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William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

David, king of Israel: his life and its lessons online

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first demurred, fearing the consequences ; but at length, won
by the entreaties of his favorite son, and under the influence
of that fatal irresolution which marked his treatment of his
children in later years, he gave a reluctant consent. The re-
sult might have been foreseen. Amidst the dissipation of the
feast, the servants of Absalom, instigated by their master,
slew Amnon, and the fratricide fled for refuge to the court of
his grandfather at Geshur, while messengers hurried to Je-
rusalem with the tidings of his treacherous deed. "And it
came to pass that behold the king's sons came, and lifted up
their voice and wept : and the king also and all his servants
wept very sore." Yes :

Sorrow tracketh wrong,
As echo follows song.
On ! on ! on ! on !

"Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth." And
in the ordering of his providence, not less than in the state-
ments of his Word, we see that sin can not go unpunished.
Here is another sheaf of that bitter harvest of corruption
that David was made to reap from the field wherein he sow-
ed to the flesh. His lovely and beloved daughter made
desolate ; his eldest son murdered amidst the revelry of a
drunken banquet ; and Absalom, the pride of his palace and
the darling of his heart, the murderer, self-exiled from his
father's house and from his native land. How true it is that
" the way of transgressors is hard."

For three long years Absalom remained at Geshur. Dur-
ing this interval David's grief for Amnon abated, but his



302 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

heart went out in longing after Absalom. He did not recall
him to his court indeed, for that would have been equivalent
to saying that the deed of which he had been guilty was of a
trifling character ; but, as the after events indicate, he would
have been glad of any pretext which, without seeming to
outrage justice, would have enabled him to bring him back.
This state of feeling he could not hide from his intimate as-
sociates, and Joab, seeking at once to serve David and Absa-
lom, concocted a plan by which the latter was recalled. He
sent a wise woman from Tekoah in before the king, with a
feigned case of difficulty, which in some of its leading fea-
tures bore a striking resemblance to his own position in re-
gard to Absalom; and, in the course of the prosecution of her
suit, David's suspicions were so aroused that he said, " Is not
the hand of Joab with thee in all this ?" Her answer reveal-
ed the whole scheme, and the issue was that Joab was sent
to Geshur to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem. Not yet,
however, was David fully reconciled to his son ; for when the
youth came to the holy city, David said, " Let him turn to his
own house, and let him not see my face."

This state of matters lasted for two years more, when, Ab-
salom's patience being exhausted, he sent for Joab. The
captain of the host thought proper twice to disregard his
urgent entreaty; and this proceeding so exasperated Absa-
lom that he ordered his servants to set one of Joab's barley-
fields on fire. This act of destruction, as he had foreseen,
brought Joab forthwith ; and in reply to his indignant ques-
tion, "Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?"
Absalom answered, " Behold, I sent unto thee, saying, Come
hither, that I may send thee to the king, to say, Wherefore
am I come from Geshur ? it had been good for me to have
been there still : now, therefore, let me see the king's face ;
and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me."

It is difficult, at first sight, to account for the conduct of



THE REVOLT OF ABSALOM. 303

Joab here ; for, after he had earnestly exerted himself to
procure Absalom's recall, it appears strange that he should
have been so indifferent to the position which the young
man was made by his father to occupy. But we find the
explanation in the fact that in this, as in all other things, the
crafty and unscrupulous warrior was seeking only to pro-
mote his own interests. He had obtained a great ascend-
ency over David by his complicity in the murder of Uriah,
and by making the monarch believe that he was indispensa-
ble to him. Now he desired to gain a similar power over
Absalom. This, however, could only be done by laying him
under some great obligation. Hence he probably kept away
from the young man, with the view of getting him to come
humbly to him as a suppliant, asking the favor of his inter-
cession with the king. But the burning of his field let him
see that Absalom was made of sterner stuff; and so, in or-
der that he might not provoke his vengeance, he was led to
do for him, by a sort of compulsion, that which he had in-
tended to do only when he was urgently entreated for it as
for a great kindness. By his influence with David, he easily
effected a reconciliation between father and son ; but, on the
side of the son at least, it was but a hollow thing, after all ;
for, from the moment of his restoration to the royal favor,
on during the space of four years, Absalom was engaged in
making preparations for that revolt which at one time threat-
ened to bring the reign of David to an ignominious end.

Civil war is always a terrible calamity; but when the
standard of rebellion is raised by a son against his father,
we have about the most painful form of strife of which this
earth can be the scene. It is sad to have an enemy of one
who has been formerly a friend ; but that he whom we have
fondled in our arms and nestled in our bosom, and whose
first lisping utterances have been in the attempt to call us
father, should live to be at deadly feud with us, and to at-



304 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

tempt our destruction this is misery indeed ; and in seek-
ing to realize the anguish of David at this time, we think of
the saying which the great dramatist has put into the mouth
of the old British king: " How sharper than a serpent's tooth
it is to have a thankless child ;" or of those lines of another
poet, which he penned in quite another connection, but are
equally appropriate here :

" So the struck eagle stretch'd upon the plain,
No more through rolling clouds to soar again,
View'd his own feather on the fatal dart,
And wing'd the shaft that quiver'd in his heart ;
Keen were his pangs, but keener far to feel
He nursed the pinion which impelled the steel ;
While the same plumage that had warm'd his nest,
Drank the last life-drop of his bleeding breast."

In entering upon the particulars of this sad episode in
David's life, there are two questions which suggest them-
selves to the thoughtful reader of the narrative, and as the
settlement of these will greatly help us to understand the
whole matter, we may very appropriately now consider them.
They are these first : How came Absalom to think of re-
belling against his father at all ? and, second : How came his
revolt to gather strength so rapidly as to cause David to
leave Jerusalem, and to prove so nearly successful ? In re-
gard to the first of these questions, it is easy to see that there
was much in David's treatment of Absalom, looked at from
his son's point of view, to cause alienation and to provoke
antagonism. We are allowed in the narrative to see how
all along the king's heart had gone out after Absalom ; but
the youth himself knew nothing of that. He might have
heard that Joab had to resort to schemes of a roundabout
description in order to procure his recall, and he certainly
must have felt that there was no cordial reception given
him.



THE REVOLT OF ABSALOM. 305

Now while, in one sense, this conduct on David's part was
a sort of homage to public justice, yet in another it was nei-
ther right nor politic. It was not right ; for, on the one hand,
if Absalom had committed a crime, he ought to have been
punished for it ; and on the other, if there was ground for his
recall from banishment, there was also ground for receiving
him at court. It was not politic ; for it could not but put
Absalom into a position of antagonism to his father, and the
fretting impatience of these two years was but the bitter bud
out of which at length ripened the rebellion of which we are
to speak.

Again, Absalom would regard himself as the rightful heir
to his father's throne. Amnon, the eldest son, to whom, in
conformity with all Eastern notions, it should have descend-
ed, was dead. Chileab, the second, seems to have been dead
also ; at least, his name drops completely out of the history.
Absalom came next, and perhaps in ordinary circumstances
he might have been content to wait for his father's death be-
fore urging his claim ; but certain things at court would in-
cite him to take immediate steps to further his own interests.
He saw that the influence of Bath-sheba was paramount.
He knew that Solomon was the favorite son ; and the decla-
ration of Nathan that he, the peaceable, was to succeed his
father could not be unknown to him. Hence he would con-
clude that, if he was ever to be king, it could only be by some
such sudden and immediate coup d'etat as that which he act-
ually attempted. Putting these things together, then, and
remembering, besides, that there was no spark of religious
principle in the breast of Absalom, we may have some un-
derstanding of the feelings by which he was stirred, and the
motives by which he was actuated in raising the standard
of revolt against his father.

It is equally easy to account for the rapidity with which
the disaffection spread, and the strength which the rebellion



306 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

gained. Absalom had great personal attractions. This may
seem a matter of small moment, but, in reality, it had an im-
mense effect. Even such a one as Samuel was not proof
against the influence of a man's outward appearance, and we
need not marvel, therefore, that the common people of the
land should be specially drawn to one whose beauty was
proverbial. In modern times we know that the personal at-
tractions of the Young Pretender, in 1745, drew perhaps as
many to his army as did the cause which he represented ;
and young and handsome as Absalom was, he was quite
likely to be, simply on that account, the idol of the army,
and the darling of the populace. Add to this, that he was
the only one of David's sons who, on the mother's side, was
of royal lineage ; and to a people who are so moved by con-
siderations like these as the Orientals, this must have given
additional weight to his claims. Nor, on the other side,
must we forget that David was no longer the man he was,
when the people rallied with enthusiasm around him. Age
had begun to tell upon him ; and sadder far than that, from
the era of his great trespass, he had been broken-hearted
and melancholy. To his people generally he would appear
as a retired, moody old man. The spring of his life was
gone. He took little interest in public affairs, and, in par-
ticular, he neglected that most important of all the duties of
an Eastern ruler, the sitting in the gate to hear those ap-
peals which his subjects made to his personal decision.

It has been supposed, indeed, that during the four years
of Absalom's preparations David was suffering from disease
to such an extent that he was prevented from taking his
place as aforetime in the administration of justice ; and cer-
tainly there are some expressions in the 4ist Psalm, belong-
ing to this era of his life, which can be most naturally inter-
preted on this hypothesis. But however we may account for
it, the fact is clear that David had largely disappeared from



THE REVOLT OF ABSALOM. 307

the public eye, and that he had ceased, to a great extent, to
take interest in the duties of his office. Furthermore, the
people knew of his great trespass, and this brought even the
good features of his character into contempt. They saw
him devoting himself to retirement, and giving almost his
entire attention to religious duties, while, perhaps, they heard
occasionally of his great purpose of building a temple, and
of the efforts which he was making in the collection of ma-
terials for it, and they ridiculed him as " an old hypocrite."
They did not know or believe in the sincerity of his repent-
ance, and so they held him up to scorn. v Had he been a
worthless rake, making no pretensions to religion, they would
not have objected to hjm ; or had he been a devout man,
with a blameless reputation, they would have been compelled
to respect him ; but, knowing his sin, and seeing his devo-
tion, they simply despised him. That this is no exaggerated
description, seems clear from certain expressions in the 69th
Psalm, which is generally understood to belong to this pe-
riod of David's life. There we find him writing, " When I
wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my re-
proach. I made sackcloth also my garment; and I became
a proverb to them. They that sit in the gate speak against
me ; and I was the song of the drunkards." Now, presuming
all this to be true, we can see how the people, and especially
those nearest the king in Jerusalem, were in a manner pre-
pared for a change in the sovereignty of the nation. But
the bad points in David's character and administration were
yet further darkened by the contrast which was suggested by
the conduct of Absalom. Over against the seclusion of his
father, the people and especially the West-End tradesmen,
if there were any such in those days would set the state
of Absalom ; and as they saw him riding forth in his char-
iot, with fifty men preceding him, they would say, " That is
something like a king ; but as for David, we might as well



308 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

have no court, for any thing we see of him." Again, over
against David's neglect of the administration of justice, they
would put Absalom's assiduous attention to the matters
brought before him, and his affable, frank, and conciliatory
manner to all strangers ; while his insidious ejaculation, " O
that I were made judge in the land, that every man which
hath any suit or cause might come to me and I would do
him justice," could not but produce the effects which it was
intended to accomplish. Hence we can understand how
Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel. But it was
stealing for all that ; and though, in the hands of God, he
was the instrument through whom chastisement was inflicted
upon David, we shall yet see that a terrible retribution fell
upon himself.

The method which he took for inaugurating his revolt was
characterized by the cunning that seems to have been in-
herent in his nature. He sent spies through all the tribes,
instructing them, at a given signal, to proclaim him king.
Then, feigning that he had a religious vow which took him
to Hebron, he went thither with two hundred men, and
set up his standard in the city of Abraham, where first his
father had received the crown of Judah. From Hebron he
sent to Giloh for Ahithophel, one of his father's counselors,
who seems to have known of the plot, and to have gone
from Jerusalem to his own city of Giloh, in order to be with-
in Absalom's call. This man, though his name signifies
" the brother of foolishness," was in great repute for wisdom,
and men went to consult him almost as they went to the
oracle of God. By comparing 2 Samuel xi., 3, where it is
said that Bath-sheba was the daughter of Eliam, with 2 Sam-
uel xxiii., 34, where it is recorded that Eliam was the son
of Ahithophel the Gilonite, and connecting these with the
fact that Uriah and Eliam were comrades, both belonging to
the order of the worthies, we get the interesting result that



THE REVOLT OF ABSALOM. 309

Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bath-sheba. And from
this the inference seems inevitable, that his defection to
Absalom was caused by the displeasure which he felt at the
wrong done ten years before to the wife of Uriah.*

Thus the strength of Absalom's conspiracy is seen to be
a direct result of David's great transgression. Ahithophel's
name was in itself almost a guarantee of Absalom's suc-
cess. And we may judge of the importance which was at-
tached to him, not only from the prayer offered by David
when he heard of his treachery, and the commission which
he gave to Hushai to counteract his advice, but also from
the plaintive wail which he makes over him in the 4ist
Psalm : " Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted,
which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against
me." And again, more strikingly, in the 55th Psalm : "For
it was not an enemy that reproached me ; then I could have
borne it : neither was it he that hated me that did magnify
himself against me ; then I would have hid myself from
him : but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine
acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked
unto the house of God in company."

Evil tidings fly swiftly. So a messenger soon brought
news to David of Absalom's procedure, and the king at once
resolved to leave Jerusalem. This determination was prob-
ably taken by him because there were not sufficient troops
to garrison the city, or because he had no confidence in the
inhabitants that they would be faithful to him ; and the sto-
ry of his departure from his palace is here told with a beau-
ty and a pathos which are perfectly unapproachable. He
left ten of his concubines behind to look after the house,
and went on, as it is said, to a place that is far off; or rath-

* See, on this point, Blunt's " Scriptural Coincidences," p. 136 ; also,
" Biblical Studies," by E. H. Plumtre, p. 97.



310 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

er, as it might be rendered, to "the house far off" the last
house, probably, in the city. Here the sorrowful procession
was marshaled. His faithful body-guard went first ; then the
remnant of his band of six hundred ; then his servants.
Among those beside him he saw Ittai the Gittite; and
struck, perhaps, with the fact that an alien should be faith-
ful to him when his own son was false, he besought him to
return ; but the soldier nobly replied, in words which he as
nobly redeemed, "As the Lord liveth, and as my lord the
king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be,
whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be."
And so they went on out down into the valley and across
the Kidron while a loud, long wail ascended from the weep-
ing multitude. At this point they were met by Zadok the
high-priest, and by the Levites who, coming from the sacred
tent, had brought with them the ark of the covenant of the
Lord, while Abiathar stood waiting till the people had gone
out of the city. But David's piety was not of that supersti-
tious sort which clung to the ark as if it had been a talis-
man. To him it was but the symbol of God's covenant love,
which was equally sure to him wherever he might be ; so he
said, in words which the most callous can not read without
emotion, " Carry back the ark of God into the city : if I shall
find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again,
and show me both it and his habitation : but if he thus say,
I have no delight in thee ; behold, here am I, let him do to
me as seemeth good unto him." But the faith of David was
equaled only by his prudence ; for he counseled the priests
to return to the city, and to send him tidings of what should
be decided by Absalom, by the hands of their sons, Jona-
than and Ahimaaz. So, having dismissed them, they went
on up the Mount of Olives, the king with his feet bare, and
his head covered, weeping as he went, and the whole com-
pany following his example.



THE REVOLT OF ABSALOM. 311

Now for the first time, as it would seem, he was informed
of Ahithophel's falling away to Absalom ; and just as he had
breathed the prayer, " O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel
of Ahithophel into foolishness," Hushai, the Archite, made
his appearance, with his coat rent, and earth upon his head.
This man was also one of David's privy councilors, and his
coming at this particular juncture, immediately after the
monarch had heard of Ahithophel's treachery, seems to have
suggested to him that he was a fitting instrument for coun-
teracting the influence of that astute man. Hence he said
to him, " If thou passest on with me, then thou shalt be a
burden unto me : but if thou return to the city, and say unto
Absalom, I will be thy servant, O king ; as I have been thy
father's servant hitherto, so will I now also be thy servant :
then mayest thou for me defeat the counsel of Ahithophel.
And hast thou not there with thee Zadok and Abiathar the
priests ? therefore it shall be, that what thing soever thou
shalt hear out of the king's house, thou shall tell it to Zadok
and Abiathar the priests. Behold, they have there with them
their two sons, Ahimaaz, Zadok's son, and Jonathan, Abia-
thar's son ; and by them ye shall send unto me every thing
that ye can hear." In the midst of such piety and resigna-
tion, it is strange to find David asking his friend thus to
act a dishonest part, and play the spy. We are not called
to vindicate his conduct. The Scriptures simply record it ;
and we must not suppose that every thing here is approved
which is not directly, and in so many words, condemned.
But we may say two things by way of debarring hasty judg-
ment here.

First and I am using now the words of Professor Plum-
tre : " Slowly in the character of any people ; more slowly
still in that of any Eastern people ; most slowly of all, per-
haps, in that of Israel, have men risen to the excellence of
veracity. We must not think that. the king's religion was a



3i2 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

hypocrisy because it did not bear at once the fruit of the
spotless honor and unswerving truth which mark the highest
forms of Christian goodness. The Christian Church herself
has to notice many like inconsistencies among her crowned
martyrs."*

Second : let us not forget what those means are by which,
even in these modern days, with all our Christian loftiness of
character, we seek to countermine and check political rebell-
ion. Some years ago, while I was a resident in Liverpool,
there was great talk of Fenianism. We heard of plots for
the taking of the ancient city of Chester, and the burning
of ships in our own docks. How did we hear of them ? By
spies, who feigned themselves Fenians for the time ! and the
man whose astuteness made these discoveries through means
of Hushai-like instruments was rewarded by being made a
companion of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath ! Ob-
serve, I do not vindicate either David or these modern officers.
I simply state the facts, and beg to say, that if men, with the
New Testament in their hands, can do such things, we ought
to be tender in our treatment of David here. When they
reached the top of the hill, and had commenced the descent
on the opposite side, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, met
them, bringing supplies, and making, at the same time, a
false accusation of treason against his master. David, not
seeing the trap which had .been so cunningly laid for him,
unsuspiciously fell into it, and gave to Ziba as a gift all
the land which he had been farming for Mephibosheth. We
may have more to say of this when Mephibosheth comes to
speak for himself. Meanwhile, let us move forward with
the sorrowful company.

The path was along a ridge which had a deep ravine be-
neath it, and another ridge of a similar sort rising on the op-

* " Biblical Studies," p. 102.



THE REVOLT OF ABSALOM. 313

posite side ; and as they went forward on their side, a wicked
man of the house of Saul made his appearance on the other,
and, keeping abreast of them the while, heaped curses, such as
only an Oriental can utter, on the head of David. He cried,
" Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of
Belial : the Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of
the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned ; and the
Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom
thy son : and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because
thou art a bloody man." Nor was he content with utter-
ing maledictions ; he cast stones at David and his servants
across the gorge, and made every manifestation of implaca-
ble enmity and malignity. Abishai, the brother of Joab, was
greatly provoked by his procedure, and sought permission
to slay him ; but David, with an expression of querulousness
which shows how keenly he felt the ascendency which Joab
and his brother- had obtained over him, said, " So let him
curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David.
Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so ?" Then,
in language which lets us see how bitterly he felt Absalom's
treason, and how all other troubles were swallowed up in that



Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 24 of 36)