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William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

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

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one great sorrow, he added, " Behold, my son, which came
forth of my bowels, seeketh my life : how much more now
may this Benjamite do it? let him alone, and let him curse ;
for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will
look upon mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me
good for his cursing this day." So they set forward, and
came at length to the Valley of the Jordan, where they tar-
ried to refresh themselves. In all probability it was morn-
ing when they left the palace, and the shades of evening had
closed over them before they had safely settled their en-
campment ; but through the darkness with which they were
enveloped the book of Psalms permits us to see, and from it
we learn somewhat of the monarch's feelings after that try-



314 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

ing and fatiguing day; for even the most rationalistic inter-
preters connect with the events which we are reviewing those
calm and trustful hymns, the one for the evening and the
other for the morning, which stand fourth and third in the
Psalter. Let us, then, listen a while at the door of the royal
tent, that we may hear with what pious thoughts and earnest
prayers he shutteth in that doleful day : " Hear me when I
call, O God of my righteousness : thou hast enlarged me
when I was in distress ; have mercy upon me, and hear my
prayer. O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory
into shame ? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after
leasing? But know that the Lord hath set apart him that
is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto
him. Stand in awe, and sin not : commune with your own
heart upon your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of
righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord. There be
many that say, Who will show us any good ? Lord, lift thou
up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put
gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn
and their wine increased. I will both lay me down in peace,
and sleep : for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety."
Then, as the light of the morning breaks, the harp is again
tuned, and heart and voice accompany it, as thus he sings :
" Lord, how are they increased that trouble me ! Many are
they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my
soul, There is no help for him in God. But thou, O Lord, art
a shield for me ; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.
I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out
of his holy hill. I laid me down and slept ; I awaked ; for
the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid often thousands
of people, that have set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O Lord ; save me, O my God : for thou hast smitten
all mine enemies upon the cheek-bone ; thou hast broken the
teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord :
thy blessing is upon thy people."



THE REVOLT OF ABSALOM. 315

Richter, as quoted by Carlyle, has said, " The canary-bird
sings sweeter the longer it has been trained in a darkened
cage."* Oh, what rich melody comes from David's heart in
the day when God has darkened the cage for him ! It is in
times of trial that he comes most brightly out ; and at no
season are we more impressed with his piety, his genius, his
sincerity, than when we hear him solace his troubled soul
with song. The notes of the nightingale, whensoever heard,
must be ever sweet, but they are sweetest far when they come
trilling through the darkness; and for the "same reason we
count these companion hymns as among the finest David
ever wrote. At this point we must for the present leave
him. Let us stay only to carry with us some valuable lessons.

In the first place, we may learn from this whole narrative
what ruinous consequences must ever flow from the ignor-
ing or violation of God's laws for the household. Though
David regulated his public administration by the will of
God, yet, in his family matters, he seems to have disregarded
the plain indications of Jehovah's mind, contained even in
the books of Moses. For though polygamy was in certain
circumstances permitted, still the whole spirit of the pre-
cepts of the Pentateuch was to discourage it, and to sustain
the primeval appointment that one man should be the hus-
band of one wife ; and when David set that law at naught,
he could not look for any thing else than domestic discord.
The family of each wife became a separate party in the State,
and their homes became hot-beds of intrigue, faction, and all
manner of annoyance. But this was not the only point where-
in David violated God's ordinance of the family. He was
shamefully indulgent to his children. It might be said of
him as of Eli, " That his sons made themselves vile, and he
restrained them not." Had he dealt rightly with Amnon,

* See the Essay on Burns, in Carlyle's miscellaneous writings.



316 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

Absalom's fratricide, and all the evils which it drew in its
train might have been avoided. And even after the guilt of
his eldest born, if he had firmly adhered to his first refusal to
allow Amnon to go to the sheep-shearing at his brother's
farm, the evil might still have been eluded. But with that
fatal easiness of temper which characterized his treatment of
his children, he yielded to Absalom's entreaties, and the re-
sult was the tragedy which is here described. It may be
said, indeed, that his discipline of Absalom was firm ; but
this was hardly the case, for he never really brought matters
to a point even with him ; and his recalling him from exile,
while yet he did not see him, though it may seem to have
been an indication of strength of principle, was in truth a
token of weakness. He feared to push things to an issue.
He had not the courage to deal with a judicial hand with
Absalom, and so, while his treatment of him did not sat-
isfy the claims of justice, it only the more thoroughly al-
ienated the son from the father.

The whole history is thus fraught with richest lessons to
parents. It is a warning against over-indulgence, and neg-
lect of discipline. No doubt there are evils in the other ex-
treme, and we must be cautious lest we provoke our " chil-
dren to wrath " by over-sternness ; yet in the family there
must be government, and the parent who does not secure
the allegiance and obedience of his child, is as really vio-
lating the fifth commandment as is the child who disobeys
and dishonors him. There is a happy rule of love, and a
willing subjection of respect, which it ought to be every par-
ent's ambition to exercise and receive, and miserable is the
household from which these are absent ! In saying all this,
I do not in the least degree excuse David's children for their
conduct. On the contrary, it was godless and heartless in
the extremest degree. Let no son, therefore, shelter him-
self under my words for dishonoring his father, or disobeying



THE REVOLT OF ABSALOM. 317

his mother ; since, no matter what a parent's faults may be,
a parent is a parent still, and ought to have a place in the
holy of holies in the heart of every child.

In the second place, we may learn from this whole sub-
ject that, if parents would have thorough discipline in their
homes, they must be pure and holy themselves. David's
weakness in the matters which have been before us sprung
out of his wickedness. His conscience made him a coward.
He was afraid to bring the law into force against his chil-
dren, lest its sword should descend also on his own head.
Alas ! in how many homes in these days is the disobedience
of the children due to the conscious sinfulness of the par-
ents. How can a drunken and profane father, or an extrav-
agant, proud, and worldly mother, hope to receive the re-
spect of children ? or how can they enforce, in the case of
their families, laws which they are themselves continually
violating ? Example is better than precept ; and where
consciously a bad example is set, either the precept will not
be enforced, or its enforcement will provoke the child into
more bitter antagonism and rebellion.

In the third place, we may learn from this story to put
a right estimate on personal beauty. It does not indicate
spiritual loveliness, for Absalom was far from being as at-
tractive in character as he was in appearance. It is a gift
from God, hence we are not to despise it. We may honor
it for his sake. If we have it not ourselves, we are not to
envy those who possess it ; while, if we do possess it, the
case of Tamar bids us be on our guard lest it should prove
either a temptation to others or a snare to ourselves. Alas !
how many have been brought by it, through their own folly,
into a deeper than Tamar's disgrace, because with them it
has been a voluntary thing.

Finally: we may contrast David's conduct toward Ab-
salom here with that of God toward the sinner. The wise



318 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

woman of Tekoah had referred to God in these beautiful
words : " For we must needs die, and are as water spilled
on the ground, which can not be gathered up again ; neither
doth God respect any person ; yet doth he devise means
that his banished be not expelled from him." But in the
case of God and the sinner there are several things present
which we look in vain for in that of David with Absalom.

First of all, in recalling the sinner, God has devised means
by which his law is fully satisfied for human guilt ; but David
had no proper satisfaction to the law for Absalom's guilt.
The means which God has employed for honoring his justice
while bringing back the banished sinner are well known to
you all. They are the mission, and work, and -sacrifice of
Jesus, who for the sinner has "magnified God's law, and
made it honorable." Hence, in connection with that atone-
ment, God is seen to be a just God, and a Saviour ; yea, he
declares his righteousness even in the very act of remitting
the believer's sin.

In the second place, while David refused to see the face
of the returned Absalom, God welcomes every penitent to
his heart, and accepts him as righteous in his sight for the
sake of Jesus, in whom he believes. What a welcome the
father gave, in the parable, to the returning prodigal ! but
that is nothing to the welcome given by God to the repent-
ing sinner. Do not fear, then, oh sinner, to repair to him.
He will receive you for Christ's sake. He will retain you
in his favor, and he will never let you perish. Is it not writ-
ten, " Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out ?"

In the third place, as the result of all this on the part of
God, the sinner's nature is changed, so that instead of being,
as formerly, alienated in heart from God, he loves him, and
desires to please him. Absalom, as we saw, was fretted and
exasperated by his father's treatment of him ; and very prob-
ably the rebellion which he attempted was plotted during



THE REVOLT OF ABSALOM. 319

these two years when he was not permitted to look upon his
father's face. But the forgiven sinner's heart is melted by
God's love ; and through the grace of the Holy Spirit he is
changed from a rebel into a friend. Oh, the rich grace " of
highest God !" Sinner, behold here the way of life ! Ye
banished ones, return ; and God will give you welcome.
Come, with the prodigal's resolution and confession. Come
as you are. Come now. And your return will gladden ev-
ery heart in heaven, and strike a thrill through every note in
the chorus of the skies ; while God himself, with benignant
love, shall say, " This, my son, was dead, and is alive again ;
he was lost, and is found."



XVIII.

/

ABSALOM'S DEFEAT AND DEATH.

z SAMUEL xvi., 15 ; xix.

LEAVING David and his weary followers to rest them-
selves in the Valley of the Jordan, let us return to Je-
rusalem, and mark the progress of the rebellion there. On
the arrival of Absalom at the Holy City, whither he had come
from Hebron with Ahithophel and the whole band of his
adherents, he was met by Hushai, who saluted him as king,
and offered him his allegiance. Evidently this was more
than Absalom had expected. The character of the Archite
stood so high for integrity and fidelity, that the rebel had not
dared to hope for his assistance ; so, scarcely knowing what
to make .of his protestations and homage, he said to him,
partly in bantering welcome, and partly also in suspicion,
"Is this thy kindness to thy friend? why wentest thou not
with thy friend ?" But if he had entertained any misgivings
upon the subject, the reply of Hushai set them all at rest ;
so he joyfully received him into the ranks of his followers,
and installed him among his privy councilors.

His first act in Jerusalem was to take public possession
of his father's harem. By this most abominable procedure
he not only unconsciously fulfilled the prediction of Nathan,*
but also committed himself, in the most offensive and insult-
ing manner, to irreconcilable hostility against his father.
The offense was one which no monarch could forgive ; and
the readiness with which he committed it was, therefore, a

* 2 Samuel xii., n.



ABSALOM'S DEFEAT AND DEATH. 321

proclamation of war to "the bitter end." It was like throw-
ing away the scabbard after having drawn the sword, or like
burning the boats after having crossed the river. It effect-
ually cut off all possibility of retreating from the course on
which he had entered, and showed that he was determined
to come to no terms with David. Nor can we fail to see the
motive by which Ahithophel was actuated in advising Absa-
lom to commit this iniquity. For one thing, it would stimu-
late all who flocked round the rebel standard to fiercer en-
ergy in the effort to make their cause successful, inasmuch
as they would fight with the feeling that they had nothing to
hope for from their adversary but destruction. For another,
it was the course which was most likely to secure Ahitho-
phel's own safety. Knowing well David's foolish fondness
for his children, he was thoroughly persuaded that, in the
event of the rebellion being crushed, he would be sure to
become reconciled to his son. In such a case, Ahithophel
also knew that he would be the victim on whose head the
royal vengeance would first and most especially fall. Hence
he took care to provide against such an issue, by setting Ab-
salom on a course which, in all Eastern countries, makes rec-
onciliation impossible.

Meanwhile the people of the city took note of all this,
and, seeing men of such acknowledged ability as Ahithophel
and Hushai among the principal supporters of Absalom,
they easily transferred their allegiance to the newly-recog-
nized king, the rather, perhaps, that the flight of David had
seemed to them a virtual abdication of the throne, or, at all
events, an indication that he had no confidence in the loyal-
ty of the inhabitants of his capital. In any case, they were
quite ready, if not eager, to welcome Absalom as their king.
The fickleness of popular favor has passed into a proverb ;
and the scenes which were witnessed in Great Britain at the
eras of the Commonwealth, the Restoration, and the Revo-

14*



322 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

lution, may help us to understand what took place at Jerusa-
lem in the case before us. Besides, as one has suggestively
asked, "Were not these Jews the ancestors of those who,
centuries later, cried, at one time, ' Hosanna !' and at anoth-
er, ' Crucify him !' in reference to a nobler prince than the
son of Jesse ?"

Soon after coming to Jerusalem, Absalom seems to have
called together what we might term a council, to determine
the course which the campaign was to take. At this meet-
ing, Ahithophel, as being by common consent the ablest man,
was first asked to declare his opinion. In reply, he offered
to set out in immediate pursuit of David with twelve thou-
sand men, calculating that he would come upon the king and
his band, "weary and weak-handed;" and that, overawed by
superior numbers, his followers would take to flight, and leave
the aged monarch to his fate. This, he believed, would end the
war, since after the death of David, and finding they had noth-
ing left to fight for, his adherents would return to Jerusalem,
and give in their allegiance to Absalom as his rightful heir.

This plan was worthy of Ahithophel's reputation. If it
had been energetically followed, it would have been com-
pletely successful, and would have changed the entire color
and complexion of Jewish history. But there was one at
that council-board whom Absalom had not summoned, for
" God had appointed to defeat the wise counsel of Ahitho-
phel " and therefore, though it was well received at first, it
was afterward rejected, yet so as to make manifest the unfet-
tered moral freedom of all concerned. Absalom, wishing to
view the matter from every side, called on Hushai to give his
advice ; and such was the impression produced by him, that
his proposition was unanimously adopted. The Archite had
a difficult game to play; and we may well believe that, when
Ahithophel's scheme was propounded to him, his heart mis-
gave him for his aged king. But he proved equal to the



ABSALOM'S DEFEAT AND DEATH. 323

occasion ; for, assuming the air and manner of a true friend
of Absalom, he so magnified the difficulties in the way of the
execution of his rival's proposal as to prepare the way for
the acceptance of that which he suggested, and which he de-
scribed in a style so winning and rhetorical as completely to
captivate all his hearers. Reminding them of the prowess
of David and his worthies, and picturing to their imagina-
tion the fierceness with which they would fight if they were
brought to bay in some rocky retreat, and the panic which
they might create in the ranks of Absalom by some sudden
sally, he advised that the prince should tarry at Jerusalem
until an army had been gathered from the whole country, and
that thereafter he should take the field against his father,
who would then become an easy prey, whether they met him
in the open country, or had to besiege him in a fortified town.

Every one can see that, in a strategic point of view, this
plan was infinitely inferior to Ahithophel's ; but the manner
in which it was expounded, and perhaps, also, the glory which
it promised to Absalom in placing him at the head of such
an army as Hushai had described, so charmed the prince
and the members of the assembly, that they at once decided
to follow it. This determination drove Ahithophel from the
council-chamber in moody indignation. But whither was he
now to go ? After what had occurred in the harem, David
would never consent to receive him again ; neither could he
now have pleasure in the service of Absalom. So, deeming
that life had nothing more of honor or enjoyment in store
for him, "he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home
to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and
hanged himself."

This is the first recorded case of deliberate suicide. Saul,
already mortally wounded on the battle-field, fell upon his
sword, but this is the earliest instance in history of premed-
itated self-murder; and the feelings which led to it, and



324 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

which we can easily analyze, were very similar to those
which have impelled many in our own times to commit the
same awful iniquity. Chief among them was wounded pride.
He who had been so long to his fellow-men like the oracle
of God, could not survive the humiliation of having Hushai's
advice preferred to his own. Then, besides this, there was
the conviction that Absalom's cause was now hopelessly
ruined. He foresaw that the following of Hushai's counsel
would give David time to collect his forces, as indeed the
Archite meant it should. But he knew also that this was
all that David needed for the recovery of his throne ; and
as, in such an event, he would be the first victim of the mon-
arch's indignation, he determined to deprive David of the
satisfaction of putting him to death by himself anticipating
his doom. Perhaps, also, there was a mingling of remorse
with those other emotions of pride. He had left a master
who loved and valued him, who, indeed, regarded him as his
equal and guide, and he had transferred his services to one
who, as he now discovered, had not the wisdom to appreciate
his worth, but preferred the gaudy glitter of empty rhetoric
to the substantial wisdom of unadorned speech. This con-
trast, thus forced upon him, might awaken his conscience to
the value of the friendship which he had forfeited when he
turned against David, until at length remorse and shame so
overwhelmed him, that, like a deeper traitor, of whom he was
only the feeble prototype, he could not endure life, and hur-
ried himself into eternity. It never occurred to him to ask,
" If I can not face David, how shall I look upon Jehovah ?
If I can not endure the accusations of conscience, how shall
I stand before the judgment-seat of God?"

Just about the time that Ahithophel was leaving Jerusa-
lem, with the dark resolve of self-destruction maturing in his
heart, a female servant was sent by Zadok and Abiathar to
the well of En-rogel, near which their two sons, Jonathan



ABSALOM'S DEFEAT AND DEATH. 325

and Ahimaaz, were concealed. Hushai had told the high-
priests the issue of the council, and they had commissioned
this young woman to convey his message to their sons, that
they might carry it to David. The fountain of En-rogel was
only a little way out of the city. Its name signifies the well
of treading, and indicates that it was frequented by those
who were engaged in the washing of clothes a work which
then, as occasionally yet in the Highlands of Scotland, was
performed by treading with the feet rather than by rubbing
with the hands. It was also restricted to women. Hence,
as the presence of a female servant in that neighborhood
would excite no suspicion, we can understand how such a
messenger was sent on such an important commission.

Having received the message, the two young men set out
at once for the Valley of the Jordan ; but, in spite of all the
precautions which had been taken to insure secrecy, they
were seen by a lad, who, guessing their errand, went and
told Absalom. The rebel prince immediately sent his serv-
ants in pursuit of them ; but discovering that they were
chased, the youths held forward fleetly as far as Bahurim,
where they found a singular hiding-place in the court of a
house. Fixing themselves on the side of an open well, the
woman of the house put over its mouth a covering, on which
she spread ground corn, so that there was nothing to indi-
cate their presence ; and when Absalom's servants came
asking after them, she turned away suspicion by an equivo-
cal answer, which evinced the readiness of her wit no less
than the kindness of her heart: "They be gone over the
brook of water."

After escaping from this danger the couriers pushed on
until they came to David's encampment, where they deliver-
ed their message. "Arise, and pass quickly over the water :
for thus hath Ahithophel counseled against you." It may
appear strange that no mention was made by these young



326 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

men of Hushai's own counsel, and of the fact that it had
been preferred to that of Ahithophel. But we must bear in
mind that we have here only the merest outline of what was
actually said ; and even if no reference was made by the
messengers to the actual decision of the council, it is con-
ceivable that this silence may have been suggested by Hu-
shai himself, who may have been afraid that, even after all
that had occurred to the contrary, Ahithophel's counsel
might yet be followed. In any case, he seems to have wish-
ed that David should at once make for a place of safety ; so,
on the night following his receipt of the message, the mon-
arch and all his company passed over Jordan, and halted
not until they entered Mahanaim.

The town called by this name was built upon a spot hal-
lowed by its connection with Jacob's history. There the
angels of God met the patriarch ; and perhaps, as the old
story rose to David's recollection, the strains of his own
Psalm would come to his lips to strengthen his faith and
revive his courage : " The angel of the Lord encampeth
round about them that fear him and delivereth them." Ma-
hanaim lay within the territory of Gad, and near the line by
which it was separated from that of Manasseh. It was a
city of considerable importance, for Ishbosheth had made it
his capital during his seven and a half years' reign over Is-
rael. It was evidently a fortified place, and that, together
with the fact that it was a city of the Levites, who were al-
ways faithful to him, may have induced David to make it



Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 25 of 36)