As we saw, on his flight the king halted at “the house afar off”—probably the last house in the city—to allow the sorrowful procession to pass by in review before him. The servants went first, then all the Cherethites and the Pelethites, next the six hundred Gittites and, lastly, Ittai and his company,.
Then follows the notice: “And all the land wept with a loud voice” (ver. 23). “All the land” is all the inhabitants of the open country that had come out with the procession. They stood by the wayside, weeping, as David and his faithful followers were passing by before them. The plight of the king touched their hearts. It must indicate that the bulk of the people remained loyal to David and that the rebellion was not the success that it had appeared to be to the “servant” who had reported to David “that the heart of all Israel was after Absalom.”
Having been marshaled, the refugee procession went on down into the valley and across the Kidron toward the way of the wilderness of Judah. It being summer, the Kidron was not filled with water. Its course ran east of Jerusalem and not at a great distance from it. A little to the east of this brook rose Mt. Olivet. Ver. 24a. “And, lo also Zadok was there and all the Levites were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God.” Zadok was of the branch of Eleazar. He and the priests, too, had fled the city. Arriving with the others on the other side of the Kidron, they set down the ark that they had taken with them.
Vers. 24 b. “And Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city.” The text is difficult here. Perhaps the meaning is that Abiathar, who was of the line of Eli and thus of the branch of Ithamar, had not left the city until the people had all passed over from the city.
Vers. 25 sqq. .
But why should they have brought out to him the Ark? Shall he commit the folly and the wickedness of putting his confidence in the ark, now that the hand of the Lord is upon him? Can the ark save him? It is but a thing of metal and wood. It is God that he needed, and His favor and pardoning love. As to the ark, unless he had the assurance of being the object of the Lord’s favor, what comfort could he derive from the consideration that it was the symbol of the Lord’s presence, if He was near to save such only in whom He took delight? So the king said to Zadok: “Carry back the ark of God unto the city.” definitely Jerusalem, Mt. Zion. Why to this mount? The Lord had chosen Zion. He had desired it for His habitation. Zion was His rest forever. Here being His altars, from out of Zion He blest. Here were His beauties seen. Here the saints rejoiced. To be exiled from Zion permanently was to be doomed to everlasting darkness and death. David well understood. “If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord,” he said, “he will bring me again”—to Zion,” and show me it,” the ark, “and its habitation,” that is, shew me, His face, shine upon me with the light of His countenance, tell me that He loves me, despite all my sins, clothe me with salvation, satisfy me with His beauties, and give me to walk and talk with Him in his habitation.” “But if he say thus, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do unto me as seemeth good unto Him.” “And I will be silent. Nay, I will yet praise Him, and say that He is good. For what am I but a vile and undone sinner.”
There is all this in the words of this penitent. His conviction of sin is that deep, his consciousness of his guilt and his awareness of his vileness before God is that lively that he can’t bring over his lips a prayer for pardon. All he can manage to say in this moment is that the Lord do to him what seemeth good to Him. Yet in his heart he knows that in the end it will be well with him. The Lord had said that in Zion he would make the horn of David to bud and would make the crown upon him to flourish, Ps. 132:17. That this penitent well knows. By the promise he lives in this crisis. It is not unbelief that brought these words over his lips but the belief that in the way of humbling himself, the Lord would restore him to His habitation. His saying, “and let Him do unto me what seemeth good unto Him,” was his way of telling the Lord how utterly vile he felt himself to be in the Lord’s sight.
Vers. 27, 28. But his faith was equaled only by his prudence, as is clear from his counsel to Zadok. “Art thou a seer? Return unto the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz thy son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will tarry in the plain of the wilderness, until there come word from you to certify me.”
The English A.V. inserts a, negative here and translates: “Art thou not a seer?” But this is unwarrantable. Perhaps the best rendering is: Thou seer, thou prophet.” It would not be amiss to call the high priest a prophet, seeing that he received divine revelations through the Urim and the Thummim. But David’s reason for so naming him was not that he might learn through him whether the Lord would again take him into His favor and restore him to Jerusalem. He could have no doubt about that. His purpose was different. Zadok must observe the state of affairs in Jerusalem. He must learn of Absalom’s plans and tell the king in order that he might know on what course to embark, whether to abide in the plain or to flee across the Jordan. And his incentive was his knowing that however ill-deserving he might be, the Lord had forgiven him and, accordingly, would deliver him out of his troubles.
“Zadok therefore and Abiathar carried back the ark of God to Jerusalem: and they tarried there.”
Ver. 30. “And David went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, going up and weeping. And he had his head covered, and he went barefoot; and all the people that were with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.”
It is well that he weeps. For the Lord lays His strokes upon him. Should he then not weep? The only question is whether he thanks the Lord for his pain by confessing that it is deserved. He does so. He covers his head. He goes barefoot. He is thus a penitent. The essence of his sorrow is love of God. He shall therefore be comforted And so he is blessed.
Ver.31. David now, for the first time learns about the treachery of Ahithophel. “And one told David, saying, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” The view that he had known before, and had kept silence out of consideration for his friends cannot well be harmonized with the consternation of soul that the prayer, brought over his lips by the evil tidings, bespeaks. This is his prayer: “O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”
Well might he thus pray. Ahithophel had acquired fame as a counselor in the employ of David. It was being said that his counsel was, “as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God.”
Vers. 32-37. A little while later, when David came to the top of the mount (Olivet), where men mere wont to worship God (Eng. A.V. where he David worshipped God. But not so good), Hushai the Archite, from the city of Erek in Ephraim, made his appearance with his coat rent, and earth upon his head As one of David’s counselors, he had won the complete confidence of the king. This is plain from the task assigned him (ver. 34: sq.). Repeatedly he is called “David’s friend,” ver. 37;; . Hushai came to meet David, had consequently preceded him in the flight or else had been out of the city. His coming at this particular moment, immediately after the king had learned of Ahithophel’s treachery, seems to have suggested to him, that he was a fitting instrument for counteracting the influence of that traitor. Hence he said to him; “If thou passest on with me, then thou shalt be a burden unto me: but if to the city thou return and say to Absalom, Thy servant am I, O king; as I have been a servant of thy father, so from now on I am thy servant, even I, then mayest thou frustrate for me the counsel of Ahithophel.” So reads this discourse literally.
But this was not honest. That through this forbidden stratagem the Lord defeats the counsel of Ahithophel, does not make it honest for David. Though God makes also wickedness, including the sins of His own people, to work for good to them that love Him, He loathes wickedness nevertheless, and destroys the impenitent. It is not true that a lie told for a good end is equivalent to the truth. We are not called to vindicate David’s conduct. The Scriptures simply record it: and we are not to suppose that everything is here approved, which is not directly, and in so many words condemned.
Why Hushai would have been a burden to the king, should he have passed on with him, is not said. It may have been on account of his age or because he was not a warrior.
David encourages Hushai by saying that he will have with him there in Jerusalem Zadok and Abiathar and their two sons. By them he shall tell David all the things that he hears in the palace of the king. The reference here is again to Absalom who now reigns in Jerusalem.
. When they reach the top of the hill, and had commenced the descent on the opposite side, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, met them, bringing supplies, two hundred loaves of bread, and a hundred bunches of raisins, and a hundred fruits, and a bottle of wine. He came to meet David, approached him from the opposite direction, must therefore have gone on in advance before the army. In answer to the king’s question, “What meanest thou by these,” he replies, “The asses be for the king’s household to ride on; and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine that such that be faint in the wilderness may drink.” As his purpose was to ingratiate himself with the king, he must have been shrewd enough to perceive that the revolt of Absalom was doomed to failure. But he lodges a false accusation against his master. In reply to the king’s question, “where is the son (Mephibosheth) of thy master (Jonathan), he replies, “Behold, he abideth at Jerusalem: for he said, Today shall the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father.” He had reference to Jonathan, who, if he had lived, would have been king.
But Mephibosheth was a cripple. Was it likely that he should have designs on the throne? Evidently
It was a lie. But David was too excited to see the trap that was laid for him, and unsuspiciously fell into it, and gave to Ziba as a gift all the land that he had been farming for Mephibosheth. “Behold, thine are all that pertaineth unto Mephibosheth.” These were his words. He believed Zeba without investigation. And the swindler replies,” I humbly beseech thee that I may find grace in thy sight, O my Lord.” David had acted with undue haste. It was another example of his credulity.
Vers. 5-14. Meanwhile the sorrowful company moved on. The path was along a ridge which had a deep ravine beneath it, and another ridge of a similar sort rising on the opposite side. As they went forward on the other side, a wicked man of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, made his appearance on the other side. Keeping abreast the while, he heaped curses 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 sins, because thou art a bloody man.”
What an amazing perversion of history. His stand was that David had come to power as wading through the blood of Saul’s house, and that therefore the rebellion of Absalom was a calamity that had befallen him by the direction of God on account of his blood-guiltiness regarding that house. Nor was he content with uttering maledictions; but cast stones at David and his servants across the gorge, and made every manifestation of implacability and malignity. It all shows how David’s elevation to the throne had embittered Saul’s kindred.
Abishai, the brother of Joab, was greatly incensed by his procedure, and asked permission to slay him. He said: “Why should this dead dog curse my Lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.” But David restrained him with an expression that shows how keenly he felt the ascendency which Joab and his brother had obtained over him. This was his reply: “What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah?” ‘What fellowship have I with you? We are persons of a different spirit.’ And continuing, “So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so?”
Not that this wicked man had received from the Lord the charge: “Curse David.” Yet it was by the providential direction of God that he cursed. David understands, and he patiently bows his head to receive from the Lord also this stroke. Yet he did not exonerate the reviler but held him guilty as is evident from his instructions to Solomon regarding this man later on. But he felt that at this moment it was not his business to assert his rights, but only to humble himself under God’s hand. And therefore turning once more to Abishai and to all his servants he said: “Behold, my son, which came forth of my bowels, seeketh my life; how much more now may this Benjamite do it? let him alone, let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look upon my affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day,” that is, he means, “if I kiss his rod in humble recognition of my vileness, and of His righteous chastising providence.”
Shimei’s rage increased by David’s quiet behavior. For he threw stones at him and cast dust.
The king and his people came weary and refreshed themselves there. No place is named, but it must have been near the Jordan.
The collection of psalms of the Old Testament Bible includes one that bears the superscription: “A psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” Thus if we want to know what went on in David’s soul in this dark hour, how he was disposed toward the Lord and how he reacted toward God’s strokes, we must pour over this psalm. For in it the penitent lays bare his heart.
“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. Selah.
“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. Selah.
“I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves around 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..
There was an element in Israel that troubled David before the Absalom rebellion. This was because of his public confessions of sin and his being occupied with matters of religion after his deep fall into sin. As one expressed it, had he been a worthless rake, making no pretention to religion, they would not have objected to him; 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 devotion, they branded him a hypocrite and despised him. That this is true is clear from certain expressions in the 69th Psalm. They read: “When I wept and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. 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.”
Then he received tidings of Absalom’s rebellion. His being told that the heart of all Israel was after Absalom, caused him to exclaim in amazement: “Lord how are they increased that trouble me.” His life was in danger. That many were saying that there was no help for him in God implies that they had taken position that God was against him because of his sins and that as a result he now faced certain ruin. It added immensely to his suffering. But his faith did not cease because Christ prayed for him. And so he continues to cleave to God as his shield. And in that confidence he laid him down and slept and awakened.
We see in this psalm a wonderful thing, namely a penitent saint crawling always closer to God, as God laid on him His strokes.