I wonder if you've ever gone through something in life – maybe you are right now – where you're left wondering what on earth God is doing. Maybe it's because you feel like you have no choice but to live in response to someone else's decisions or that you feel right on the cusp of everything going totally wrong. Well, the people we find in 2 Samuel 16 and 17 were right there. In this passage we see the LORD is sovereignly working, through all the events and decisions here, to protect and fulfil his plan that David be king…
- By undermining Ahithophel's influence through Hushai (2 Samuel 16.15-17.14 – and 2 Samuel 17.23)
- By protecting those trying to serve David (2 Samuel 17.15-22)
- By providing loyal supporters to supply the needs of David and those for him (2 Samuel 17.24-29)
So, before we head on and if you haven't already, do grab a Bible and find our sermon passage for tonight. So, whereabouts are we in the life of David? David has been crowned King replacing the unfaithful Saul who died at the end of 1 Samuel. David served as a faithful king but then in chapter 10 we read of adultery with a married woman, Bathsheba, and then cold and calculated murder of her husband, Uriah. As a result of his sin in chapter 10 God is disciplines David and he does so here by Absalom, his son, turning against him in a bid for his throne. So, where are we? Well, basically, it looks here like God's plan that David be king is in great jeopardy. But let's see what we can learn about that this week. I have three points for tonight.
1. How God Undermines the Opposition to David (2 Samuel 16.15-17.14, 23)
Like I said, Absalom has made this attempt at David's throne and now stands in David's City. Ahithophel, at the end of chapter 16 suggests to Absalom that he should have sex with David's concubines where all of Israel will know about it. And Absalom heeds this advice. In a public and shameful act he sleeps with his father's harem in an attempt to mark vividly and clearly the beginning of his rule. This watershed makes it clear that Absalom will not be seeking reconciliation with his father and that he is the new king and it goes on to strengthen his supporters.
Now, as we read this we might be left wondering how God would be allowing this humiliating and hideous deed to take place when David is his chosen king. Has God himself been defeated in Absalom's orgy in public, there on the palace roof? It is clear that Ahithophel's intent in this advice is to deal a powerful and final blow to overthrow King David, but if we cast our minds back earlier in 2 Samuel we find assurance that God is on his throne and that Ahithophel's illusion of wisdom is simply carrying out God's judgement on David's sin. Flick back to 2 Samuel 12.10-12 to David's encounter with Nathan after Bathsheba:
"'Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' Thus says the Lord, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.'"
So, right here, in the most unexpected of places we find hope. We find God's word being fulfilled even by the hand of Ahithophel who seeks remove God's chosen king. Simply put,
"His act of treachery only executes [God's] word."
(Dale Ralph Davis)
Now, that same dynamic is seen throughout scripture – God in his providence brings about his will and purpose, even out of his peoples' sinfulness. The stability of God's people and kingdom looks pretty bad at times when we are zoomed into the events in history but when we zoom out and keep God's promises and his record in mind we can have such confidence. We see it in Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Jesus' trial and his death on the cross - God's Son defeated and alone, dying and in pain, dead. The picture is bleak without understanding how God was rescuing mankind from the consequences of sin through his death on the cross. Zooming in on the Friday of Jesus' death is bleak until you zoom out to see his victory over sin and death in the resurrection.
Now, before we move on lets just step on the brakes. Some of you might be wondering here, look at his point, this is supposed to be how God undermines Ahithophel! Let's just get to know him a bit better for a moment. So, back in chapter 16, look at verse 23:
"Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom."
This Ahithophel was seemingly more than your average shrewd politician, and as we read into chapter 17 lets just ignore that chapter break and carry on because we need to read the beginning of chapter 17 in the light of that statement. So, in verses 1-4, we see the next piece of advice he offers up to Absalom. Ahithophel's four step plan to topple David's throne:
"Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, "Let me [step one] choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will [step two] come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee. I will [step three] strike down only the king, and I will [step four] bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace." And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.""
So, Ahithophel has given Absalom the two pieces of advice. Take David's house and take David's life. Absalom and the elders like that advice. So what does Absalom do? Verses 5-6:
"Then Absalom said, "Call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he has to say." And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom said to him, "Thus has Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he says? If not, you speak.""
Now why did Absalom do that? Ahithophel speaks as though speaking from God. And he liked his advice! Ahithophel was listened to stage one and then in his plan to secure the Kingdom, Absalom turns to Hushai. So what does Hushai say? Look down to verse 7:
"Then Hushai said to Absalom, "This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.""
That was a brave thing to say about a man whose counsel was believed to be like a word from God. Hushai continues his advice. Verses 8-11:
"Hushai said, "You know that your father and his men are mighty men, and that they are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. Besides, your father is experienced in war; he will not spend the night with the people. Behold, even now he has hidden himself in one of the pits or in some other place. And as soon as some of the people fall at the first attack, whoever hears it will say, 'There has been a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.' Then even the valiant man, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and that those who are with him are valiant men. But my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, as the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person."
He counters Ahithophel's advice. He says, if you go you won't find him but if you do – well, Absalom, you know your father. Hushai suggests it would be better to wait a while. Now, this is bad advice – if you're on Absalom's side. Hushai is David's spy. Look down with me at verse 13:
"And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, "The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel." For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom."
Did you catch that at the end in verse 14? Absalom's changing ear and his doubt of Ahithophel is because God is intent to keep his chosen king on the throne. It is Absalom committing treason and not David. Following Hushai's advice means they lose the element of surprise and give David time to build up his men and organise himself.
Do you see what's going on here? God is working in the advice of Ahithophel to bring his judgement on David's sin. He is working in the advice of Hushai to rescue David as his chosen king. For David, as with us, God combines fatherly discipline for our sin with fatherly commitment despite our sin. God is determined to fulfill His promise. God is at work and His purposes will prevail. That's a comfort for us, isn't it? It's a comfort for brothers and sisters meeting in secret and fear across the world today. It's a comfort to us as we face uncertainty and fearful futures! God is sovereignly working in all the events and decisions we see around us – even when it is hard to see. So as we face this next year and the uncertainty of the future, we can trust in God because, as our New Testament reading reminded us,
"If God is for us, who can be against us?"
So then, and much more quickly, heading number two.
2. How God protects those who serve David (2 Samuel 17.15-22)
Look down to verses 15-16:
"Then Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, "Thus and so did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and so have I counselled. Now therefore send quickly and tell David, 'Do not stay tonight at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means pass over, lest the king and all the people who are with him be swallowed up.'""
David needs to know what Ahithophel has said and what Hushai has said to Absalom. Hushai knows that his advice has been accepted, but he isn't privy to the confidence of verse 14. He, like us when we face difficulties, can struggle to see the big picture or understand it all. Verse 14 is the writers aside for us. Where Hushai stands in the drama it seems like Absalom could change his mind. He might rethink and change over to Ahithophel's advice and go after David. So David needs to cross the Jordan River by night and what's going on needs to get to him quickly. How does that word get to David? Look to verses 17-20:
"Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were waiting at En-rogel. A female servant was to go and tell them, and they were to go and tell King David, for they were not to be seen entering the city.
But a young man saw them and told Absalom. So both of them went away quickly and came to the house of a man at Bahurim, who had a well in his courtyard. And they went down into it. And the woman took and spread a covering over the well's mouth and scattered grain on it, and nothing was known of it. When Absalom's servants came to the woman at the house, they said, "Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?" And the woman said to them, "They have gone over the brook of water." And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem."
David has an intelligence network and, although they are in danger, they are kept safe. As far as we can see, this woman tells a lie. That's not commended or recommended but it's simply what she did. She protects these two spies. The safety of his men and the right intelligence getting to David is a sure sign that God is at work protecting David.
That's what we can see from this little bit of the book: One day Jesus is going to be the unopposed king and we are called, like Hushai here, to be loyal to him amidst those who oppose him. We're called to serve Christ's cause – even when that is costly and risky like it was for Jonathan and Ahimaaz and those who helped them. What does that look like for us? How does serving Christ, the one true king, look in your life? For those of you still in school, it might be standing up for Christ to friends or maybe even some teachers. It will definitely be living how he teaches us even when everyone else around you in school is doing just the opposite when it comes to drink, sex and how or what they talk about. That might be costly and a bit scary – you might be the subject of a bit of laughing or you might lose some friends - it might be difficult. But, one day, Christ will be the King and you serve him – not those around you. And it can look just like that for the rest of us too. We might lose friends, job opportunities or income because we serve Christ, the King and not those around us or our own pockets.
Right here, in the face of those worries, we can see that God is working to protect those who serve his King! Before we get onto the third thing here, I want to just pull over for a second and look back at our first point – about 'How God Undermines the Opposition to David' – by looking at what happened to Ahithophel. Look down with me at verses 21-23:
"After they had gone, the men came up out of the well, and went and told King David. They said to David, "Arise, and go quickly over the water, for thus and so has Ahithophel counselled against you." Then David arose, and all the people who were with him, and they crossed the Jordan. By daybreak not one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.
When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father."
It is almost the biggest shock of the story and it is so matter-of-fact. Ahithophel commits suicide by hanging himself because, we read, his advice wasn't followed. Maybe Ahithophel, like Absalom, had a large and unchallenged ego and he couldn't imagine himself playing second fiddle to Hushai. Maybe, in all his wisdom, he could see how this was going to play out, Absalom's rebellion would we squashed and then he, himself, would have to answer to King David for treason, or maybe he realized that the Lord was against him.
It is, of course, tragic to read of Ahithophel's death and in such a gruesome way – and we should never revel in news like that about those who oppose us. However, we need to remember the big picture. Remember that when we focus on the characters alone we can lose sight of what is going on. When we zoom out we can see that Ahithophel wasn't just playing for political favour of whoever was rising to the top – he was God's enemy. He lifted his hand against God's chosen king and, well, frankly he is a warning to us. His end is a warning today as well for those who stand in opposition to God's chosen King, Jesus. You can not attack the kingdom of God and his all-powerful king and not expect consequences. And of course, Ahithophel's death means that his wise and shrewd counsel is not going to be available for David's treacherous son any longer. OK, so, let's carry on and deal with the final point tonight:
3. How God Provides for those who are for David (2 Samuel 17.24-29)
We round off this section with a look at David's supporters. Look down, for the last time, to verses 25-29:
"Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. Now Absalom had set Amasa over the army instead of Joab. Amasa was the son of a man named Ithra the Ishmaelite, who had married Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab's mother. And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead. When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, "The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.""
Three wealthy men come to the assistance of David and his men, just at the moment he needs it. David is on the run and, like we've said already, when you're zoomed in looking at the moments and characters as things unfold it seems like David's throne is in jeopardy. He is disorganized with fewer than Absalom who we've seen is ruthless. But here, through these men, God provides exactly what they need. David is being disciplined by God whilst being protected and sustained. And that should be us too. Helping and supporting Christ's people who are in need.
In this long section of 2 Samuel tonight we learn a lot about our God. He's a God who is sovereignly working through events and decisions today just as he was in David's day. So we can look at the future for our nation both politically and in the church, we can face the events across the water this week knowing that God is working.
You might not call yourself a Christian tonight and you're struggling to see where you fit into this – if at all. Well, this shows us that you are either for God in David's camp or you are against him in Absalom's camp. And if you are, tonight, hoping you're in David's camp but don't know what to do, can I encourage you to pick up one of these 'Why Jesus?' booklets which you'll find in literature stands around the church or in student supper. Let me pray – a moment of quiet to respond to God from his word.
"Father, thank you that you are sovereignly working for your purposes and glory.