William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

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

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hand. Rough, violent, and callous himself, he could not un-
derstand the sensitiveness of another ; hence, while doing a
very proper thing, he did it in so harsh and dictatorial a
manner, that the king, even while yielding to his entreaty,
chafed more than ever under the yoke of Zeruiah's sons,
and registered a resolution to free himself from their dom-
ination as soon as it might be practicable.

Some, indeed, may suppose that the sternness of Joab here
was assumed, in order the better to rouse David to the dan-
ger which anew he was incurring ; and if any choose to adopt
that view, I have no objection to offer, save this, that, from my
reading of his character, it does not seem ever to have re-
quired any effort on Joab's part to be hard and unfeeling;
but whatever may be said about the way in which he gave
it, this must be plainly conceded, that his advice was not of-
fered a moment too soon, for the troops were rapidly dis-
banding, and by-and-by the confidence and affection of the
people would have been entirely alienated. When, however,


they heard that the king was again sitting in the gate, they
speedily returned ; and as they looked upon his pale, hag-
gard, grief-worn countenance, their hearts, true to the deepest
instincts of our nature, would be drawn to him even more than
if he had met them with every token of unmingled gladness.

But though he had thus regained the attachment of his
troops, and quenched the fire of rebellion which at one time
looked so threatening, David still remained at Mahanaim,
and took no steps to return to Jerusalem. He had been
called to the throne at first by the choice of the people, as
well as by the designation of Jehovah, and he would not
move in the direction of resuming his regal dignity until, in
some form or other, the desire of the tribes had been indi-
cated to him. Hence it was with satisfaction that he heard
how, almost everywhere throughout the land, the inhabitants
were saying one to another, " Why speak ye not a word of
bringing the king back ?"

But there was one unaccountable exception to this gener-
al expression of returning allegiance. The people of Judah
were silent. Probably they felt that they had been more
deeply committed to the revolt of Absalom than others, inas-
much as he had first unfurled his banner at Hebron ; per-
haps, also, they were ashamed of the part which the inhabit-
ants of Jerusalem had played in the rebellion, and possibly
they might be afraid that David might visit their perfidy with
severe punishment. But, in any case, their silence was very
painful to the king ; and not willing that his own tribe, who
had first called him to the honor of royalty, should be back-
ward now, he sent a message to Zadok and Abiathar, begging
them to say to the elders of Judah, " Why are ye the last to
bring the king back to his house ? seeing the speech of all
Israel is come to the king, even to his house. Ye are my
brethren. Ye are my bones and my flesh : wherefore then are
ye the last to bring back the king ?" And lest there should be


any fear of vengeance on his part, he signifies his intention
to elevate Amasa, who had been the captain of Absalom's
army, to the post of commander-in -chief, instead of Joab.
This message had the desired effect : " It bowed the heart of
all the men of Judah, even as the heart of one man;" so that
they not only invited the king back, but also came to Gilgal,
that they might meet him and bring him again to his palace.
In all this procedure, however, David was not actuated by
his usual sagacity ; and the result of his apparent preference
of Judah over the other tribes not only provoked another re-
bellion after his return to Jerusalem, but also prepared the
way for the division of the kingdom, which took place in the
days of his grandson, Rehoboam. It was quite right in the
king to tarry at Mahanaim until he was asked to return in
state to Jerusalem ; it was natural, also, that when his own
tribe was backward, he should stimulate it to activity; but
he ought to have sent a similar message to the elders of all
the tribes, acknowledging their forwardness to move in his
interests ; and when the men of Judah came to Gilgal, to
make a public "progress" with him from that city to Jerusa-
lem, he should have insisted upon waiting until the other
tribes were represented, as they had been on the day when
first he assumed the throne over undivided Israel. As it
was, however, we can not but see how he wounded the self-
respect of the other tribes, by making it appear that the in-
vitation of the men of Judah was of more consequence to
him than that of all the others put together ; and so he made
a wedge, which, though it proved ineffectual in the hands of
Sheba, the son of Bichri, needed only the hammer-stroke of
the sterner and more subtle Jeroboam to divide Israel from
Judah in perpetual separation. But while we mark the lack
of forethought indicated by David here, we must not violate
the order of the narrative by introducing out of its place the
rebellion of Sheba.


Along with the men of Judah, and accompanied by a thou-
sand men of Benjamin, came Shimei of Bahurim, and Ziba,
the steward of Mephibosheth, to whom David had so hastily
transferred all his master's property. The latter was in great
state, surrounded by his fifteen sons, and attended by twenty
slaves. As soon as David landed from the ferry-boat which
bore him over the river, Shimei came near to make a hum-
ble confession of his guilt in cursing the king, and to request
forgiveness. Abishai was again forward with his offer to put
the mean-spirited and unfeeling man to death. In the eye
of the brother of Joab, all this confession of iniquity, and ex-
pression of zeal in being the first of "all the house of Joseph
to go down to meet the king," was but a piece of sickening
hypocrisy ; and perhaps he was right, for in general the men
who are loudest in curses are themselves cringing wretches,
who will swallow all their formerly professed principles, and
eat in all their strongest utterances, if only they may save
their lives and property. But the day of David's restoration
was not to be stained by any deed of blood, however right-
eously it might have been shed. Amnesty was to be every-
where proclaimed. So, with his usual querulous expression
of impatience at Abishai's interference, David said, "What
have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this
day be adversaries unto me? Shall there any man be put
to death this day in Israel ? for do not I know that I am this
day king over Israel ?" So Shimei was reprieved ; and the
king sware that he, at least, would not put him to death a
piece of weakness of which at a later day he saw reason to

After he had safely passed the Jordan, the venerable Bar-
zillai approached to bid him farewell. With touching ear-
nestness, which shows how deeply he had been moved by his
great kindness, the king besought him to accompany him to
Jerusalem, and take his place as one whom he would delight


to honor at the royal table ; but the aged chief, who realized
that he had already one foot in the grave, and who was not
willing to barter the happiness of his homely life, and the
prospect of being buried in the sepulchre of his fathers, for
all the glitter of a court, even when such a one as David was
at its head, delicately declined the invitation for himself;
yet, that he might not seem rudely to repel that which was
offered in real gratitude, he commended his son Chimham to
the favor of his sovereign ; and it is gratifying to know that
David was specially attentive to the old man's request j for
not only did Chimham eat at the royal table, but he ob-
tained a portion of David's patrimonial possession near to
Bethlehem. This, at least, is the most natural explanation
of the fact that in the days of Jeremiah we find mention
made of a locality near to Bethlehem which was even then
known as the habitation of Chimham.* Nor is this the only
reference to Barzillai in the later history of the nation ; for
at the return from the Babylonish captivity, it came out that
one of Barzillai's daughters married a Levite, whose descend-
ants, some of whom were even then in the land, out of regard
to the faithful old chief, called themselves "The children of

Less satisfactory in every point of view was David's treat-
ment of the good Mephibosheth, who came to meet him with
every token of respect and affection. From the day of the
king's departure from his capital, the son of Jonathan had
neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed
his clothes ; and now, having doubtless heard of Ziba's per-
fidy, he approached his father's friend, and his own benefac-
tor, with mingled feelings of satisfaction and regret satis-
faction that David had returned to his throne in safety, re-
gret that he had innocently fallen under the royal suspicion.

* Jeremiah xli., 17. t Nehemiah vii., 63.


When David saw him, he asked, in an upbraiding tone,
" Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth ?" and
he answered, " My lord, O king, my servant deceived me :
for thy servant said, I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride
thereon, and go to the king; because thy servant is lame.
And he hath slandered thy servant unto my lord the king ;
but my lord the king is as an angel of God : do therefore,
what is good in thine eyes. For all of my father's house
were but dead men before my lord the king : yet didst thou
set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table.
What right therefore have I yet to cry any more unto the

This is, indeed, a very different story from that which Ziba
told on the memorable day of David's flight, and some have
supposed that it was untrue, grounding their opinion on the
fact. that David did not restore all his lands to Mephibo-
sheth, but said, " Thou and Ziba divide the land." To main-
tain this view, however, seems to me to be a vindication of
David at the expense of truth and justice, since the words of
Mephibosheth bear upon them the stamp of the most thor-
ough ingenuousness ; and besides, it is not Mephibosheth,
but the sacred chronicler himself, who tells us of the honest
mourning of the poor cripple over his patron's calamity.
Ziba had tried to make it appear that Mephibosheth was ex-
pecting to gain for himself the kingdom, in the confusion
caused by Absalom. But, as Mr. Groves has said : " When
the circumstances on both sides are weighed, there seems to
be no escape from the conclusion that Mephibosheth had
been faithful all through. He cou!4 have had nothing to
hope for from the revolution, for Absalom had made no such
vow to Jonathan as that into which David had entered ; so
from the success of Absalom, he could expect no benefit.
Neither could he, a poor, nervous, timid cripple, seriously en-
tertain the idea that the people would prefer him as their


ruler to Absalom, who was the handsomest, the readiest, and
the most popular man in the country. Moreover, his story
is consistent throughout. Decrepit as he was, he could not
but be dependent upon his servant and it is quite conceiv-
able that Ziba, who had nothing to lose, but every thing to
gain, by his perfidy, should, when ordered to make ready the
ass for Mephibosheth, start away after David himself, and
leave his master in helplessness and misery behind. Be-
sides, presuming that he had been thus outwitted, he had no
subsequent opportunity of going out to David."*

We have already seen how difficult it was, even for such
fleet couriers as Jonathan and Ahimaaz, to make their way
in safety to the king ; how hopeless, therefore, must it have
seemed to a lame man like Mephibosheth ! Thus, having
lost the first opportunity of joining David by the treachery
of Ziba, he had been compelled to remain in the city ; but
he did all that, in the circumstances, he could have done.
He went into deep mourning for his patron ; and so soon as
it was safe for him to make his appearance, he came out to
meet the king not, observe, making an humble confession
and earnest prayer for forgiveness, like the cringing Shiinei,
but in the conscious integrity of one who felt that he had
been cruelly maligned. But, more than this, David himself
appears to have been convinced of his innocence, for he re-
vokes half of the grant that he had made to Ziba ; and "he
does it with such symptoms of impatience as betoken that
he was ill at ease in regard to the whole business, and did
not care to have any further reference made to it.

Every one knows that when he has been entrapped into
the doing of an ungenerous or unjust thing, there springs up
in him an irritation at himself, which is apt to betray itself
in hastiness of speech and manner quite similar to that man-

* Smith's " Dictionary," art. MEPHIBOSHETH.


ifested by David here when he says, "Why speakest thou
any more of thy matters ? I have said, Thou and Ziba di-
vide the land." But both the temper and the decision were
unworthy of David. Why should he vent on Mephibosheth
the indignation which ought to have been directed against
Ziba for deceiving him, and against himself for falling so
easily into Ziba's snare? Moreover, why should he pro-
nounce a judgment which on the very face of it was unjust?
Some, indeed, in their zeal for David's reputation here,
will have it that he was simply restoring the original grant,
which they affirm was bestowed on the condition that Ziba
was to till the land, and give half the proceeds to Mephibo-
sheth ; but this defense of the king is evidently untenable,
since, from the reply of Mephibosheth, it is clear that some-
thing was taken by Ziba which he had not gnjoyed before.
Why should the cripple have said, " Yea, let him take all,"
if something had not been taken from him which Ziba had
not hitherto possessed ? Hence, however reluctantly, we are
compelled to come to the conclusion that David here be-
haved himself most unroyally, and gave a decision which
was a manifest compromise, and that, too, in a matter of jus-
tice, where no such compromise ought to have been admissi-
ble. If Mephibosheth spake the truth, the whole of his es-
tate should have been restored ; if Ziba's statement had been
correct, no part of it should have been returned ; but as it
was, the king, in his weak desire to please all parties, did a
grievous injustice to one who was perhaps more sincerely at-
tached to him than any inmate of his palace, and who ought
to have been specially beloved by him for his father's sake.
Oh,"this trimming and time-serving, this desire of peace at
any price, this political expediency and wise diplomacy,
which seeks above and beyond all things to keep all sweet,
how much it has darkened the reputation even of good men,
and retarded the onward march of morality and religion !


Ziba was, it may be, a man of influence in the party that
yet called itself by the name of Saul ; so, though David was
probably inwardly convinced of his unprincipled character,
he thought that he could not afford to offend him ; or per-
haps, from a weak desire that no one should be punished on
the joyful day of his restoration, he lets him go free, not
thinking that thereby he is deeply wounding the most sen-
sitive heart of Mephibosheth in its holiest .spot. True, in-
deed, that noble spirit made this touching reply : " Yea, let
him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again
in peace unto his own house." But it is just a soul capable
of such noble self-denial that feels most keenly the sting of
any suspicion of its love or fidelity ; and as no further refer-
ence is made to him in the sacred narrative, especially as
David gives no charge concerning him to Solomon at his
death, eight years later, it is not unlikely that he did not
long survive the grief and pain that Ziba's treachery had
caused him.

All this while David and the men of Judah seem to have
been on the way between Jordan and Gilgal ; and when
they arrived at that city, an angry altercation rose between
the members of the royal tribe and those of the others who
happened to be present. The men of Israel, as those con-
nected with the ten tribes begin already to be called, were
indignant at the proceedings of the men of Judah. They
alleged that their brethren had stolen away the king; and
their irritation was not allayed, but rather increased, by the
fact that the men of Judah assigned their near relationship
to David as their reason for the prominence which they had
assumed ; for they replied with vehemence, " We have ten
parts in the king, and we have also more right in David than
ye : why then did ye despise us, that our advice should not
be first had in bringing back our king ?" The men of Ju-
dah answered with yet greater warmth ; and in the midst


of the controversy, a Benjamite, Sheba by name, blew once
more the trumpet of revolt, raising the shout, " To your
tents, O Israel." This act of his was the spark which, fall-
ing on the already excited multitude, kindled them into re-
bellion ; so the Israelites gathered around Sheba, while the
men of Judah, cleaving to the king, carried him in safety to
Jerusalem, where; having first marked his displeasure at the
guilt of his concubines with Absalom by consigning them to
a living widowhood, he immediately took steps for the crush-
ing of the new insurrection. Passing over Joab, who had
hitherto been commander of the forces, he commissioned
Amasa to lead his troops against the enemy. But whether
that officer, so recently in rebellion against David, had not
yet gained the confidence of the king's forces, so that they
were slow in gathering round him, or whether he was secret-
ly in sympathy with Sheba's revolt, and, really wishing it
success, put off time to give it strength, does not appear.
In any case, he tarried longer than the time appointed ; and
David, fearing that the rebellion might become even more
formidable than Absalom's, commissioned Abishai to head
his troops, and pursue Sheba before he could intrench him-
self within a walled city.

It is observable that all through this affair there is a stud-
ied slight of Joab ; yet that unscrupulous leader saw his
opportunity ; for, taking rank under his brother, he went
out along with the king's body-guard and all the mighty
men ; and meeting Amasa at the great stone in Gibeon, he
slew him in the same cold-blooded and treacherous fashion
as he had formerly dispatched Abner. On that occasion,
however, he had the pretext of avenging the death of his
brother; this time the deed was one of envy and jealousy.
He could not endure that any one should supersede him in
the post which he had so long filled, and, with the kiss of
pretended friendship on his lip, he smote his adversary with


such vehemence that the blood stained " his own girdle that
was upon his loins, and his shoes that were upon his feet."
This horrible murder brought the men of David's army to a
stand. Not until the body of Amasa was removed from
their path and covered with a cloth, would they consent to
move forward. Thereafter Joab assumed the command, and
followed Sheba to Abel of Beth-maachah, a town of some
importance in the north of Palestine, in the territory of the
tribe of Naphtali. Here he prevailed on a wise woman,
whose influence was great over the inhabitants, to procure
the death of Sheba ; and having received evidence that the
traitor had been executed, he blew the trumpet, recalling his
men, and returned to Jerusalem to tell David that the re-
bellion was at an end. The news, we may be sure, was
more welcome than the messenger who carried it ; for thus
again, in spite of his determination to the contrary, he had
been laid under deep obligation to Joab, whose ascendency
over him had so chafed his spirit during his entire reign.
There was nothing said by the king about the murder of
Amasa, but David's silence would be to Joab more express-
ive even than speech ; and we know how keenly he felt his
nephew's cruelty by the allusions which he made to it on his
death-bed, and the commands which he gave to Solomon
concerning him.

But now, leaving this record of blood, let us turn and look
at the Psalms which have been generally regarded as be-
longing to the era of Absalom's rebellion. Already we have
referred to the beautiful morning and evening hymns, so ex-
pressive of calm confidence in God, which David composed,
as is commonly believed, in connection with his flight from
Jerusalem, and which are numbered 4th and 3d in our Psal-
ter; but there are others which must in no wise be over-
looked. Indeed, as we have before seen, a time of affliction
is ever, in David's case, a most prolific time in spiritual


song. It is the stroke that brings sound from the lyre ; and
when the soul-harp is rightly strung, the touch of God's chas-
tening hand will ever draw from it the sweetest music.

We are not surprised, therefore, to find that many Psalms
are traced to the circumstances and experiences of David
during his son's revolt ; and a brief allusion to them, while
yet the incidents of the narrative are fresh in our recollec-
tion, may help us to understand their character better than
we have done before. The 5th Psalm, which is much akin
in tone and sentiment to that which precedes, may well
enough have been written on the same occasion ; and it is
interesting to note how, amidst the excitement of his flight,
and the plottings and counterplottings of the time, he pre-
serves the calm composure of confidence in God. " But as
for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy
mercy : and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy tem-
ple. Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine
enemies; make thy way straight before my face;" and again:
"Let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice : let them
ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them." "For
thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous ; with favor wilt thou
compass him as with a shield." To the same trying hour
belongs the i43d Psalm, which, read in the light of the his-
tory, becomes full of touching beauty and devout pathos.
Remembering the connection between his sin and his ca-
lamities, he begs God not to enter into judgment with him,
because in his sight no flesh living could be justified ; then,
plaintively describing the evil done to him by his enemies,
he falls back on the memory of former times, and encour-
aged by the tokens of God's mercy which he had then re-
ceived, he says, " I stretch forth my hands unto thee : my
soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land." Thereafter, in a
strain of earnest supplication, he calls for help, saying, "Hear
me speedily, O Lord ; my spirit faileth : hide not thy face


from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.
Cause me to hear thy loving-kindness in the morning ; for
in thee do I trust : cause me to know the way wherein I
should walk ; for I lift up my soul unto thee."

After he had heard of Ahithophel's treachery, he wrote,
most probably, the 4ist, and 55th, and 6gth Psalms, which
agree in these three particulars, viz., in the mournful descrip-
tion which he gives of his case, and the plaintive wail he ut-
ters over the treachery of his former friend ; in the calm
trustfulness with which he leaves his cause with God ; and
in the prayers which he offers for the punishment and de-
struction of his enemies. Indeed, this last particular has
given great perplexity to commentators, and "the cursing
Psalms," as they are scornfully called, are everywhere held
up as evidences of the revengeful spirit of David. But they
who do so seriously mistake ; for, in the first place, that they
were not uttered in a spirit of revenge, is evident from the
disposition of David all through the history. How meekly
he bore Shimei's curses ; how magnanimously he refrained
from punishing in the day of his victory ! Indeed, if we have
had any fault to find with him at this time, it has been be-
cause he shrank from the execution of what we should have
regarded as needful justice. Hence, having regard to the
mood of the monarch as indicated by the facts of the his-
tory, we can not suppose that the Psalms then written were

Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 27 of 36)