As was stated, the conspiracy was making headway at a rapid rate. Many were with Absalom. In every section of the land the people were streaming to his banner in droves. To the bystander it seemed that the rebellion had the support of the whole nation to a man. At least such was the impression of the messenger. For his report to David was that the “heart of each of Israel is after Absalom.”
To avoid disaster there was need for instant action. So David gave his orders. “Arise,” he says to his servants, “and let us flee, for there is else no escape to us from the face of Absalom. Let us hasten to go, lest he hasten and overtake us, and bring down upon us the evil, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.”
The expression “the evil” appears in the original with the definite article and the sign of the accusative. What is therefore meant is the greatest possible evil, which would have consisted in their being overwhelmed and slain to a man. The words of the king bespeak no little agitation of soul. But why these orders? Perhaps David’s standing army in Jerusalem was not large enough at the time to defend the city against a siege. Or it may be that he was too doubtful whether the inhabitants would remain loyal to him. Different reasons can be conjectured. He may have wanted to spare the city the horrors of a siege. Evidently he expected that Absalom would advance against the city immediately and with an overwhelming force.
The servants were ready to follow his counsel. It must have seemed to them the wisest thing to do. For they came with no counter suggestion. They said, “According to all that my lord the king shall choose— behold thy servants.” Their confidence in the wisdom of his counsel seems to have been implicit. Besides, their words reveal devotion to his person.
Now follows the account of his departure. It is told with a deep pathos. “And went forth the king and all his house after him,” literally, “at his feet,” thus not at a distance but as pressing close to him. He left ten of his concubines after him to keep the house.
The procession halted at a “house afar off”, probably the last house in the city. The company included besides the servants “all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, who had followed him from Gath.” The number of these Gittites is given as six hundred. The question is whether they were foreigners, that is, Philistines or Israelites. Some hold that they were the same six hundred men that collected about David during Saul’s persecution (; ; ), followed him to Gath ( , sq.) dwelt with him in Ziklag ( ; ; ) and thence removed with him to Hebron ( ) and Jerusalem (v. 6). If this view (which is only a conjecture) is correct, they were Israelites. But how is this to be squared with the clear statement of our text (see above) that they were Gittites? Some meet this difficulty by reading gibborim (Heb. for David’s “mighty men of valor,” all of whom were supposed to have been Israelites) instead of Gittites. But the objection to this is that all the versions have Gittites. To meet this difficulty, some hold that “they are here called Gittites simply because they were so called by the people, as having followed David ‘from Gath on’”. But this is not acceptable. Are we then to hold to the view that they were Gittites, that is, men from Gath, Philistines by birth and blood ? But this view raises questions as well. First, there is no account of such a body of Philistines having entered David’s service when he lived in Gath. -Second, if the Gittites were Philistines then David had two body guards with him there in Jerusalem, one formed of the six hundred men that had gathered about him during the persecution of Saul, and the other this Philistine body? But if so, why is no mention made of the former in the present crisis? Due to the reticence of the Scriptures regarding these points, we simply do not know. Hence, the only thing to do is to hold with our text that they were Gittites, that is, foreigners.
The procession included also all the Cherethites and the Pelethites. It may be regarded as certain that they, too, were Gentiles and not Israelites. Inthe word Cherethites (Heb. krethi) signifies a Gentile tribe dwelling near Philistia. The text here tells of the young Egyptian reporting to David that the Amalekites had made an evasion upon the south of the Cherethites. Ezekiel ( ) introduces the Lord as saying that He will cut off the Cherethim. Zephaniah ( ) pronounces woe against this people.
Now the Cherethites of which these passages make mention were Gentiles certainly. The only question is whether the Cherethites ofcame from this people. It may be taken as certain that they did. As to the Pelethites, the fact of their being mentioned always in connection with the Cherethites warrants the conclusion that they, too, were Gentiles. That the procession included Cherethites and Pelethites can have but one explanation. Several of the two peoples by these names had settled in Canaan and, as converts to the religion of Israel, had entered the service of David as a separate division in his standing army. In Israel they were known by the names of the peoples from which they came.
As the sorrowful procession was being marshalled, that is, was made to pass on before David, he perceived that it included also Ittai. The text surnames him “the Gittite”, which tells us that he was a Philistine from Gath. Thus Ittai, too, was a Gentile. He had come only a short while ago (). According to ver. 22, his wife and children were with him, and besides, a number of Philistine warriors. He must have been an able general, for David gave him command of one third of his army ( ).
But why had he left his native land and gone over to David? Had he come in quest of position and glory? If so, he must not come after David, a refugee king, fleeing from the wrath of his own son. To test him out, David counsels him thus, “Wherefore goest thou also with us? Return and abide with the king, for thou art a stranger and also an exile with respect to thy place. (So reads the sentence of the Heb. text). Whereas thou earnest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I go (that is, go whither Providence leads me). Return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee.”
Let us take notice, “Return and abide with the king.” This must have reference to Absalom, the usurper of the throne, whom David calls king in submission to the will of God.
The words of David remind of the advice of Christ to a certain scribe who would follow Him “whithersoever Thou goest.” Said Jesus to this man,
“The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” ().
Ittai’s reply is touching. “And Ittai answered the king and said, As the Lord liveth and 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.”
What devotion and fidelity for life and death to David! Is it supposing too much to say that what had activated Ittai is love of David and of David’s God?
Truly, God was known to the heathen of Israel’s world. They had knowledge of the revelation of His mercy to His people. It raises the question of their reaction. The great bulk of the heathen, following in the footsteps of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, hardened their hearts.
But the Scriptures reveal that there were also others like this Ittai and the Pelethites and Cherethites. Heathen they were, drawn by the light that penetrated the darkness also of their night into God’s kingdom.
The law of Moses is much occupied with these Gentiles “strangers that would come out of a far country for the sake of the Lord’s name.” If a stranger, sojourner with the people of Israel desired to keep the passover, his males (and himself) were circumcised, and then he was permitted to come near and keep it; and he was to be as one born in the land (; ). He was allowed to offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor to the Lord ( ). He had to be loved; food and raiment had to be given him, were he in need; and his cause had to be judged righteously ( ; ; ).
Certainly the position that during the centuries enclosed by the calling of Abraham and the ascension of Christ, God was limiting salvation to the Jews so absolutely that not a heathen was saved or that the number of heathen saved were too few to have any meaning or to deserve mention even, is seen to be untenable in the light of the above data. Moreover, the position is not to be harmonized with the prophetic range of the Psalms and of the discourses of the later prophets. They foretell that the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth His glory (); and that the Gentiles shall seek the root of Jesse, that shall stand as an ensign for the people ( ).
Here we listen to the prophets of the 8th century before Christ. What we behold in their words is a marvelous thing, namely, the eternal God taking to His bosom in Christ all the nations of the earth.
It raises the question whether the prophets were in any way prepared for the reception of this mighty thing. Must we not conclude that such was indeed the case—conclude that they were speaking of a thing that through the centuries and especially in David’s time, had been going on right along in their own limited world, to wit: the coming of “the strangers” out of a far country for the sake of the Lord’s name.
Is it not rather remarkable that in the hour when David was despised and rejected by his own—his own people—he was surrounded by Gentile men prepared to defend him to the death with their lives! Did it not indicate the experience of Christ as stated by John: “He came unto his own, but his own received him not; but as many as received him he gave power to be called the sons of God.”