As we begin to work through this passage, we see that David is still far too passive, far too trusting. Even though he is forgiven for his sin, he is forgiven in a palace. It is not until he is walking toward the wilderness, barefoot, as a seventy-year- old man, that we see the stirrings of the kind of shrewd faith that used to accompany him when he had to haunt the wilderness caves earlier in his life. Psalm 3 was written upon this occasion, and look to the great conclusion of verse 8. Salvation belongs to the Lord.
“And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him . . .” (2 Sam. 15:1-37).
Summary of the Text
So Absalom began acting like a Gentile king, in an ostentatious way (v. 1). He would get up early to come and play the demagogue in the gate (vv. 2-6). When he was forty years old, Absalom asked the king for permission to go and sacrifice in Hebron in order to fulfill a vow (vv. 7-9). The conspiracy was well-organized, strong, and shrewdly conducted—involving men who knew nothing of it as a cover (vv. 10-12). Ahithophel, Bathsheba’s grandfather, was among the conspirators. Before the arranged signal for revolt was given, a messenger came and warned David (v. 13). David acts swiftly (finally), and does so in a way that would spare the city (v. 14). All of his people, with the exception of ten concubines, depart with the king (vv. 15-17). His Gentile troops march past him, and David tries to dissuade some recently arrived Gittites (Philistines) from coming with him, but to no avail (vv. 18-22). Little ones are mentioned, which makes this a refugee column, not an army (v. 22). Everyone crossed the Kidron, heading for the wilderness (v. 23). Zadok and Abiathar bring the Ark with them, but David sends them back into Jerusalem for some priestly espionage (vv. 24-29). David went up the Mount Olivet, barefoot and with his head covered (v. 30). On the way David received word that Ahithophel had gone over to the other side, and he prayed in his old manner (v. 31). At the top of the mountain there was a shrine, a high place, and David prayed there. His answer to prayer, a man named Hushai, arrived at that very moment (v. 32). David gives him the mission of going over to Absalom’s side (vv. 33-36), in order to subvert Ahithophel’s counsel. So Hushai arrived in Jerusalem from the east, just as Absalom was arriving from the south (v. 37).
Flight to the East
When David abandons Jerusalem, they go out to the “last house” (v. 17). The brook Kidron separated Jerusalem from Mount Olivet, which had a long ascent heading eastward, and which on the far side sloped down toward the Jordan. Their plan was to get away, across the Jordan, into the wilderness.
David is taking the standard route of exile. Adam and Eve were banished to the east of the Garden, and centuries later Israel was taken into exile to the east. But as he goes out from the presence of the Lord, he leaves the Ark of the Covenant behind deliberately, as an act of faith. He is not superstitious (vv. 25-26). If he is ever able to return to Jerusalem, it will be the Lord’s gift. This exile has some hope in it.
The revolt of Absalom was a demagogic one. We ought to pay closer attention to this reality than we do, for we are ruled by demagogues. He was active in this activity (“rose up early”), and exploited the delays caused by the justice system. When some guy from Ephraim called the federal courthouse, he had been told “for English, press three” one too many times, and so he came down to Jerusalem in a frustrated frame of mind. Absalom met him there, kissed him, treated him as a brother (v. 5) . . . right before getting back into his stretch limo. Men knew how to use photo ops long before there were any cameras. At the beginning of this section, David continues in his passivity. Absalom is misbehaving in serious ways. The kings of Israel were not permitted that kind of thing (Dt. 17:16), and the terrain of Jerusalem was not conducive to them anyway. And yet Absalom rode around in one, with a retinue of fifty runners. Such high-handed ostentatious display would be pretty hard to miss.
Throughout the passage we have the juxtaposition of those who ought to have been loyal and weren’t (e.g. Absalom) and those who had every reason not to feel obligated (e.g. Ittai), even in the eyes of David himself, but who did the right thing regardless. David saw him, and gave him every opportunity to return to Jerusalem, and to do so with a blessing (v. 20). But Ittai responds in much the same way that Ruth did when Naomi presented her with a way of opting out. This man, from the same city that Goliath was from, swore by the Lord—wherever the king was going to be, that it where Ittai was going to be. The issue was fidelity, not success.
Faith and Action
Passivity is not faith, and faith is not grasping and scheming. Notice in this passage that when David’s faith starts showing signs of life again, his trusting and his action blend perfectly. The two kinds of “not faith” here are David’s inaction in the face of Absalom’s insolent campaigning, on the one hand, and Absalom’s conspiring to seize power by the strength of his own hand. This is the case even though Absalom is not worshiping idols. He goes to Hebron to pay his vows (v. 8), and the treachery grew strong in the midst of sacrifices (v. 12). These were sacrifices to Yahweh.
Trust in God, and do whatever He says. Sometimes He says to wait. Sometimes He says to act. Sometimes He will have you send cloak and dagger spies into Jerusalem.