One Big Messed-up Family (2 Samuel 15:1-37)

In our flight through the story of the life of David, we have just two days now to bridge from David’s sin with Bathsheba to the final transitional period of his life – our theme for this coming Sunday.

You may recall from the reading in chapter 12 two days ago that a part of what Nathan the Prophet had to say to David (beyond the rebuke for his sin and the pending death of the child) was that there would additionally be terrible troubles in the household and family of the king. This was certainly true.

We skipped two chapters (13 and 14) which told an ugly story of David’s oldest son Amnon’s rape of his half-sister from a different of David wives – a stunningly beautiful girl named Tamar, the full sister of Absalom. To avenge his sister’s disgrace, Absalom murders Amnon and is estranged from David and Jerusalem for three years. And even when he returns, it is two years until David agrees to see him and there is (apparently only a surface) reconciliation.

So our chapter today begins with an internally bitter Absalom who will plot to take over his father’s kingdom. For four years, the son uses all of his assets – his unparalleled handsome appearance, incredible charm and people skills, and political cunning – to turn the hearts of a majority of people away from David and to himself.

Absalom’s Conspiracy

15:1  In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. 2 He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” 3 Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” 4 And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.”

5 Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.

7 At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the Lord. 8 While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: ‘If the Lord takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron.’”

9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he went to Hebron.

10 Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” 11 Two hundred men from Jerusalem had accompanied Absalom. They had been invited as guests and went quite innocently, knowing nothing about the matter. 12 While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, to come from Giloh, his hometown. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom’s following kept on increasing.

David Flees

13 A messenger came and told David, “The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.”

14 Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.”

15 The king’s officials answered him, “Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.”

16 The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace. 17 So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city. 18 All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king.

19 The king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. 20 You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the Lord show you kindness and faithfulness.”

21 But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”

22 David said to Ittai, “Go ahead, march on.” So Ittai the Gittite marched on with all his men and the families that were with him.

23 The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the wilderness.

24 Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city.

25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. 26 But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”

27 The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Do you understand? Go back to the city with my blessing. Take your son Ahimaaz with you, and also Abiathar’s son Jonathan. You and Abiathar return with your two sons. 28 I will wait at the fords in the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the ark of God back to Jerusalem and stayed there.

30 But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. 31 Now David had been told, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” So David prayed, “Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.”

32 When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘Your Majesty, I will be your servant; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,’ then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Won’t the priests Zadok and Abiathar be there with you? Tell them anything you hear in the king’s palace. 36 Their two sons, Ahimaaz son of Zadok and Jonathan son of Abiathar, are there with them. Send them to me with anything you hear.”

37 So Hushai, David’s confidant, arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.

Back in the summer, during the Psalms series on Psalm 41, I wrote a devotional in this blog resource that talked about the great pain of betrayal. It was one that unusually resonated with people as judged by quite a number of responses. So clearly, this is a big hurt when we may find ourselves betrayed by someone close whom we love dearly.

But imagine the depth of it when it is your own family, your own child!  And on top of that, David too learns during his retreat from Jerusalem that his #1 counsel – his chief of staff Ahithophel – also had thrown in with the conspiracy.

Notice though how David, even in the midst of his own pain, managed to see a bigger picture and trust in a higher plan. His heart was to save the city from the destruction of a battle. Feeling rightly the injustice of so much befalling him, it would have been natural for him to encourage the departure of the Ark of the Covenant with him. But David sends it back, believing and trusting that God would by his grace and in accordance with his divine will bring David back to Jerusalem to see it yet again.

There is a generally-true principle of life that the sins of parents have a gravitational propensity to fall to the children in a family. And sometimes it is the private sins and problems from generation one that find public fruition in generation two.

I say that it is a “generally-true principle,” though it is not a universally true nor inextricably true principle of life. If so, since the beginning of time and sin in the Garden, every successive generation of humanity would be worse than that previously.

What is needed to fight off this “generational transfer” is the active engagement of one or the other to make a difference in the way things are. It takes a patriarch or matriarch of a family to identify the dysfunction and set out a vision for a new course. Or, it takes the determination of a younger generational member to say, “What I have grown up around is a bit crazy, and as for me and my house, we are going to go in a different direction.”

The wonderful truth for those who have trusted in Christ is the realization that they have been adopted into a new and different family – the family of God. There is an entirely functional family system modelled by Christ, empowered by the Spirit, and informed by the Word of God that gives a resource for a new and healthy way of life.

In the spirit of this series, and of all of the teaching we have been doing, we could call this “the true and better family of the King.”  So, we may choose to act like our dysfunctional human family, or we may choose to order our lives as rightfully-adopted children of the king of kings.