And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with edge of the sword.
And the king’s servants said unto the king, Behold, thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my lord the king shall appoint.
And the king went forth, and all of his household with him.
Surely in all of his life, there was never an experience as painful to David the king as receiving the news of, Absalom’s rebellion. By it he was utterly stunned. In a moment, it seemed that all of his joy had fled from his life.
In the first place, the assurance was in every message he received that all of. Israel was following after Absalom. These were the people whom he had loved with his whole being from the day he was a child. With them he had gone to worship all through his life and led them in worship since he was their king. For them he had fought, again and again to the risk of his own life. And now for many a year he had ruled over them in kindness and fairness and consideration. They in turn had often assured him in many different ways of their appreciation, loyalty and love. But now in a moment, all had turned from him to follow in the way of treachery. It was almost impossible to believe.
Even more painful to him, however, was the fact that this was a rebellion planned and led by his son, even by Absalom. There was something about that child which he had always especially loved. It was not that he had not realized that in his heart Absalom had no real love for that which was right and true. That had been evident from his youth, and the murder of Amnon had brought this clearly to the fore. Yet, for him David had ever hoped: and prayed, wrestling with God in his behalf. This was why he had left him so long in the banishment of Geshur and even after that had refused to restore him to favor in the court. He had hoped it would bring Absalom to see his sin and turn him to repentance. But it had failed. It was evident now that through it all Absalom had only become more and more bitter, hateful, and resentful. He no longer even stopped at seeking the overthrow of his own father. This hurt David even more than the treachery of the people.
And then there was the most painful fact of all—this was God’s punishment upon him because of his sin: Never had David been able to forget the words of Nathan the prophet after his sin with Bathsheba, “Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house,” but neither had he ever realized how true this would be and how far it would actually go. And now that this evil had come upon him, the one thing that stung him more than anything else was the inescapable realization that it was the hand of God which brought it upon him. The implication was clear. Whatever it was that happened, it was nothing more than what he deserved. It was this above all that moved David to issue the command to his servants, “Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.” David was not a man who could easily turn to flight; but this was the hand of God upon him, and he had not the courage to resist.
Surely, it was a sad scene. David was by now an elderly man, and the effects of his recent illness still were to be clearly seen on him. Besides this, he was burdened with deep feelings of responsibility and guilt. It was not possible for him to take strong command, as he had so often done in the adverse circumstances of his youth, and carry everyone along with the power of his own confidence. Each person had to shift for himself as best he could in the few hours they had to prepare for their journey. There was through it all only one thing that diluted the sorrow. As difficult as everything looked to be, each and every one of David’s personal servants remained faithful behind the king. Their answer was only this, “Behold, thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my lord the king shall appoint.” They would stay with him until the end, for they had come to love David as a father.
David, however, was an extremely spiritual man. Under his presence, the procession which left the palace and the royal city was almost transformed into a pilgrimage of worship. It was actually a rather large crowd of people that set out to accompany the king. There was his family, a goodly number of women and children in itself, and all of the servants of his house with the exception of ten of his concubines which were left behind in charge of the palace. With them was what remained in Jerusalem of David’s army, the Cherethites and the Pelethites, his personal bodyguard, as it were. And then, most striking of all, there were over six hundred Philistine men who had come with David when he had left Gath. These were converted heathen, men who from David had learned to love the service of the true God. So true and faithful was their love for David who had taught them so much that even now, when all of Israel had turned against him, they were ready to follow into whatever hardship he might come. Here was to be sure a silent condemnation that cried against all of the nation of Israel. When evil came upon their own king given them by appointment from God, it was the converted heathen that stood with him much more than Israel itself.
It was this latter fact that was brought to the fore even more emphatically in the instance of Ittai the Gittite. Here was a man who had come to Jerusalem just one day before this flight from Absalom was taking place. What the circumstances were which surrounded his coming, we do not know. However, it would appear that under the rule of David it was not completely uncommon for heathen subjects to fall under the conviction that Israel’s God was the true God and ought to be worshipped also by them. Thus Ittai had come to Jerusalem with the purpose that he might be received into the worship of Jehovah, and thus Ittai had been received by the king just some 24 hours before.
It was as David was leaving the city that also this man appeared to join himself to the fleeing procession. David saw him immediately, and always mindful as he was of the dangers which confronted anyone no matter how lowly, he went to Ittai and said, “Wherefore goest thou also with us? return to thy place, and abide with the king: for thou art a stranger, and also an exile. Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I may, return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee.”
But Ittai was not a man who had come without reason and conviction. Israel might not know and appreciate the blessedness which was theirs in this king which God had given him, but Ittai did. Quickly he replied in words that echoed closely the confession of David’s own ancestorial mother Ruth the Moabites, “As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.”
David was deeply touched by this gesture and trust. Quietly he answered, “Go and pass over.” Thus it was that another band of people, Ittai, a group of men that followed him, and his whole family were joined to David’s procession.”
Neither was David the only one moved by the composition of his procession. As they began to move outside of the city more and more of the Israelites began to feel that what was happening was not likely to work to their favor. With troubled hearts they poured out of their homes to watch silently from the side of the road as their king fled from their presence in the city. Soon tears and weeping were to be seen everywhere. In their hearts they knew it was not good even though few had the courage to stand up to defend him. Thus it was that David and his followers made their way down to the brook Kidron to pass over and turn their faces in the direction of the wilderness.
It was at this juncture, however, that a still stranger band appeared to join themselves to David in his departure. It was led by Zadok the priest and contained in its midst Levites bearing the Ark of the covenant. The intent of this too was clear. Zadok was not about to leave the ark of God within the city where a treacherous pretender to the royal throne might well be expected to try to use it in some manner to reinforce his false and evil claims. Let it rather go with David as an indication of the truth that he was the rightfully anointed of the Lord.
But David would have none of this. Turning to Zadok he said, “Carry back the ark of God into the city; if I shall find favor in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me again; and shew me both it, and his habitation. But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.” David had learned the lessons of history well. He was not about to suppose, as so many in the days of Eli had, that by merely carrying the ark of God with him, he was sure to obtain the divine favor. He recognized that His God was behind all that was taking place from beginning to end; He had ordained it from eternity. David had no desire to try to change that eternal plan. He could wait for that which the Lord had willed for him. Meanwhile, let the ark rest in its proper place. If it was God’s will for him to return to it again, it would come; and if not, that would have to be well then, too.
Moreover, David also had intentions for Zadok the priest which were best served by the ark being left where it belonged. To Zadok he further commanded, “Art not thou a seer? return into 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.” David indeed waited upon the counsel of God to fulfill its proper purpose; but he realized, too, that proper provision should be made which might be used by God in bringing it all to pass. A warrior at heart, always, already his mind was beginning to form plans by which he and his company might be defended from the treachery of his son. Thus the ark was returned to its proper place in Jerusalem so that Absalom might not suspect those who would be used by God and David to assist in his defense.
Thus it was that at last David’s company went on to pass over the top of the Mount of Olives, the last place from which the city that he had established might be glimpsed. Each step of the way sorrow cut at the heart of the king because of this strange way into which he by the hand of the Lord was being led. There upon the top of the mountain he covered his head and bared his feet and wept. It was his gesture of submission and responsibility before the judgment of God. Whatever the Lord might do to him, he would receive it as good. And so the whole procession did likewise. In contrast to that great company of eager and ambitious men who were even now approaching Jerusalem from the opposite direction, there was no pride or rebellion here, only submission to the will of the Lord.