "well" is the greatest and best affirmation that can ever be made. In David's circumstances the phrase at least meant that his cause was triumphant, that God had come to his help. Ahimaaz was not insincere in saying what he did, knowing all the time that one event of the day would be most distressing to David. His optimism was qualified by a reservation, as is common in human life. There is a sense in which every good is qualified by a shade of ill. Even so great a boon as redemption bears on it the dark shadow of a Suffering One. The greatest victory of things is announced amidst the wail of widows and orphans. The possession of great wealth brings with it carking cares. Perhaps, in the final issue of all events, when Christ shall have put down all authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:27), and the universe has gained its moral equilibrium after the long struggle between good and evil, it may be true in an absolute sense that "all is well;" but till then our optimism must be qualified.
III. A PIOUS PARENT'S ABSORBING THOUGHT. David did not lose his character of parent in his character as king. As the anointed one he was intent on seeing his authority duly established, but as a father he was anxious for the safety of his rebellious son. By no process could he divest himself of his parental relation—dim shadow is this of the fatherly relation which permeates all God's regal relations to mankind! No one as he could pity the erring youth. He still yearned to have opportunity of bringing some influence to bear on his ungrateful heart. The direst thought to him was the possibility of life being cut short before such opportunity arose. "Is the young man safe?" This question has deep significance to multitudes as they think of their children out on the wide world, exposed to its deadly ills. It comes in the morning with the light of day; it intrudes amidst the busy thoughts of daily business; and it is often the last thought when sleep quiets the heart. It is also a question, in its spiritual application, above all questions of health and secular prosperity. To be "safe" in Christ is the prime concern; for usefulness to others and growth in moral good are then ensured, while at the same time the dreadful guilt of the past is covered.
The great lamentation.
On hearing of the death of his son, David retired into secrecy and poured out his soul in perhaps the most touching language to be found in the Bible. The strength and depth of feeling expressed were evidently in proportion to the interest which all along he had cherished in this abandoned child. Some writers have reproached David for yielding to what is termed "weakness" for a son whose just punishment ought to have been accepted with a calm acquiescence. But the criticism on his conduct is not really justified when all the facts are considered. He was a man constitutionally of strong, generous feelings—kindly and tender in his bearing toward others. A father cannot forget that he is a father; and the more holy and generous his nature, the more powerfully will the fatherly feeling assert itself. As seen in our Saviour's case, when he wept over Jerusalem already doomed because of sin against him, equal to, yea, worse even than, that of Absalom, the natural feelings of the heart may flow forth in most touching strains, while there is in the soul a most perfect accord with the righteous judgment of God. Nowhere does Scripture require men to suppress natural sentiments, or, in other words, require us to cease to be true human beings when we are brought face to face with the appalling judgments of God. Moreover, it is given to all parents to cherish hope of the most prodigal of sons while life continues, and David's personal experience of the mercy of God was such as certainly warranted his cherishing hope of the renewal and salvation of even this wicked son; and if such a long cherished hope was suddenly crushed, and that, too, when care had been taken to prevent its being crushed (2 Samuel 18:5), surely it was no sin for him, but an acceptable deed in the sight of God, when he vented his grief that now all hope of such a change was gone. There is no complaint against the wisdom and justice of God, no trace of a spirit of discontent with the administration of Divine love; it was pure sorrow for a ruined life. David's humanity was not lost in his kingly office. The love of a father's heart is not eradicated by a son's ingratitude. The parable of the prodigal son is evidence of this and also of its Divine counterpart. And in the case of David, the remembrance of his own sad fall having possibly exercised a detrimental influence over Absalom, just in the most critical period of his life, could not but render both just and natural this great lamentation. Taking, then, this view of David's conduct, we briefly notice the following truths.
I. RELIGION INTENSIFIES AND PURIFIES NATURAL AFFECTION. Had not David been a very devout man, he would not have felt such deep sorrow over the death of Absalom. Religion makes a rather a true father; it renders love of offspring a more sacred thing. This follows from the more general truth that religion restores man to his normal state. Such affection has no relation to the sin of the child, except, perhaps, that the sin observed tends to render the affection more yearning and pitiful.
II. WE ARE JUSTIFIED IN CHERISHING HOPE WHILE LIFE LASTS. David did, and had good reasons for it. The gospel encourages it; the revelation of the Father's great lure to the "greatest of sinners" justifies it. Man is not a judge of what may be done either by the most guilty or for them. That many for whom parents pray and strive do, as far as we can see, perish in their sins, is no reason against hope while life continues. Thousands have been brought to God in the eleventh hour.
III. THE DEATH OF OFFSPRING PRESUMABLY RECKLESS AND IMPENITENT IS THE GREATEST OF PARENTAL TROUBLES. To die is the common lot, and natural affection, though strong and pure, does not face death without consolations. But when death means the passage into eternity of a soul laden with guilt, and that soul once the object of delight and occasion of fondest hopes, then the most terrible of woes comes on a pious parent's heart. The "Redeemer's tears over lost souls," on which Howe has so wonderfully dwelt, are best understood by those who, like David, have wept over sons cut off in their sins.
IV. ONE OF THE BITTEREST INGREDIENTS IN SORROW OVER THE LOST IS THAT OF REFLECTION ON PERSONAL CONTRIBUTION TOWARD BRINGING ON THAT CONDITION. David could not but think of the effect on his son's views of life and tendencies of heart produced by his own great sin, and the months of alienation from God which ensued. How far parents are answerable for the character and destiny of their children is a grave question, but unquestionably a bad example in their early years cannot but tell perniciously on their future, and woe cannot but come on the father in darkest form when he connects his own misconduct with the hopeless death of his offspring. What manner of persons ought parents to be? Who knows what a turn a single lapse into sin may give to a youth's destiny?
V. IN THE PUREST HUMAN LOVE WE SEE A SHADOW OF GOD'S GREAT LOVE. David's lamentation, Jeremiah's wail over a ruined people (Jeremiah 9:1, Jeremiah 9:2), the Apostle Paul's anguish on account of his brethren (Romans 9:1-3), and especially the Saviour's sorrow over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:34-38), set forth, so far as we can know of such a mystery, the sorrowful feeling of the eternal Father (John 14:7-9) towards those who live and die in sin. God's great love for us has been seen in this, that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 6:6-10). He actually did what David longed to do for Absalom. Redemption in Christ embodies the best and noblest of all feelings, and transcends the human ideal.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
2 Samuel 18:1-8
David's victory over his rebellious subjects.
Having found refuge in the fortified city of Mahanaim (2 Samuel 2:8), and recruited their exhausted energies, David and those who were with him prepared for the conflict which now seemed inevitable. Meanwhile (during several weeks) Absalom collected a great army (2 Samuel 17:11), appointed Amasa captain, crossed the Jordan, and encamped in the land of Gilead (2 Samuel 17:24-27). Here, "in the wood of Ephraim" (2 Samuel 18:6; 12:4), he was met by the forces of David, and the issue was quickly decided. "The traveller who only knows Palestine to the west of the Jordan, can form no idea of the luxuriance of the hillsides of Gilead. Here we crossed sparkling rivulets, where the sunlight glinted through the foliage of handsome oak, terebinth, and carob trees, and traversed glades seldom disturbed by the foot of man, which led into the deep solitudes of the forest. In one of these Absalom met his end; and one could well understand, as one came suddenly upon the brink of some rock or gorge, why possibly, in headlong and disastrous flight, so many of the combatants on that fatal day should have been numbered among the missing, that it was said the wood devoured more than the sword" (Oliphant). Attention is especially directed to David, concerning whom observe—
I. THE RENEWED ENERGY OF HIS CHARACTER. After his deep humiliation, the old king is himself again. His youth is "renewed like the eagle's." Passive submission is succeeded by active exertion, to which he is urged by inward impulses and new circumstances. There is a time to pray, and a time to work.
1. He actively musters his friends around him; and constantly attracts and receives reinforcements from the people who dwell on the east of the Jordan (2 Samuel 17:27-29; Psalms 27:1-14.; 28.; Psalms 110:3).
2. He skilfully organizes his forces, appointing captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, and arranging them in three divisions under Joab, Abishai, and Ittai (2 Samuel 15:19-22), well knowing the worth of able leaders and of strict order and discipline (2 Samuel 8:15-18).
3. He courageously purposes to go forth himself into the conflict (2 Samuel 21:17), and is prevented from doing so only by their considerate determination (2 Samuel 18:4). "Those who engage others in arduous and perilous attempts must be willing to take their full share of hardship; but true courage and firmness of mind are very different from rashness and obstinacy, and wise men are always must ready to listen to prudent counsel, even from their inferiors" (Scott).
4. He specially charges them to do his son no harm. "Gently for me with the young man Absalom" (2 Samuel 18:5); "Beware, whoever it be," etc. (2 Samuel 18:12). A general and intense feeling of resentment is naturally felt against him; and none are concerned about his welfare, save his father, whom he has chiefly wronged. "See what a thing a godly father's affection is to his child. No undutifulness, no practice on a child's part, no, nor death itself, can divide between him and his child. What though Absalom can forget David, yet David cannot forget him; what though he be a very ungracious imp, yet 'he is my child, my child,' saith David, 'I cannot but love him;' and, indeed, he over loves him; which I do not commend, but only observe, to note the strength of parents' love, if it be natural—a love indeed as strong as death. Is the love of an earthly father so great? What, then, is the affection of our heavenly Father towards us?".
II. THE ARDENT ATTACHMENT OF HIS FOLLOWERS; in contrast with the disaffection and hostility of others.
1. They offer themselves willingly to his service, and readily risk their lives for his sake.
2. They set an inestimable value on his life in comparison with their own. "Thou art worth ten thousand of us" (2 Samuel 18:3). How much often depends on one man! The safety, unity, religion, prosperity, of a whole nation. Both patriotism and piety require the utmost care for his preservation.
3. They see the peculiar peril to which he is exposed, and seek to guard him against it. "They will pay no attention to us," etc. Of Washington, one of his officers wrote, "Our army love their general very much; but they have one complaint against him, which is the very little care he takes of himself."
4. They deem it expedient to provide, in case of need, for receiving his aid. "It is better that thou succour us out of the city." Their proposal is prudent, courteous, and honourable. Whilst he waits in the city with the "reserves," he still commands them, prays for them, and cooperates with them. They go forth under his sanction (2 Samuel 18:4), are animated on the battlefield by the remembrance of him, and look forward to his approval as their recompense (2 Samuel 19:3). Such devotion is rare, not merely towards an earthly commander, but even on the part of those who war a spiritual warfare towards the heavenly Leader and "Captain of their salvation."
III. THE SIGNAL OVERTHROW OF HIS ADVERSARIES (2 Samuel 18:7, 2 Samuel 18:8); which is accomplished by the valour, discipline, and devotion of his "servants," and chiefly:
1. By the interposition of Divine providence (2 Samuel 18:28, 2 Samuel 18:31). "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). "Providence is" by no means "always on the side of big battalions."
2. In retribution upon the disobedient and ungodly, over whom mercy lingers long, but not forever, and who, though used as instruments of chastising others, are themselves ultimately broken in pieces.
3. For the deliverance of the faithful, the restoration of the "Lord's anointed," and the maintenance of the theocracy.
4. As a preparation for, and a foreshadowing of, the nobler victories of the King Messiah. It was another of the decisive battles of the world. "The contest was of short duration. The victors were soon vanquished. The storm was like a whirlwind, and like a whirlwind it passed away, leaving the enemies of God under the foot of the Messiah. To the depth of David's fall, to the height of his exaltation, there is but one parallel. We see it in the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The two Davids fell in a manner alike mysterious to their astonished friends. The two Davids rose again in a manner alike terrible to their astonished foes" (M. Hill, 'The Typical Testimony to the Messiah').—D.
2 Samuel 18:9-14
(THE WOOD OF EPHRAIM.)
A faithful soldier.
"Though I should receive [literally, 'weigh'] a thousand pieces of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king's son" (2 Samuel 18:12). While pursuing the enemy, a brave soldier came upon their leader, suspended from "the entangled branches of the great terebinth," in which his head was fastened so that he could not extricate himself. He forthwith reported what he had seen to Joab, who asked him why he had not despatched him, and said that he would have given him ten pieces of silver and a military girdle for doing so. A less scrupulous man might have sought even yet to secure the reward. But he replied that nothing would induce him to disobey the king. "So genuine was the reverence with which the loyalty of even a common soldier then invested the royal dignity" (Ewald). His fidelity may serve to illustrate that of "a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Timothy 2:3), as it appears in—
I. HIS RESPECT FOR THE KING'S COMMANDMENT; which, unlike that of an earthly ruler, is always wise, just, and good.
1. He reverences the authority by which it is given, as rightful, all-powerful, supreme.
2. He regards it as obligatory on each and all to whom it is given (2 Samuel 18:12).
3. He remembers it constantly in the absence as well as the presence of the King, from whom "there is no matter hid" (2 Samuel 18:13).
4. He is resolved on performing it with all his might. "Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently" (Psalms 119:4, Psalms 119:11, Psalms 119:106).
II. HIS REJECTION OF STRONG TEMPTATION. He will not disobey the order received, though urged to do so by:
1. The impulse of resentment against the common enemy.
2. The plea of expediency, or what may seem to be for the common good.
3. The approval of a fellow soldier, or the sanction of any "captain" inferior to the King.
4. The promise of reward, certain, immediate, and great. "The Law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver" (Psalms 119:72, Psalms 119:31, Psalms 119:36).
III. HIS REBUKE OF ANOTHER'S PRESUMPTION. Joab must have felt himself reproved by this faithful and honest soldier; though he turned away contemptuously, recklessly, and presumptuously to do the deprecated deed. A dutiful soldier may and ought to rebuke the undutifulness of another by:
1. Reminding him of the word which has been spoken by the King.
2. Avowing his own determination to obey it in spite of all inducements to the contrary.
3. Predicting the certainty of the King's displeasure, which outweighs all present gain (Proverbs 16:14; Proverbs 19:12). "What is a man profited," etc.? "In the King's favour is life."
4. Intimating the unreliability of one who favours disobedience and presumes on impunity. "Thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me;" leaving me alone to bear the blame and suffer the penalty. "He must be a very bad man who is not attracted to what is good by the good example of his subordinates" (S. Schmid). "Then shall I not be ashamed when I have respect to all thy commandments'' (Psalms 119:6, Psalms 119:29, Psalms 119:51, Psalms 119:53).—D.
2 Samuel 18:14-18
(THE WOOD OF EPHRAIM.)
The end of Absalom.
After a long course of flagrant and persistent wickedness, Absalom (at the age of twenty-seven) met his deserved doom. There is not in all history a more signal instance of retribution. In it we see punishment following crime, in the way of natural consequence, and corresponding with it in the manner of its infliction. The sinner reaps as he sows.
"But Justice hastes t' avenge each impious deed:
Some in day's clear and open light;
Some in the dusky evening's twilight shads;
Or, by delay more furious made,
Some in the dreary gloom of night."
I. ARRESTED BY DIVINE JUSTICE, IN THE PERVERSITY OF HIS WAY. (2 Samuel 18:9, 2 Samuel 18:10.) When the battle went against him he sought to escape. Possibly he met with some of David's soldiers, who durst not "touch" him (2 Samuel 18:12); "but though they let him go, yet God met with him, and put a stop to his flight" (Patrick). His eagerness and impetuosity, his tall form, his long hair, "the king's mule" on which he rode, all contributed to the result. Entangled by the tresses of his hair, and fastened by his neck in a forked bough, he was left hanging "between heaven and earth" (Deuteronomy 21:23); "rejected as a traitor by both." None of his companions in crime remained with him, but all left him alone to his fate. "A man whom the Divine vengeance is pursuing does not escape" (S. Schmid). Insensate trees, dumb animals, apparently trivial and accidental circumstances, the devices and efforts of the transgressor, are so ordered that he shall not go unpunished (Proverbs 11:19, Proverbs 11:31; Proverbs 13:21; Proverbs 22:5; Proverbs 28:17, Proverbs 28:18).
II. EXECUTED BY HUMAN VIOLENCE, SIMILAR TO HIS OWN. (2 Samuel 18:14, 2 Samuel 18:15.) As he had slain Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28, 2 Samuel 13:29), so was he slain by Joab. "He that was a solicitor for the king's favour (2 Samuel 14:1, 2 Samuel 14:2, 2 Samuel 14:33) is his executioner against the king's charge" (Hall); influenced partly by zeal for the king's interest and the public good, partly by revenge for private injury (2 Samuel 14:30), and jealousy for his own position (2 Samuel 3:27; 2 Samuel 19:10). He shared the resentment felt by his men against Absalom; was an instrument by which the wrath of Heaven was inflicted; and perhaps deemed himself justified in becoming such, because of the excessive fondness and blamable weakness of David toward his son; but herein he punished disobedience by disobedience, exhibited a pitiless severity and daring presumption, incurred the king's displeasure (2 Samuel 19:13), involved himself in deeper crime (1 Kings 2:5), and ultimately in a violent death (1 Kings 2:32).
III. BURIED IN A SHAMEFUL GRAVE, in contrast with the splendid monument which "in his lifetime he had taken and reared up for himself," etc. (2 Samuel 18:18). "He had thought that he would be there, some time or other, buried as king; but he is now buried as an outlawed evil doer, as an outcast from among men. Till this hour that grave speaks to us with a loud awakening voice. Violations of the commandment, 'Honour thy father and thy mother,' for the most part, indeed, escape the judgment of human authorities; but the Almighty has reserved it to himself to inflict punishment with his own hand, and for the most part even on this side eternity, as he has promised for this world also a gracious reward to those who keep it holy, according to the promise annexed to the commandment, 'that it may go well wire thee'" (Krumreacher). "The great pit in the wood," with "a very great heap of stones laid upon him"—this was the end of his ambitious career (Deuteronomy 21:22, Deuteronomy 21:23; Joshua 7:26; Joshua 8:29). The site both of his grave and of the "marble pillar in the king's dale, two furlongs distant from Jerusalem" (Josephus), has been for ages unknown; and even the monolith in the valley of the Kidron (probably of the Herodian age, but associated with his name) is "unto this day" regarded with scorn by the passer by, as he casts another stone, and mutters a curse upon his memory. "Shame shall be the promotion of fools" (Proverbs 3:35; Proverbs 30:17). "Hear this, ye glorious fools, that care not to perpetuate any memory of yourselves to the world, but of ill-deserving greatness. The best of this affectation is vanity; the worst infamy and dishonour; whereas the memory of the just shall be blessed, and, if his humility shall refuse an epitaph and choose to hide himself under the bare earth, God himself shall engrave his name upon the pillar of eternity" (Hall).—D.
2 Samuel 18:18
(THE KING'S DALE.)
"Absalom's place" (literally, "hand," equivalent to "monument," or "memorial," 1 Samuel 15:12). To live in the memory of men after death is, in a sense, to be immortal on earth (2 Samuel 7:9). Of this earthly immortality observe that:
1. It is an object of natural and legitimate desire. To be wholly forgotten as soon as we are laid in the dust is a prospect from which we instinctively turn away with aversion, as from death itself. The natural love of life, of reputation, of power, of pre-eminence, implies the desire of their continuance, in so far as it is possible, not merely of exerting a continued influence (as every one must do), but also of having one's name kept in continued remembrance; and this desire exists in those who have little or no knowledge of personal immortality. It is well that men's thoughts should extend beyond the narrow span of their own lifetime. But the memory of themselves which they wish to be perpetuated should not be of their shining qualities and extraordinary achievements, but of their genuine faith, their holy character, and their beneficent deeds, as an incentive to the like (Psalms 78:7; Proverbs 13:22; Hebrews 11:4); for such a wish alone is of any moral worth.
2. The desire of it often leads to mistaken and unworthy endeavours in order to its attainment. Absalom "had taken and reared up for himself the pillar," etc. Imbued with selfish and vainglorious ambition, he imagined that the sight of it would call forth the admiration of posterity. In the same spirit he subsequently made his attempt upon the throne. So others have reared imposing monuments, built huge pyramids and palaces, fought great battles, and rushed into daring enterprises, heedless of the rectitude of their conduct or the welfare of mankind (Genesis 11:4; Ezekiel 29:3; Daniel 4:30). "Their inward thought is," etc. (Psalms 49:11-13). The character of their aim determines the nature of their efforts; and only those efforts which proceed from a right spirit ensure an enduring and honourable "name."
3. The result of such endeavours is shame and everlasting contempt, instead of immortal honour and glory. "Absalom's hand," which was intended to indicate to future generations his magnificence, indicated only his ignominy. Even that at length perished (Psalms 9:6; Proverbs 10:7). And his memory remains as a solemn warning against transgression. "In what different lights, in what different aspects of character, the human beings of past time are presented to our thoughts! How many of them are there that an odious and horrid character rests upon! They seem to bear eternal curses on their heads. A vindictive ray of Heaven's lightning seems continually darting down upon them. They appear as the special points of communication and attraction between a wicked world and the Divine vengeance" (J. Foster). But "the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance" (Psalms 112:6; Matthew 26:13; Acts 10:4; 2 Peter 1:15).—D.
2 Samuel 18:29
Is the young man … safe?
Youth is a season of intense activity, favourable opportunities, and glowing promise.
"The passion, which in youth
Drives fast downhill, means that the impulse gained
Should speed us up the hill that's opposite."
(Sir H. Taylor.)
This question is specially suggestive of—
I. DANGER. No soldier on the battlefield, no traveller on "dark mountains," no ship on a tempestuous sea, is exposed to greater peril than a young man. Of what? Not so much of physical suffering and death, as of sin—the only real evil, and one which involves the loss of his highest life (Matthew 10:28). From what? Chiefly from himself—his "own heart" (Jeremiah 17:9); inexperience; susceptibility to impressions; personal endowments (2 Samuel 14:25); "youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 2:22), the love of pleasure, excitement, "name and fame;" impatience of control, self-confidence, rashness, and presumption. Also from false friends (2 Samuel 13:3), rather than open enemies; sceptical and sensuous literature; "the defilements [miasma] of the age" (2 Peter 2:20); and the peculiar temptations of the place, the occupation, and the society with which he is connected. "Rejoice, O young man," etc. (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
II. SAFETY. "To be forewarned is to be forearmed." "Wherewithal, etc. 9 By taking heed thereto according to thy Word" (Psalms 119:9). The most essential thing is a right state of heart; its supreme affection set on God, its ruling purpose directed to the doing of his will (Proverbs 4:23), its varied powers "united to fear his Name" (Psalms 86:11; Proverbs 1:7). There is also need of watchfulness (1 Corinthians 16:1-24 :31), keeping out of the way of temptation, trusting in God to be kept by him, unceasing prayer, association with good men, the cultivation of proper habits, profitable reading, seasonable recreation, useful employment, and advancement toward the true end of life. "If ye do these things, ye shall never stumble," etc. (2 Peter 1:10, 2 Peter 1:11).
III. ANXIETY; on the part of parents, instructors, Christian friends; arising from sincere affection, a clear perception of his danger, and an ardent desire for his welfare; expressed in fervent prayer, appropriate endeavour (2 Samuel 18:5), and frequent inquiries (2 Samuel 18:32). Alas! that a young man for whom others are so tenderly concerned should recklessly and wilfully "lose himself and become castaway"!—D.
2 Samuel 18:33
David's lament over Absalom.
"Would that I had died in thy stead, O Absalom! my son! my son!" In a little court between the inner and the outer gate of the fortified city wall, where (in the early morning) he stood and watched his brave soldiers going forth to battle (2 Samuel 18:4), sits the aged king at eventide (2 Samuel 19:3, 2 Samuel 19:7), awaiting tidings from the battlefield. The watchman, "from the roof of the gate at the wall," calls out to him that he descries, first one man "running alone" (not with others, as in flight, 2 Samuel 18:25), then another, and, as the foremost approaches nearer, says that he thinks his running is like that of the swift footed Ahimaaz (2 Samuel 17:17). On the arrival of the news of victory ("Peace!"), the first words of David (like his last, 2 Samuel 18:5) are of Absalom; "Is there peace (shalom) to [is it well with] the young man Absalom?" and, perceiving his deep concern, Ahimaaz dares not reveal the whole truth (2 Samuel 18:20). Again; the king makes the same inquiry of the Cushite, who (with less sympathy, but greater fidelity) utters the wish that as the young man, so might all the king's enemies be! "And the king was much moved (greatly agitated with grief), and went up to the upper chamber of the gate, and wept; and thus he said, as he walked (to and fro): My son Absalom! my son! my son Absalom!" etc.
"Is it so far from thee
Thou canst no longer see
In the chamber over the gate
That old man desolate,
Weeping and wailing sore
For his son who is no more?
'O Absalom, my son!'
"Somewhere at every hour
The watchman on the tower
Looks forth, and sees the fleet
Approach of hurrying feet
Of messengers, that bear
The tidings of despair.
'O Absalom, my son!'
"That 'tis a common grief
Bringeth but slight relief;
Ours is the bitterest loss.
Ours is the heaviest cross;
And forever the cry will be,
'Would God I had died for thee,
O Absalom, my son!'"
"Absalom afflicted his father more by his death than by his life". This expression of intense and absorbing grief (in which all joy of victory is swallowed up, 2 Samuel 19:2) is indicative of—
I. PARENTAL AFFECTION from which it springs. Five times the afflicted father cries, "My son!" (B'ni); thrice, "Absalom!" A father's love (especially in such a fervid soul as David's) is:
1. The natural, instinctive, spontaneous effect of the relationship which subsists between him and his child. It is the closest relationship of life, and is mercifully joined by the Creator and Father of all with a great and peculiar affection; which, nevertheless (whilst it is intensified and exalted by a proper appreciation of its object, as "the offspring of God") requires to be regulated by intelligence and piety.
2. Deeply rooted, enduring, indestructible. It is not eradicated by a son's estrangement (Luke 15:12), wilfulness, manifold transgressions, or even open rebellion. It makes large allowances, has much patience and forbearance; "believeth all things," etc. (1 Corinthians 13:7), "covereth all sins "(Proverbs 10:12). It feels persuaded that he has "some good thing in him," And cannot endure the thought of his entire abandonment, "Not only the question itself (2 Samuel 18:29), but the very terms of it, breathe the tenderness of David's feelings. Absalom is 'the youth,' as if his youth were a full excuse for his conduct" ('Speaker's Commentary').
3. Pitiful, sympathetic, self-sacrificing (Psalms 103:13). "My son, my beloved, my beautiful Absalom! miserably slain, and now lying dead! Would that I had died for thee!" (2 Samuel 24:17; Exodus 32:32; Romans 9:3).
"Thou seest the braided roots that bind
Yon towering cedar to the rock;
Thou seest the clinging ivy twined
As if to spurn the whirlwind's shock;—
Poor emblems of the strings that tie
His offspring to a parent's heart;
For those will, mouldering, yield and die,
But these can never, never part."
II. DISAPPOINTED EXPECTATION AND HOPE. All through the course pursued by Absalom, David doubtless cherished the hope that:
1. He might see the error of his way, and, constrained by his father's affection, repent of his sins. He may have supposed him penitent at the time of his return (2 Samuel 14:23), and that his reconciliation (2 Samuel 14:33) would be followed by filial love and obedience.
2. He might fulfil the anticipations formed at his birth, strengthened by the brilliant promise of his early youth, and apparently justified by his more recent diligence and religious zeal (2 Samuel 15:2, 2 Samuel 15:8). The love of a parent often blinds him to the many defects and malicious designs of his son. Until this moment David hoped (2 Samuel 18:5) that:
3. His life, at least, might be spared and his destruction averted. All is suddenly extinguished; his "sun is gone down while it was yet day;' and the remembrance of its brightness remains only to deepen the gloom of the succeeding night.
III. PERSONAL COMPUNCTION. Had the righteous judgment of God overtaken Absalom because he had "risen up against him" (2 Samuel 18:31)? Was David himself, then, blameless? He could not but remember that:
1. He had despised the commandment of the Lord, and rebelled against the Divine King of Israel.
2. He had contributed by his own conduct to the misconduct of his son. "The worst ingredient in this cup of anguish would be, I think, the consciousness in David's heart that, if he had himself been all he ought to have been, his son might not thus have perished (W.M. Taylor).
3. He was now suffering the chastisement of Heaven, of which his son's death was a part. "Absalom's sin and shame had two sides—there was in it the curse that David's sin brought on David's house (2 Samuel 12:10), the misdeed of the father's that is visited on the children (Exodus 20:5); and not less, Absalom's own wickedness and recklessness, which made him the bearer of the family curse. David looks at Absalom's deed not on the latter side, but on the former (for his own guilt seems to him so great, that he looks little at Absalom's); hence his deep, boundless compassion for his misguided son" (Kurtz). "The heartbroken cry, 'Would God I had died for thee!' was not only the utterance of self-sacrificing love, but the confession that he himself deserved the punishment which fell upon another" (Kirkpatrick).
IV. IRREPARABLE LOSS AND SEPARATION. "As that young man is;" his life "as water spilt upon the ground," etc. No cries nor tears can restore him to his father or "the land of the living" (1 Samuel 25:29; 2 Samuel 4:11; Psalms 26:9; Psalms 49:8). Whatever David may have thought of his condition in Sheol, no parent can contemplate the death of a rebellious and impenitent son without heart rending grief, arising from the fear of his exclusion from the presence of God, sharing the doom of the Lord's enemies, and endless separation from the fellowship of saints. "All hope abandon, ye who enter here!" (Dante, 'Inferno,' 3.).
1. It is possible, under circumstances most favourable to goodness, to become exceedingly bad.
2. One of the greatest evils in the world is that of disobedience to parents (2 Timothy 3:3).
3. The love of on earthly parent toward his children is a shadow of the eternal Father's love to men. "He is affected with fatherly love towards the whole human race. Inasmuch as we are men, we must be dear to God, and our salvation must be precious in his sight" (Calvin, on Ezekiel 18:4).
4. The Divine sorrow over men when they fall into sin and ruin, as revealed in the holy tears of Jesus, indicates their final state in "the world of infinite mourning."—D.
HOMILIES BY G. WOOD
2 Samuel 18:3
The surpassing worth of Christ.
"Thou art worth ten thousand of us." The doctrine that all men are equal is true in some important respects, but its application and use are very limited. It is equally true that all men are unequal, that no man is of exactly the same weight and worth as any other man. Men differ infinitely in body and mind, in intelligence and goodness, in position and influence, in their value to society; and so in the degrees of their responsibility to God. In domestic and social, civic, national, and Church life, one man is often worth many others. David's "people" felt this now that they were going forth to meet the forces of Absalom in battle; and they give as a reason why he should be content to remain in the city instead of exposing himself to the dangers of the battlefield, that he was worth ten thousand of them; that it was better that ten thousand of them should be slain than he, though he was only one. This sentiment underlies and justifies the natural feeling of loyalty to a sovereign, the willingness to protect him at the cost of many lives. In personal worth he may not be equal to many a single soldier or subject; but he represents the state; in his life may be involved the welfare of a nation, to protect which it is worth while for many to die. Such thoughts might well console the private soldier dying in obscurity on the field or in hospital. His king, his country, is worth a multitude of such as he. His life is worthily sacrificed for them. The same sentiment is applicable to the commanders of an army in contrast with common soldiers; to great statesmen and other leaders of men in contrast with the multitude. It is no disparagement of these to say that it would require many of them to equal in value to society one of those; and that, if necessary, it would be better that the many should die rather than the one. We may use the words emphatically in reference to our great King and Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ. True, he is no longer in personal peril from his enemies. "He lives beyond their utmost rage" (Watts). But his cause, influence, hold of mankind, place in their esteem and affection, in a word, his kingdom, may be endangered; and his true disciples will be ready to die in thousands rather than he should in these respects perish or even suffer loss. And the justification of their feeling is that he, personally and in his cause, "is worth ten thousand of them."
I. THE SURPASSING WORTH OF CHRIST.
1. In personal excellence. It is well when the monarch of a country is distinguished for mental and moral endowments. Even when the personality of the ruler is of less account in the actual government, it adds much to the welfare of the state that he is noble in the qualities of his mind and heart. This has been made manifest in the long reign of our beloved and honoured queen. Where the power of government is very largely trusted to the will of the sovereign, it is of incalculable importance that he should be both wise and good. David's kingdom sprang very mainly from, and was maintained by, his personal qualities. And this is more emphatically true of his great Son Jesus. He is "chiefest among ten thousand," chiefest among and above all creation. The perfections of God and the perfections of man are combined in this one glorious Person. In himself he is worthy of the utmost love and self-devotion.
2. In position and dignity. As "King of kings and Lord of lords;" "Lord of all;" King of souls; "Head of the Church" "Head over all things." These are not empty titles; but represent facts, actual glory and power. To serve such a King may well be esteemed the highest possible honour; to die for him, a great glory.
3. In relation to the good of men. Who shall say how much Christ is "worth" in this view? of how much value his work for and amongst men? how essentially their welfare in time and in eternity is bound up with his unchanging existence and power, and the manifestation of himself in the world through his Church? Every believer experiences his preciousness (1 Peter 2:7), and desires that all should have a like experience, through a "like precious faith" (2 Peter 1:1); and to keep him living in the memory of men, and secure the wider exercise of his saving power, would cheerfully sacrifice himself. We are insignificant, and if we die it matters little; but for him to perish from the life of men, or become feeble in his influence among them, would be disastrous indeed.
4. In power to succour and aid his servants. David was requested to remain in the city with the reserves, that, if it were required, he might send them to the succour of those fighting in the field. Our Lord can, "out of the city" in which he dwells, aid his servants in more effectual manner. Not only has he numberless reserves eager to do his bidding, but he is able to gather around him, from the very ranks of his foes, fresh hosts to fight his battles. And, beyond all this, he can himself be—yea, he is with his people everywhere and evermore, to inspirit them by his presence, and render them victorious. Who of them, what "ten thousand" of them, could fill his place?
5. In power to reward those who die in his service. Earthly rulers are powerless to recompense the soldiers who are slain in fighting their battles. Not so our great King. He is able to promise eternal life and glory to his faithful followers; and what he promises he performs.
II. THE EFFECT WHICH CONTEMPLATION OF THE SURPASSING WORTH OF CHRIST SHOULD HAVE UPON US.
1. Satisfaction that he lives safe above all the hostility of his enemies. Lives, not in heaven only, but on earth in spirit and power, working in and, with his people and confirming his Word. Human leaders and teachers die, but "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). That One of so much worth to men, and so needful to them, should be thus immortal and immutable, is matter for joy and thankfulness. He needs not, like David, the plans and efforts of his servants to preserve him; but we can and should rejoice that he lives and reigns, and "mast reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25).
2. Devoted loyalty to him even unto death. The readiness with which David's friends hazarded and gave up their lives for him, nay, the similar devotedness of many a common soldier, may well put most Christians to the blush.
3. Contentment in view of the enormous sacrifice of human lives which has been made for his sake. It is not waste; the willing deaths of martyrs, missionaries, Christian workers of all grades, have not been unreasonable. He and his cause are worthy of it all.
4. Confidence in respect to ultimate victory over all his foes. With such a King and Captain, final defeat is impossible.
5. Assurance of ample recompense for whatever we lose, were it life itself, in his service.
6. Concern to be on the side of Christ rather than of a multitude in opposition to him. We are tempted to follow the crowd, and (with or without thinking) to esteem that to be the right course which the greater number pursue. But truth goes not necessarily, or even ordinarily, with the majority. With the one Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, are truth, safety, victory, ultimate gain. His judgment is worth more than that of "ten thousand" others; his favour of infinitely more value than theirs. If adherence to him were to lead to the separation from us of all besides, and we were to find ourselves alone, we might say after his manner, "I am not alone, because the Master is with me" (John 16:32).—G.W.
2 Samuel 18:13
Dealing falsely against our lives.
"I should have wrought falsehood against my own life." Another reading, preferred by the Old Testament Revisers, substitutes "his" for "my own;" but they place in the margin that adopted in the Authorized Version. Taking the passage, then, as it stands in the Authorized Version. the meaning of the speaker is that if he had slain Absalom, he would have brought death upon himself, since the king would have been made acquainted with the deed, and would have sentenced him to death. The form of the expression is worthy of notice. Doing what would have cost him his life is called working falsehood against it. A man's life is entrusted to him to guard and nourish. When he does this, he acts truly towards it; when he does what injures or destroys his life, he acts falsely towards it; he violates his trust. Every man virtually professes to be concerned for the safety and well being of his life; when he does what endangers or terminates it, he may be said to deal falsely with it, to act treacherously towards it. This is the case with those who put themselves to death, or shorten their days by intemperance or licentiousness; or who, by crime, bring themselves to the gallows (see homily on 2 Samuel 17:23). But we may take the words as suggesting that there are persons who work falsehood against their lives in the higher sense, as beings immortal, and capable of that, life which is life indeed,—the life everlasting.
I. HOW DO MEN COMMIT THIS SIN?
1. By taking the course which surely leads to death. In violating the laws of God they bring on themselves the sentence of death, and separate themselves from God, in whose favour is life.
2. By refusing the new life which is proffered them in the gospel. Life under the Law having become impossible through sin, God has interposed with another method of imparting life. His Son came to be our Life. He died that we might live. He lives evermore to bestow life on all who believe on him. "He that hath the Son hath life," etc. (1 John 5:12); "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life," etc. (John 3:36). To reject him is to reject life. It is to deal falsely with our own lives, our own souls.
3. By neglecting the means by which the life of the soul is preserved and nourished. Reading of the Word, meditation, prayer, watchfulness, ordinances of public worship, union and communion with Christians, etc; whatever is intended and adapted to keep the soul in vital union with him who is "the Life" (John 14:6).
II. ITS UNNATURALNESS AND WICKEDNESS. The man implied that to deal falsely with his own life was a thing utterly inadmissible. So it ought to be in respect to the life of the soul. For:
1. It is the life which is concerned. It is not a mere question of more or less health, comfort, or other subordinate good. "It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life" (Deuteronomy 32:47).
2. It is the most precious kind of life. Unspeakably more important than the life of the body, or even of the mind, or of any of the principles and affections which relate us to the family or society. Because of
3. It is our own life. Which should be specially dear to us, and has been specially entrusted to us: which we are therefore especially bound to care for and conserve.
4. To imperil or sacrifice it is to deal falsely against it and against God. We are under a covenant to care for it. Nature binds us, and Scripture, and perhaps religious vows, voluntarily made and often repeated.
5. Such a course will bring upon us the Divine displeasure. We shall not only lose our souls, but shall find ourselves involved in awful penalties for doing so; not only shall we fail of "eternal life," but shall "go away into eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46). The words may be a safeguard against temptation. "In doing this thing I should deal falsely against my own life."—G.W.
2 Samuel 18:13
The omniscience of our King.
"There is no matter hid from the king." This is given, by the man who informed Joab that Absalom was hanging in an oak, as a reason why he might have been sure of death himself if he had killed Absalom. It shows how well informed David was understood to be of all that took place amongst his subjects. Such an impression respecting governors and magistrates in general as this man had respecting David, would go far to extinguish crime. The assertion here made as to King David's knowledge may be made absolutely, and without exception, in reference to our great King.
I. THE OMNISCIENCE OF CHRIST. This is claimed for and by him in Holy Scripture.
1. The sources of his knowledge. His own essential Divine faculty of knowing. He does not depend, like ordinary rulers, on informants. His "eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3).
2. The extent of his knowledge. He knows, not only the actions of men, but their hearts; all thoughts, emotions, motives, plans, purposes; all movements and events that can affect his kingdom. His enemies take counsel against him under his very eyes.
3. The impossibility of concealing anything from him. "There is no matter hid from the King." Nothing can hide aught from him. Not physical darkness; not distance; not efforts at concealment; no hypocrisy; no simulation or dissimulation; no excuses, contradictions, or evasions. The assertions in Psalms 139:1-24.; Job 34:21, Job 34:22; 2 Timothy 2:19; Hebrews 4:13, are as applicable to the Son as to the Father.
II. THE EFFECT WHICH THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE OMNISCIENCE OF CHRIST SHOULD HAVE UPON US.
1. To confirm our confidence in his fitness to be King. Rule over such a kingdom as his—extending over numbers so vast, and reaching to the inmost souls of his subjects—requires omniscience as one of the attributes of the Ruler.
2. To deter us from wrong doing. As a similar knowledge deterred this Israelite from slaying the king's son.
3. To assure us that judgment will fall on the guilty, and only on them; and on each according to the measure of his guiltiness. For want of better knowledge in human rulers and magistrates, some innocent persons suffer as guilty, and many guilty ones escape punishment.
4. To encourage us in all that is good. Christ's perfect knowledge of us is a great comfort for Christians who are unknown or unacknowledged amongst men; for the maligned and misunderstood; for workers in obscurity; for such as do good quietly and secretly. "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee" (John 21:17). "Thy Father"—thy Redeemer and Lord—"which seeth in secret shall recompense thee" (Matthew 6:4, Revised Version). "Who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God" (1 Corinthians 4:5, Revised Version).
"Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not,
The Master praises: what are men?"
5. To comfort us in all troubles. "Thou hast seen my affliction; thou hast known my soul in adversities" (Psalms 31:7, Revised Version). A special comfort for those whose troubles are too peculiar or too sacred to communicate to others. Though our King be so exalted, he interests himself in each one of his subjects, even the least, knows all that pains them, and sympathizes with them in all.—G.W.
2 Samuel 18:18
The contrast between 2 Samuel 18:17 and 2 Samuel 18:18 is touching. Absalom, whose three sons (2 Samuel 14:27) were dead, desirous that his name should not therefore die, erected a monument to perpetuate it, probably connecting with it a tomb in which he purposed that his body should lie, and in which possibly he may have placed the remains of his deceased children. But he was buried in another sepulchre, and had another monument reared to his memory. A pit in the forest of Ephraim became his grave, and "a very great heap of stones" his memorial. The contrast appears more marked in the original than in our version. The same Hebrew word is translated "laid" in 2 Samuel 18:17, and "reared" in 2 Samuel 18:18. "They took Absalom … and raised a very great heap of stones upon him … Absalom in his lifetime had taken and raised up for himself a pillar," etc. The desire to have our name perpetuated is natural, and in some becomes a passion. It is one of the pleasures parents have, that, when they are gone, their children (especially their sons) will keep their names in the memory of men. Failing this, the hope of a tombstone to fulfil in some measure the same purpose may give satisfaction; it is only a very few who can hope for a "pillar" as a monument. But, after all, these are poor memorials, and they may preserve a very undesirable memory of a deceased person. There are better methods of ensuring that we shall not be soon forgotten amongst men, and, at the same time, that the image thus perpetuated shall be both desirable and useful. These methods, moreover, are open to the multitude who cannot hope for either pillar or tombstone to commemorate them, "The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance" (Psalms 112:6).
I. HOW TO BUILD MONUMENTS TO OUR MEMORY.
1. By eminent piety and holiness. "The memory of the just is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot" (Proverbs 10:7).
2. By the faithful discharge of private and public duties.
3. By zeal for the spiritual good of others. Instructing them ourselves. Providing for their instruction. Those who have wealth may erect a house of prayer, which will be a better monument than a pillar. The childless man may thus have spiritual children that shall perpetuate his memory and good influence. Loving work amongst the young is likely to be most successful, both in respect to their good and the long perpetuation of our memory. Our name will be written on their hearts, and repeated by them with gratitude in their conversation and in their thanksgivings to God.
4. By large general benevolence. Devotedness in the relief of suffering and the promotion in other ways of the good of others. Some secure a lasting name by building, enlarging, or endowing hospitals, almshouses, or schools. But little acts of kindness, especially if they become the habit of a life, may secure even a warmer place in the memory and affection of those whom we benefit.
II. THE MONUMENTS THUS ERECTED. It follows from what has been said that these will be:
1. Souls saved or greatly profited.
2. Happiness produced or increased.
3. Grateful remembrance and mention of us. By those we have benefited. By all acquainted with our lives who rightly estimate goodness and benevolence.
4. In the case of some, religious and philanthropic institutions and agencies, which they have founded or greatly strengthened, and with which their names will continue to be associated.
III. THE SUPERIORITY OF SUCH MONUMENTS. In comparison with pillars, etc; erected to our memory.
1. In their nature. Memorials of stone bear no comparison with those written on the hearts, and in the characters and happiness, of men; or indissolubly associated with permanent agencies for their well being.
2. In their fruitfulness. The good done reproduces itself; the memory of the doer, thus perpetuated, more surely excites to imitation of his character and works.
3. In their duration. The less durable of such memorials will outlast any material monument; the spiritual ones will survive the last fires, and be everlasting.
1. It is a solemn thing to reflect that shortly all that will.remain of us in this world will be our memorials. We ourselves must soon be gone, be we princes or peasants, rich or poor, learned or ignorant. The only advantage of the rich over the poor is that of more costly monuments. But the choicest monuments may be secured by the poor as well as the rich.
2. The securing for ourselves a lasting name amongst men ought not to be the chief motive, nor one of the chief motives, of our conduct, it should hardly be a motive at all. Of Christian conduct and works, it cannot be a main motive; for a life so produced is not Christian. To act in order to "have glory of men" (Matthew 6:2) after our death differs not in principle from seeking to have such glory now. Had Mary (Matthew 26:6-13) lavished her precious ointment on our Lord in order that she might be memorable to all ages, he would not have commended her. Our chief motives should be love to God and Christ and men, the desire to be approved of God, and to have our names recorded indelibly in the book of life (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5).
3. An enduring name may be obtained by ill-doing as well as by well doing. The name of Judas will last as long as that of Mary, and be perpetuated by the same means. And the memory of a good man's failings may be as enduring as that of his virtues.
4. The grand instance of a Name after death synonymous with all that is great and good in the highest sense and degree, without any admixture of evil, and productive of the highest and most lasting good in others, is that of our blessed Lord.—G.W.
2 Samuel 18:27
A good messenger of good news.
"He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings." Underlying this phrase is probably the feeling that there is a congruity between good tidings and a good man. David may have thought that such a messenger as Ahimaaz would not have been sent with bad news; and, indeed, Joab was unwilling that he should run with the news, because he knew how grievous part of it would be to David. It may be permissible to take these words as applicable to the proclaimers of the heavenly good news—the gospel of God. It should be true of every Christian minister and teacher, yea, of every Christian, that "he is a good man, and cometh with good tidings." We are the more readily led to such an accommodation of the words, because the terms used throughout this section of the narrative are in the Septuagint identical with those ( εὐαγγέλια εὐαγγελίζω) with which we are so familiar in the New Testament.
I. THERE ARE GOOD TIDINGS TO BE PROCLAIMED. Christianity is pre-eminently "gospel" (equivalent to "good news"), and is often called by this name. It is good tidings from the region and the Person from whence we might reasonably expect bad; and about the Being and the things which are of most importance to us. It declares to us the love of God to sinful men. It announces the coming and the work of a Divine Saviour; the reign of a Divine King; an all-sufficient propitiation for sin; a full and free redemption; an almighty, most loving and ever abiding Comforter and Helper. It proclaims pardon for the guilty, cleansing for the impure, life for the dead, comfort for the sad and sorrowful, Divine righteousness for the unrighteous, Divine strength for the weak, peace and joy on earth, perfection alike of holiness and happiness in heaven. It offers all these blessings on the simple condition of "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).
II. THESE GOOD TIDINGS ARE COMMITTED TO GOOD MEN TO MAKE KNOWN. Only good men, real Christians, have a Divine commission to engage in this work. God does not need the services of his enemies in the work of turning enemies into friends and ministering to their good. No unconverted man, no one that is carnal, worldly, unholy, can be a true Christian preacher or teacher.
1. Only good men really know the gospel. (See 1 Corinthians 2:14; Matthew 11:25.) We need to be "taught of God" (John 6:45) in order to our real reception and. understanding of Christian truth.
2. Only good men can rightly make it known. We cannot teach what we do not know; we cannot teach aright that with which we are out of harmony and sympathy. The work of teaching the gospel requires love to God, to the Lord Jesus Christ, to the truth, to the souls of men; sympathy with the mind and heart and purposes of God as revealed in the gospel; a character consistent with it, and adapted to illustrate and recommend it; and the earnest and believing prayerfulness which secures the Divine aid and blessing. "But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?" (Psalms 50:16).
III. GOOD MEN SHOULD MAKE KNOWN THE GOOD TIDINGS ZEALOUSLY, All Christians should do this according to the measure of their abilities and opportunities. They should be incited to do this by:
1. The nature of the tidings. With which only intense earnestness in the messenger is in harmony.
2. Their personal obligations to the redeeming love which they announce.
3. The unspeakable blessings they have received through the knowledge of them.
4. The commands of their Lord.
5. The natural impulses of the Christian heart. Which are the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
6. The good they can thus confer on their fellow men. Good of the most important and lasting kind, and of which they are most of all in need.
IV. THOSE WHO MAKE KNOWN THE GOOD TIDINGS OUGHT MORE AND MORE TO BECOME GOOD. The work of learning and teaching the gospel ought to greatly benefit the teachers. It is adapted to do so, on account of:
1. The nature of the gospel. Its every truth is sanctifying.
2. The special character of the work. It exercises and trains every Christian virtue. It brings into close communion with the infinitely Good, who is also the Inspirer of all good in his creatures.
3. The regard for consistency which the worker is likely to cherish.
4. His desire for success in his work. This will increase his desire and endeavour after greater personal consecration and holiness.
5. The concern which he will feel to be accepted of God. "Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:27).
1. The subject appeals to all who have part in the teaching of Christianity. Not only preachers, but parents and other teachers of the young, district visitors, etc.
2. Some need to be reminded that the Christian religion is not all of the nature of good tidings to each one to whom it comes. If it says, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," it says also, "He that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). If of the righteous it declares, "It shall be well with him," it also says, "Woe unto the wicked, it shall be ill with him!" (Isaiah 3:10, Isaiah 3:11). But its tidings of evil, as well as of good, need good men to bear them properly. It needs faith and faithfulness toward God, tender love and pity toward men, to utter them aright, and with probability of success.—G.W.
2 Samuel 18:29
Concern for the welfare of young men.
"Is the young man Absalom safe?" or, as in the Revised Version, "Is it well with the young man Absalom?" The inquiry reveals what was on David's heart equally with, if not more than, the welfare of the state and the continuance of his own reign. While Absalom had accepted with approval plans for accomplishing his father's death, David was more solicitous for the preservation of Absalom's life than his own; and now that the victory of his forces is announced, he cannot rejoice at the tidings until he knows whether his son still lives; and when he learns that he is dead, his grief quite overwhelms his joy, and bursts all bounds. It is not uncommon for worthless sons, who have lost all affection and dutifulness towards their parents, to have parental love still lavished and wasted upon them. The reprobate is not unfrequently the favourite. The inquiry of David is one that may be, and often is, put respecting young men, with reference to various kinds of well being. Is it well with him? Is he in health? Is he getting on in business, etc.? It may well be directed towards welfare of a more essential kind—Is it well with him morally, spiritually, and with reference to eternity?
I. WHEN IS IT WELL WITH YOUNG MEN?
1. When they have become decided Christians. When of their own free choice they have accepted Christ as their Saviour and Lord, and manfully owned him before men. It cannot be really well with those who are without Christ, living in rebellion towards their heavenly Father, and walking in the way that leads to destruction.
2. When living lives of watchfulness and prayer. Sensible of the perils to which they are exposed, guarding against temptation, and ever imploring Divine protection and help. In such a world as this, it cannot be well for the young and inexperienced to be unaware of their dangers, or heedless respecting them.
3. When carrying Christian principles into consistent practice in every department of their lives.
4. When earnestly devoting themselves to works of piety and benevolence. To do this is well, not only for those whose good they may be seeking, but for themselves. It is a safeguard and an education. Let young men (young women too) thus live, and:
II. THE CONCERN WHICH IS FELT IN RESPECT TO THE CHRISTIAN WELFARE OF YOUNG MEN.
1. By their Christian parents. Natural affection and religious faith combine to produce an anxiety which young people can very partially understand. The happiness of parents is bound up with that of their children. Christians "live" (1 Thessalonians 3:8) when their sons and daughters live to Christ, and "stand fast" in him. Their anxiety on their account is greatly intensified when they have left home for new scenes and associations, involving' new perils to character, without the preservative influence of home and known friends.
2. Ministers and Churches ought to be more concerned about the spiritual welfare of young men than they always are. Their mission is to care for souls; and no souls are more interesting, more exposed to danger, more needing and ready to appreciate sympathy and friendly offices, than those of the young. None are of so much value for the advancement of religion at home and abroad. And of the young, none so need guidance and wise influence as young men; young women are drawn to Christ more readily, and are usually exposed to less powerful temptations. Measures for the good of young men should occupy a prominent place in the agencies of every congregation.
3. Christian citizens may well cherish a like concern. For on the direction that the youth of a country take depends to a large extent the welfare of the state. If the young could but be generally brought under the power of godliness, with its accompanying intelligence, purity, uprightness, and benevolence, a new era of national glory and happiness would have commenced. Is it well with the young, especially with young men? should, then, be a common inquiry from all good men and women; and should be accompanied with such practical proofs of interest in the inquiry as are possible. There are few Christians who could not do something to bring Christian influences to bear upon the young men they know, and to shield them from the opposite influences, which are so numerous and powerful.
Finally, young men should be concerned for their own best interests. Because it is right; because the practices of godliness and virtue bring solid happiness; because thus they will make the most of their lives; and because of the concern which those who love them feel on their account. Let them, when tempted to neglect or forsake that which is good, or practise wickedness, remember the counsels and prayers of their fathers and mothers, and. the pain they will inflict on them if they go wrong.—G.W.
2 Samuel 18:33
A father's anguish at his sows death.
The stroke which David feared fell upon him at last. In spite of all his desire to save his rebellious son, and his commands to each of the generals to "deal gently" with him for his sake, he had been slain. When the father learnt the unwelcome truth from "the Cushite" (Revised Version), he was overwhelmed with grief; and retiring to "the chamber over the gate" he burst out in the pathetic lamentation, "O my son Absalom!" etc; and continued crying with a loud voice, "O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Samuel 19:4 :). These loud demonstrations of grief were in a high degree impolitic, as Joab soon convinced him (2 Samuel 19:5-8), but they were the natural outburst of his tender heart and his unquenchable love for his worthless son. He had grieved sorely in the expectation of the death of his infant child (2 Samuel 12:16, 2 Samuel 12:21, 2 Samuel 12:22); much more must he grieve over this young man, on whom his heart had been set for so many years, and for whom he had done and borne so much. Moreover, Absalom had died suddenly, and by violence, and in sinful war against his father—unrepentant, unforgiven. David might even, in his passionate grief, reflect on himself as the occasion, however innocently, of his death, since it arose from the measures he had taken in defence of himself and his throne. Still more bitter would be the reflection that, by his foolish fondness, his evil example, his laxity of discipline, his refraining from merited punishment of his son's earlier sins and crimes, and his neglect to crush his treasonable practices at their commencement, be had greatly contributed to the formation of his evil character, and to his untimely and miserable end.
I. THE SORROW OF PARENTS BEREFT OF GROWN-UP CHILDREN. It is composed of various elements.
1. Sorrow of natural affection. Which cannot always give account of itself, but is implanted by the Creator for most important purposes, is increased by years of exercise and mutual endearments and services, and often survives when these have ceased, and parental love is requited with ingratitude, neglect, injury, or deadly hostility.
2. Sorrow of disappointed hope. Parents picture to themselves a career of prosperity and honourable activity for their children, and try to ensure it by the education and start in life which they give them. Or they may have looked to their son to be the prop of their own old age. How can they but sorrow bitterly when all their hopes are scattered by death?
3. Their sorrow may be increased by painful fears. It may be a sorrow uncheered by hope, because over the death of one who lived and died in sin.
4. Self-reproach may, as in the ease of David, accompany and embitter the grief. The highest parental duties—those which have respect to the souls of children—may have been neglected. The home may have been, through parental indifference and worldliness, if no worse, a quite unfit place of preparation for holy service on earth or entrance into heaven. The sorrow arising from the consciousness of this cannot be assuaged by remembrance of the education given to prepare for this world's business, or the accomplishments imparted to render life refined and agreeable.
5. The sorrows of bereaved parents are increased and from time to time renewed by observing the happiness of other parents whose children are continued to them, and are living in habits of piety, rectitude, and benevolence.
II. CONSOLATIONS FOR SUCH SORROW. These are to be found in:
1. Profound submission to the will of God. The death we mourn, however it comes, was his doing who has the right to dispose of us and ours according to his pleasure; and who is infinite in wisdom and goodness—"our Father." "Thou didst it" (Psalms 39:9); "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away" (Job 1:21).
2. Assurance of his fatherly compassion. That he sympathizes while he chastises (Psalms 103:13).
3. A good conscience. Happy the fathers, the mothers, who have the consoling reflection that they did their best to fit their departed children for this world or the. next.
4. In the case of the death of godly children, the assurance of their blessed existence and happy commencement of nobler careers than those cut short by death. The assurance also of future reunion where "there shall be no more death" (Revelation 21:4).
1. Let parents think of their children as mortal; and be concerned so to train and influence them as to fit them for both living and dying.
2. Let children live in view of a possibly early death. Seek safety in Christ. Let life be a constant following of him. Dread to have life shortened and death made terrible by sins and vices. Let your parents have the consolation of knowing, should you die young, that you are "not lost, but gone before."—G.W.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 18". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent