Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 15 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/24/2016 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 15
“If I Find Favor in the Eyes of the LORD”
Here we have continued struggles for David. This begins a multi-chapter story about David’s son Absalom committing treason by trying to take the throne from his father. In this chapter, it results in David fleeing into exile. These will be more difficult times for David. We’ll continue to see some of David’s weaknesses. But we will also see some of his God-given strengths, where we’ll be reminded that God has trained David to be a man after God’s own heart.
So as we approach this passage, I want to remind us of a theme we had talked about for a long time while we were studying 1 Samuel. We said that David’s kingdom was already and not yet here. We mentioned that he had been anointed king by God, but had not actually started to reign yet. Finally, in the beginning of 2 Samuel, David begun to reign over God’s people as king. The not yet had arrived. And yet it’s passages like this where we are reminded that David’s kingdom which by now had already come, shows them that there was yet a better kingdom still ahead for God’s people. God had promised this to David himself back in chapter 7. And we see it right here and now. As wonderful as David’s kingdom was, it was not perfect. It was not the bringer of the ultimate peace and security that God had in store for his people. David’s kingdom was a forerunner of that kingdom, but it wasn’t it, itself. A passage like this reminds us that. There was a better kingdom yet to come.
For here in this kingdom, in David’s kingdom, there arises evil from within its own ranks. One of David’s own, even his own son, rises up against him. And the interesting part is that we know that in one sense, this was God’s chastisement to David in ordaining this to happen, and yet on the other hand, this was the result of Absalom’s evil. Remember that God’s chastening to David regarding his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah was that the sword would not depart from David’s house. And so in God’s mysterious providence, he uses Absalom’s evil to chasten David. Yet, while David learns what he is to learn from this, he is still the king and must figure out to respond to such evil from within the ranks of his kingdom. How difficult that must have been for David when the evil was with his own beloved son.
So we have this Davidic kingdom having to deal with evil from within, and it will be quite a challenge for David. Let’s look first then at how Absalom initiated this treason. Absalom begins by stealing the people’s hearts. He gets up early every day and sits at the city gates. He would intercept the people who were coming to Jerusalem to see the king and plead some case before the king. Absalom would take an interest in them, honor them, and then essentially defame his Dad to them. Notice in verse 3 that Absalom basically tells them that the king does not have anyone to hear the people’s case. I call this defaming David because we have no records of David not providing the people justice. In fact, we have the opposite recorded. Remember the wise woman of Tekoa and also Nathan the prophet. They both brought what David thought were cases and he heard them both out. Of course in those cases, they were actually parables about David’s own life, but nonetheless the point is David was open to hearing cases from the people. So, Absalom rather deceptively defames the people. And then Absalom laments with them that if only he were judge in the land, then he could give the people justice. But the result of all this is clear per verse 6: he stole the hearts of the people.
So that is his major setup for taking over the kingdom. He does this for four years. But then Absalom goes into the second phase of his plan. He lies to his Dad to get his blessing to go to Hebron. Hebron is the old capital city before Jerusalem, so you can understand why this might be a good spot for him to claim control of the kingdom. But to go there, he lies to David, verse 7. Not only does he lie, but he lies using God’s name. He tells David that he supposedly had vowed a vow in the name of the Lord that would then require him to go and worship in Hebron. The vow was if God would bring him back to Jerusalem. Of course, it seems strange why Absalom would wait four years from keeping such a vow. It is also strange why he would have to go worship at Hebron when the Ark was already right there in Jerusalem. But David doesn’t voice any objection, and off Absalom goes to Hebron.
Well, once Absalom is in Hebron, he brings in two hundred men from Jerusalem, who didn’t know anything about Absalom’s plan. Likely, the strategy here was that these were influential people of Jerusalem that he wanted to have somewhere he could control them. And then we see verse 12. It talks of a conspiracy; that Absalom’s conspiracy grew stronger and stronger. The conspiracy there includes what was said in verse 10. Absalom sent out secret messengers throughout Israel, to coordinate some coup at the sound of a trumpet. Then all his co-conspirators would declare Absalom as king. Verse 12 tells us that this conspiracy even included people like David’s counselor Ahithophel. Though that might sound shocking, I guess it’s not as shocking when we remember that Ahithophel is Bathsheba’s grandfather.
And so Absalom works this treason and we recognize what this is. It’s the spirit of the Antichrist. I’m using that in the literal sense. To be an antichrist you are literally against the Christ. Remember, the word Christ is the word for being anointed of the Lord. David was an Old Testament Christ, an anointed one of the Lord. So, for Absalom to oppose the Lord’s anointed, makes him by definition an antichrist. And this is what we typically find in the Bible. The plan of the Antichrist is to work treason from within. It’s to work to get God’s people from putting their allegiance in the right place and give it to one of whom it does not belong.
And so let’s turn now to our second point and consider the opposite side of things. While Absalom has this growing list of conspirators and supporters, David nonetheless has some people still loyal to them. As David leaves Jerusalem in flight, we see some of those paraded past him. You have of course his royal family and household. They come with him, save ten concubines who are left behind to take care of the palace while he’s gone. And then you also have his servants. Look at verse 15, “And the king’s servants said to the king, ‘We are your servants, ready to do whatever my lord the king commands.’” And then you have verse 18 spell out further who is leaving the city with him. It mentions Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites. These are not Israelites. They would be considered Gentiles. Presumably they are sojourners among Israel, and possible had become some sort of mercenary forces for David. They too come with David. How sad when so many actual Israelites reject their king, while these outsiders embrace him. But of course, what a wonderful picture of the gospel today. Where so many Israelites according to the flesh show they are not really Israelites because they reject Jesus Christ. While on the other hand, so many Gentiles according to the flesh show that they are true Israelites because they have sworn their allegiance to King Jesus. Look especially at Ittai’s vow to David. Realize that Ittai’s men were from Gath. In other words, they were Philistine expats. We’re not told why or how they ended up there in Jerusalem. But of all people to vow their loyalty to David, this is amazing. Well, David at first encourages them to stay in Jerusalem. Evidently they were relatively newcomers and David didn’t want to impose upon them in something that would likely be very dangerous. But the Ittai gives this wonderful vow in the name of the LORD that he’ll stand by David in life or death. The whole thing is a little reminiscent of the book of Ruth, where Ruth the Moabitess swears allegiance to her mother-in-law Naomi, and to the God of Israel. Ruth of course is a great, great grandmother to David.
And then after this we see the loyalty of the two priests at the time: Zadok and Abiathar. Evidently Zadok was also a prophet too. David actually sends them back with the Ark into the city. It looks like they were ready to come with David. They were clearly on his side. But David sends them back. They would obviously be able to continue the right worship of God among the people. I’m sure David would want that. But he also sends them back as spies. For them to commit to such, might prove even more dangerous than if they had gone with David. We’ll see some of the suspense of that in a later passage. And similarly we also see this Hushai, a friend of David, who was also a respected counselor for David. And David says that he would serve David better by going back and also being a spy. The hope is that Hushai can actually be one of Absalom’s counselors, so he can try to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel. So David will have several spies among Absalom in Jerusalem.
Lastly, we might mention the loyal supporters mentioned in verse 23. When it mentions the country weeping with a loud voice, it seems to be saying that as David and his men left the city and passed through the countryside, that the people who were there along the way were mourning as this passed by. The idea is that they were supportive of David and not wanting him to have to flee like this.
And so David does have his loyal supporters, but so does Absalom. This has turned into two sides standing off. It’s becoming a civil war of sorts again for Israel. And so recognize the point I made earlier. This is an internal conflict. It’s not Israel fighting with Philistines or Ammonites or Syrians or anything like that. Here the people of God have internal conflict and division. But again, that is one of the strategies of Satan. He works his spirit of Antichrist to bring havoc from within to God’s people. We pause and reflect on the way Satan continues to work that same strategy today. How many formerly godly denominations today have long since given up the biblical gospel for some other message? How many people who were in such churches have been enticed to such false doctrines and departed from the biblical religion?
Well, let’s turn now to our third point and consider David’s response to all of this. I’ve already mentioned it a little. We’ve mentioned that he flees Jerusalem. He decides to run and go into exile until he can figure out what to do next. But don’t miss part of why he does this. Look at verse 14. Not only does he flee with his men to save their own lives and give them a chance to fight another day. But he also does it to save the city. He’s concerned that if he stays it would result in a large loss of life to those in Jerusalem. So, as a godly king, he shows concern for his people.
But there is more here to see about David’s response to all this. Notice what we learn of David’s response by what he tells the priest. The priests at first come out with him with the Ark. Remember that on some occasions the Ark was taken into battle. Remember back in the opening chapters of 1 Samuel how the people somehow thought that would give them victory despite the fact that their hearts were far from God. In other words, there was this temptation to treat the Ark like some kind of magical relic. But David doesn’t fall into such faulty thinking. He instead tells Zadok in verse 25, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” You see, David knew that God’s presence and blessing was something greater than the physical Ark. Having that physical Ark among them wasn’t going to help them if he did not find favor with God. Likewise, if he did find favor with God, then he didn’t need the Ark with him. Remember, how God had preserved David all that time he had to live as a refugee when King Saul had hunted him down. God proved faithful then, and David knew that he could trust God. That’s really the confession he makes there to Zadok. He says that he will submit himself to God’s will. He’ll trust God in this. That’s an important application. In the midst of something like this, the temptation is to fret and stress out, and maybe even doubt God’s goodness. But David approaches it from the opposite way. David knows that God is good; it’s he himself who’s a sinner. And so he can only hope in the favor and mercy of God. That gives David a peace in this situation that I would imagine otherwise would be extremely difficult.
Similarly, we then see David conduct himself in humility before God. He shows signs of his humility by weeping and walking barefoot and covering his head. He reminds me here of Tamar, by the way, after she was humbled by Amnon’s evil. And his people join with him in these displays of humility. But what this shows us is that David is learning through all of this. This chastening is growing David in having a contrite heart. Psalm 3 is noted as being written by David at this time, and we see that similar attitude that looks to God in all of this for salvation. That’s what such troubles should do for us. They should drive us closer to the Lord, into relying more upon him.
That’s what else we see of David in verse 31. When David learns about Ahithophel’s betrayal, David goes to prayer. He prays that God would turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness. And you know what is so awesome? God immediately provides the answer. It’s the very next verse. That’s when he runs into Hushai who is there ready to help him. That’s when David realizes that Hushai will serve him best by being a spy for him to Absalom. And that is what we’ll see in a later passage. That Hushai is instrumental in thwarting Ahithophel’s counsel. So, I remember how long David prayed and fasted for his dying son, only to have God answer that with a “no.” And yet here, David seems to get an almost immediate answer to his prayer, and this time the answer is “yes”. It’s wonderful to see that in God’s wisdom he sometimes doesn’t give us what we ask in prayer, but sometimes he does. And that is wonderful. Let’s trust God with our prayer requests!
And so David’s response in all of this is to not only flee in exile, but to do so in a way that trusts God. He declares verbally his trust in God, no matter the outcome. He humbles himself in weeping and mourning. He prays. And all the while, he keeps looking as king to make wise choices and actions for the safety of his people as well as the good of the kingdom.
And yet we can’t help but recognize that we end our passage today in exile. There’s no happy ending yet with where we have left off. We’ll have to keep reading to see what God does through it all. But I think we should pause and see how this flight of exile reminds of the life of Jesus Christ. It’s interesting that David’s flight into exile brings him to leave Jerusalem, cross over the brook of Kidron, and go up the Mount of Olives. Sound familiar? That’s what Jesus did in John 18:1. And there Jesus ends up in the Garden of Gethsemane. The similarity is striking when you think of the parallels. For their Jesus will find that one of his closest allies will betray him. And that is when Jesus’ exile will really begin. Because he’ll then be arrested and suffer and die. Jesus will experience the exile of death, until the third day, when God gloriously raises from the dead. And of course, we know why he took on that exile. It was part of his doing battle with Satan and opposing the spirit of antichrist. It’s in Christ’s death and resurrection that God’s people can find a permanent victory over Satan. Similarly, in Christ, he will bring his people out of the exile of the cursed experiences of this life, into a final kingdom where peace and blessing reign.
And so, God would ultimately bring David out of this exile and restore him to his kingdom. David does “find favor in God’s eyes”. And how much more so for Jesus. God ultimately delivered Jesus from the exile of the cross and the grave in the resurrection. For of course the righteous one, Jesus Christ, found favor in God’s eyes. Remember, God said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” And that is how we will know the favor of God. It’s in being united to King Jesus by faith. In his victory we find victory!
And so this is the application that comes to us again. Who is on the Lord’s side? Are you united to the real Christ? Or have you been listening to the lies of antichrist that would turn you from the biblical gospel and the real Christ to something fake. Of course, this passage reminds us that false prophets and false christ’s do not come declaring themselves as such. No, they creep into the church and try to deceive us. They might appeal to our emotions, or to our frustrations, or by giving us lots of compliments. They can capitalize on the struggles we have, or the shortcomings we find in others, or in the unresolved conflicts that we have, or in our disappointments. But let us not be ignorant to Satan’s strategy. Let us instead stand fast in our allegiance to Jesus Christ. In David’s struggles, he put his trust in God’s provision. Well, Jesus is the ultimate provision of God. Let us trust in him.
How that looks, might take some different forms. Sometimes trusting Christ means you stand up boldly in the face of opposition. Other times, there may be wisdom in some kind of retreat. Even in the book of Acts we see such varied responses as they bring the gospel to the world. But it does mean that whether we go to fight or flight in any given circumstance, that we trust in Christ in it all. That means we ultimately stand together as God’s people with the Lord.
As we approach our church’s 45th anniversary, let us thank him for how he has sustained us as a ministry here in Novato. And let us pray for protection from the enemy who would look to raise up trouble from both within and without. May God strengthen us together as his people for the work that remains for us, until that glorious day of Christ. Amen!
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.