William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

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

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his head-quarters. But, whatever considerations may have
moved him to choose it, he had no reason to repent of his
selection, for he was soon surrounded by kind and generous
friends. In particular, three principal men in that region
are named as having brought to him and his men seasona-
ble and abundant supplies. These were Shobi, the son of
Nahash, of Rabbah, of the children of Ammon ; Machir, the


son of Ammiel, of Lo- debar; and Barzillai, the Gileadite,
of Rogelim ; and we can not pass them without staying a
few moments to note some interesting particulars regarding
them. Shobi belonged to Rabbah, of the children of Am-
mon : now, when we remember how, about ten years before,
David had taken that city, and subjected its defenders to
unwonted cruelties, we may be disposed to wonder that any
one from it should have been so ready to render assistance
to the fugitive king in the day of his calamity. But Nahash,
the father of Shobi, had been, apparently, a valued friend of
David's ; and though the insult which he had received from
Hanun had provoked him to make war upon the Ammon-
ites, nothing is more likely than that, after the campaign was
over, he appointed Shobi as a kind of viceroy over Rabbah ;
thus displacing Hanun, and binding Shobi to him by the
strongest ties of interest and gratitude. If this were so, we
have a thorough explanation of the fact that the richest sup-
plies in David's extremity came from these Ammonites, with
whom, in former times, he had waged fiercest war.

Machir, the son of Ammiel, had been the host and guard-
ian of Mephibosheth, and so could not but be attracted to
David for his kindness to the disabled son of Jonathan. Some
have supposed, indeed, that there was even a closer connec-
tion between him and David. It happens that in i Samuel
xi., 3, Bath-sheba is styled the daughter of Eliam ; and in i
Chronicles iii., 5, she is called the daughter of Ammiel. The
two names, Eliam and Ammiel, are identical in meaning, and
seem to be used interchangeably ; and from a comparison of
these two texts, some, among whom is Professor Plumtre,
draw the inference that Machir was the brother of Bath-sheba.
This, however, would necessitate the further inference that
Ammiel was the grandson of Ahithophel a consideration
which has escaped the notice of the professor, and which,
in my judgment, renders it quite improbable that there was


any relationship such as that which he has sought to estab-
lish between Machir and Bath-sheba, since it is difficult to ex-
plain how Ahi'chophel should be of Giloh, and his grandson
of Gilead. As for good old Barzillai, the heart is drawn out to-
ward him with peculiar tenderness. He was a beautiful speci-
men of a venerable chief, whose kindness of heart was equal-
ed only by his contentedness of spirit ; and he stands out
before us with vivid, life-like distinctness, as one of the most
interesting characters in this thrilling history. He appears
only on another occasion ; yet we feel as if we knew him thor-
oughly, and loved him dearly. His old age was beautiful ex-
ceedingly, and it is delightful to see how at a time of life
when, usually, men take a closer grip of worldly things, and
become more selfish and illiberal, he was ready to give of
his best to David in the hour of his extremity.

We know not how long Absalom took to collect his forces,
but at the earliest moment after the muster he went forth
with them across the Jordan. He missed Joab, on whom,
perhaps, he had been counting, but who had preferred to fol-
low his father. This, however, did not disconcert him, for he
found a suitable substitute for the crafty son of Zeruiah in
Amasa, the son of Abigail, whose fitness for the post is seen
in the fact that, after the restoration, David made him his
own captain instead of Joab. Absalom's forces were en-
camped in the land of Gilead, and David, around whom, by
this time, a large army had collected, hastened to give him
battle. With the old martial fire stirring within him, he di-
vided his troops into three divisions, under Joab, Abishai,
and Ittai, and declared his intention of leading them in per-
son. This, however, his loving followers would not allow, for
on his life their cause depended, and they would not hear of
his running the risk of the battle-field. Reluctantly he yield-
ed to their importunity, and, relieved of the responsibility
of leadership, his mind seems to have occupied itself with


Absalom, over whom he yearned with wounded but yet ten-
der affection. When his troops left Mahanaim, he took his
station at the side of the gate ; and as rank after rank de-
ployed before him, he gave, with quivering voice and tear-
ful eye, his orders thus : " Deal gently, for my sake, with the
young man, even with Absalom."

The scene of the battle was in what is called, for what rea-
son does not appear, " the wood of Ephraim," and victory
crowned the loyal army of the brave old king. Better dis-
ciplined and better led than the hastily mustered forces of
Absalom, the soldiers of David broke the ranks of their ene-
mies, and sent them to seek for shelter in the forests which
are abundant on the eastern borders of Jordan. Here they
were so entangled that they were easily overcome. Nor did
Absalom escape ; for, as he rode through the thicket, his
head (not his hair, as is generally supposed) was caught in
the thick boughs of a tree ; and his mule running from be-
neath him, he was left hanging "between the heaven and
the earth." In this position he was seen by a young man of
David's army, who told Joab of the circumstance ; and the
general, blaming the youth for not having slain him, hasten-
ed forward with ten of his troopers, who surrounded the tree,
while with his own hand he pierced the heart of Absalom
with three darts. Then, deeming the campaign ended, he
blew the trumpet as the signal for recall ; and taking the
body of Absalom, he cast it into a pit, and raised over it a
heap of stones like to those which used to be formed over
the graves of grievous malefactors.

What a different tomb was this from that stately mauso-
leum which, in his pride of heart, and with the desire of per-
petuating his name, he had reared for himself in the king's
dale ! And as we stand to throw one stone upon his cairn,
we can not help exclaiming, How different his death had been
if his life had been but worthier ! Had he chosen the path*


of filial love and reverence, and sought to walk in morality
and devout submission to the will of God, he might have
blessed his own age, and left an example that might have
won the admiration and imitation of succeeding generations ;
but as it is, he is held up here to the execration of humanity
as the incarnation of filial ingratitude, and the impersonation
of revenge in its foulest and most unnatural shape. Combin-
ing in his career the guilt of Reuben with the sin of Cain, he
added to it a parricidal treachery all his own ; and having
broken every law, both of the family and the State, he so put
himself beyond the pale of human mercy, that we can not fail
to see a fitness in the fate that overtook him. We undertake
not to justify Joab for his disregard of David's tender injunc-
tion, yet none the less must we recognize the righteous retribu-
tion of which, in this instance, he was the executioner. The
disobedient son, under the Mosaic law, was to be stoned to
death ; and in the heap that was added to the original cairn
by the successive generations of his countrymen as they
pronounced curses on his memory, we see a monumental
beacon that marks forever the dangerous reef whereon he
made shipwreck of his soul.

But how was the news to be broken to his father ? Ahi-
maaz offered to be the bearer of the tidings. But Joab
would not intrust him with the commission, and preferred
to send one Cushi, most probably an Ethiopian servant, with
the message. This, however, did not satisfy the high-priest's
son ; so, extorting a permission from the captain of the host,
the fleet courier ran, and arrived first at the gate of Maha-
naim, where a scene occurred which lets us see far into the
unfathomed depths of a true parent's heart. Fastened and
almost fascinated to the spot, the king is still in the same
place in which he had parted from his troops in the early
morning. All day long he has been waiting for intelligence ;
and as he has sat watching there, his throne, his crown, his


kingdom, all have been forgotten in his eager concern for
Absalom. He is not now the king, so much is he the father.
When the swift-footed Ahimaaz comes with tidings of vic-
tory, they are all unheeded as the question rises, " Is the
young man Absalom safe?" And when Cushi makes his
appearance, the inquiry still is, " Is the young man Absalom
safe ?" Then, as the full truth comes out, every thing else
is swallowed up in the torrent of that emotion which, sweep-
ing gratitude, and submission, and even faith in God before
it for the time, bears him up to the chamber over the gate,
where he cries, with a great and exceeding bitter cry, "O my
son Absalom ! my son, my son Absalom ! would God I had
died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son !" There are
griefs, as well as joys, wrth which a stranger may not inter-
meddle ; let us shut the chamber door and withdraw, leav-
ing the royal mourner a while in the sanctity of his sore sor-
row, while we seek to glean from the narrative the solemn
lessons which it teaches.

From the issue of the council-meeting, we may see how,
in perfect harmony with the free agency of men, and even
through that free agency, God fulfills his purposes. Before
Absalom called his friends together, it was appointed by
God to turn the counsel of Ahithophel to foolishness ; and
that appointment was carried out, while yet no violence was
done to the will of any person, and no countenance given to
the fraud and hypocrisy of Hushai. Thus God maketh the
cunning and craft of men, as well as their wrath, to praise,
and the remainder thereof he restrains. How he accom-
plishes this, we know not. We only see the two extremes :
the first, in his own appointment herein revealed; the sec-
ond, in the men's consciousness of perfect freedom to do as
they chose ; but the intermediate process, the manner in
which the Divine appointment accomplished its fulfillment
through moral agents, baffles us to comprehend. Still the


mystery of the mode does not alter the certainty of the
fact that it is thus God carries on his moral government of
the world. We see numerous illustrations of it everywhere.
Even in the narrative over which we have now come it has
another exemplification in that, while Absalom was the in-
strument in fulfilling Nathan's prophecies about his father,
he was yet, as a free agent, held responsible for the sin which
he committed in so doing, and was punished with righteous
retribution. So it is always. God is working now in the
affairs of individual men, just as really and truly as he was
working here in those of David. The only difference is,
that in this inspired history his hand is everywhere acknowl-
edged, while we too frequently ignore his agency. Let us
seek to have a firmer faith in the doctrine of a particular
providence, and in the fact that all things are controlled and
overruled by God for the carrying forward of his great ap-
pointments, while yet we recognize as fully our own liberty
and responsibility. "There are many devices in a man's
heart ; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."
"The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to naught,
he maketh the devices of the people of none effect." "The
counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of his
heart to all generations."

In the record of Ahithophel's suicide we see how foolish
even the wisest of men may be in spiritual matters. This
astute counselor, who was reputedly as the oracle of God,
has forethought enough to set his household in order before
he dies ; yet he has not sufficient prudence to forecast what
shall be after death, and arrange for that. Had he consid-
ered " that undiscovered country from whose bourne no trav-
eler returns," he had never been guilty of this great iniqui-
ty ! Had he thought on how he was to meet his God, he
would not have rushed unsent for into the Eternal Presence,
red-handed with his own murder. We wonder at his infatu-


ation. We marvel at his inconsistency. Yet are there not
many among ourselves guilty of a like folly ? We may not
meditate suicide indeed God forbid that we ever should ;
but we have set our households in order ; we have arranged
our business and our property, so that if we were taken from
the earth those dependent on us would be spared all unnec-
essary trouble and expense ; we have made our wills, and
done every thing that we think needful in that regard, and
we have done well therein ; so well, that if any have not
made these arrangements, they ought to make them forth-
with. Yet have we done no more ? What about our souls ?
We are about to enter upon the unseen ; we are soon to
stand " naked and open before the eyes of Him with whom we
have to do ;" we have the awful eternity before us, with the
certainty that we must spend its cycles either in unmitigated
misery or in purest enjoyment ; and what provision have we
made for that ? Oh ! if, having arranged our temporal mat-
ters, we leave uncared for the higher concerns of our spirits,
are we not guilty of the folly of Ahithophel here ? and may
it not be said to us at last, " This ought ye to have done, and
not to have left the other undone." Say not to me there is
time enough to arrange all that ; you know not what an hour
may bring forth. Make haste, therefore, and delay not to
commit your soul to him who alone is able to keep it " against
that day."

From the grief of David here, the parents among us may
see how needful it is that they should not, by the influence
either of their training or example, injure the character of
their children. Many things indeed entered into that bitter
cup which David was made to drink in the chamber over
Mahanaim's gate. There was the natural sorrow of a par-
ent in the loss of a child whom he had once loved most
passionately, and whom he still yearned after, though he had
ceased to be worthy of his affection. There was also the


hopelessness of this dreadful separation between him and
his boy. When the infant of Bath-sheba died, he could say,
" I shall go to him ;" but on this occasion there is no such
comforting assurance. Absalom's sun had gone down in
thickest darkness ; no one ray of hope remained to relieve
the gloom of his father's heart ; and none but those who
have been called to mourn in similar circumstances can
tell how bitter is a grief like that.

But worse than either of these ingredients in this cup of
anguish would be, as 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. Was there
no connection between his own great trespass and Absa-
lom's iniquity ? If he had been less foolishly indulgent,
Absalom might never have rebelled. Nay, if he had been
wiser, even after Absalom's fratricidal guilt, probably he
had not stung him into revolt. Such thoughts and ques-
tionings as these, would, I doubt not, intensify the sadness
of the Psalmist in this trying hour; and it becomes every
parent among us to see that in his training of his children,
and in his life before them, there is nothing that may tend
to ruin them. David now professes, and I believe with
truth, to desire that he had died for Absalom ; but that was
a vain wish. He ought to have lived more for Absalom.
He ought, by his own character, to have taught him to love
holiness, or, at all events, he ought to have seen that there
was nothing in his own conduct to encourage his son in
wickedness or to provoke him to wrath ; and then, though
Absalom had made shipwreck, he might have had the con-
solation that he had done his utmost to prevent such a ca-

In this connection I can not help recalling an incident in
the life of James Stirling, well known as the first temperance
missionary in Scotland. James was a drunkard up to his


sixtieth year ; but then he was, through the abstinence move-
ment, rescued from his danger, and "plucked as a brand out
of the burning !" Out of gratitude for his deliverance, he
gave himself for the next twenty years of his life to the ad-
vocacy of the Temperance cause, traveling over the length
and breadth of Scotland, helping to save men from the curse
of strong drink. On one of these journeys, when he arrived
at Aberdeen, he met with one of his sons, who, taking after
his father's early example, had become a drunkard, and was
at that time a soldier. The two had a long and interesting
talk in the evening, and old James thought the youth was
doing better ; but in the morning he was sent for in great
haste, and hurrying to the place, wondering much what the
message meant, he was shown oh horror ! the body of his
son, who had committed suicide during the night. Who
may describe the anguish of that father's heart as David's
wail was wrung out of him, while he appended this of his
own : Had I been a sober man all my life, this might never
have occurred.*

Parents, will you ponder the lesson which this incident
suggests ? Do not contribute to the ruin of your children
by any indiscretion, or inconsistency, or sin of yours. In a
report of the Liverpool Observatory I once read this state-
ment, as a reason why ship-masters ought to have their chro-
nometers daily compared with the true time, and their varia-
tions rated : " The error of a second a day may in the course
of a voyage sink a ship." So it is here : the variation of our
conduct from the sacred standard, if statedly persevered in
by us before our children, may not only be the means of our
own destruction, but may ruin them eternally. What a sol-
emn thought is that ! God keep us from doing thus fatal in-
jury to those whom we most dearly love !

* See " The Gloaming of Life," by Rev. Alex. Wallace, D.D., Glasgow.


Finally : the fate of Absalom may be a warning to the
careless youth among us. Divine laws will not be ignored
with impunity. You may not thrust your hand into the
flames, and imagine that God will work a miracle to save it
from being burned ; you may not leap over a precipice, and
expect that God will so counteract the law of gravitation as
to preserve you from falling. But just as preposterous is it
to expect that, if you live in daily contempt of God's moral
commands, you will escape his punishment. The retribution
may seem long in coming ; but it will come, and the delay
will only make it heavier when it falls. Be on your guard,
then, dear young friends, against this defiance of the Al-
mighty, and seek your true safety in obeying God's precepts.
A great philosopher was in the habit of saying that "to com-
mand Nature we must obey her ;" and every mechanic and
man of science knows that this is true. By obeying natural
laws, we may command the power of nature, which is only
the physical power of God, and use it in our service. We
yoke steam to our chariots by obeying God's laws in regard
to steam ; we send the lightning on our messages by obey-
ing God's laws in reference to electricity. But this is true
also spiritually. We can only have God's blessing, and com-
mand God's grace, by obeying his moral laws. If we dis-
obey them, we shall be destroyed ; if we obey them, he will
be our helper and our strength. Your great security, then,
is in obedience to God ; and this is his prime command, that
"you should believe on his Son whom he hath sent." Seek
your happiness in the service of the Lord, so that when par-
ents, kinsmen, or friends may ask, " Is the young man safe ?"
the answer may be, " The eternal God is his refuge, and un-
derneath are the everlasting arms."

Let me beseech you, by every consideration, to take this
wise and prudent course. For your own sakes, I would
urge you to listen to my entreating voice, that so you may


secure true success in life, peace at death, and happiness
throughout eternity. For your parents' sake, I implore you
to follow the course which I have now indicated ; for the
sake of the meek, loving mother, who nightly watched you
long ago, and who still prays for you in the far-away home ;
for your father's sake, that venerable man who, in your
boyhood's days, so reverently took down the " big ha' Bi-
ble," and read to you from its sacred page around the
evening altar ; yea, higher still, for your Saviour's sake, who
weeps over the sinful city wherein you dwell, as he wept
over doomed Jerusalem : by all that is dear and sacred ; by
all that is noble, and great, and glorious, and divine ; by the
measureless duration of eternity, and the transcendent hap-
piness of yonder heaven, I beseech you to seek your safety
midst the battle of life in the protection of your Saviour.
And if these considerations have no weight with you, look
once more at that royal mourner pacing his room in agony ;
hear his deep groans; mark his heavy sobs, such as can
come only from the big, bursting heart of a weeping man ;
behold how, drop by drop, the tears course adown his cheeks,
and fall heavily upon the floor. Tell me : would you like
your father, your mother, your sister, your brother, to bewail
you thus ? Oh, if you would spare those near and dear to
you this terrible, this life-long sorrow ; if, in the transit of
your spirit to its own place, you would not hear borne upon
the breeze the echo of this hopeless cry, "Would God I had
died for thee !" then turn from this time forth to Jesus, and
give yourself to his holy keeping, through faith in him and
obedience to his laws.




2 SAMUEL xix. ; xx.

r I "HE passionate grief of David over Absalom changed
JL the glory of victory into gloom, and so affected his
troops as they returned to Mahanaim, that " they gat them
by stealth unto the city, as people being ashamed steal away
when they flee in battle." This was only natural, and what,
in the circumstances, might have been expected ; for while,
so far as Absalom was concerned, we can well account for
and sympathize with the bitterness of his father's sorrow,
yet looked at from the army's point of view, it could not but
seem as if the monarch had failed to appreciate the magni-
tude of the risk his soldiers had run, or to estimate the val-
ue of the services which they had rendered. They had per-
iled their lives in their devotion to his cause ; they had, by
their promptitude and prowess, ended the rebellion in the
very first battle ; and when they might have hoped to be met
with congratulations and loaded with honors, the king is in-
visible, and nothing is heard from him but the echo of his
unceasing cry, " O my son Absalom ! O Absalom, my son,
my son !" We can not wonder, therefore, that they were
disappointed and dissatisfied, and that their feelings should
have found vent in the stinging reproach of Joab : " Thou
hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this
day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy
daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy con-
cubines ; in that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy


friends. For thou hast declared this day, that thou regard-
est neither princes nor servants : for this day I perceive, that
if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it
had pleased thee well."

Something like this needed to be said ; but perhaps Joab
was not the best man to say it, and certainly he did not say
it in the most tender and considerate manner. He might
have shown a little more sympathy with the king in his hour
of trouble. He might have remembered that, though David
had recovered his kingdom, he had also lost a son, and that,
too, in circumstances of the most sorrowful character. He
might have made some allowance for the conflict of emo-
tions which was going on within him ; and while stirring him
up to "go forth and show himself to the people," he might
also have said something to soothe and calm the agitation
of his spirit. But Joab could touch nothing with a velvet

Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 26 of 36)