By J.R. Miller
2 Samuel 15:1-12; 18:24-33
The narrative of the rebellion of Absalom is one of the saddest stories in the Bible. The flight of David from his home, driven away by the rebellion of an ungrateful son, is most pathetic. The sin of Absalom stands in blackness, almost next to the treason of Judas Iscariot.
"In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him," and thus sought to make an impression upon the people and attract attention. The display he made was also intended to reflect upon his father's plainness. David was too old-fashioned; Absalom would show the people what real royalty was like. He was a dashing young prince. There are many young men, not princes of the blood, walking in the same way. They look upon their father's plain, quiet ways--as entirely behind the age. The old man is too slow, and does not know much about the world.
Most people who study this lesson will think of someone who fills out the picture of Absalom. Possibly it is yourself. If so, you must not fail to read the story to the end. These splendid horses and chariots generally drive to about the same place.
Absalom rose early those days. Early rising is a good thing when one rises to begin a day of beautiful living and good to others. But when one rises early to do mischief and make trouble, to sow the seeds of sorrow--one would better stay in bed all day. Absalom rose early to do harm, to ply his art of treason, to poison the people's minds towards his father. Early rising for such purposes is not to be commended.
"Your claims are valid and proper," said the false-hearted prince, "but there is no representative of the king to hear you." Sympathy is a good thing--when it is sincere. One can do no sweeter Christian work, than to go among those who are overburdened and those who are suffering, speaking cheering and strengthening words to them. To take by the hand someone who is down, one who has fallen in some misfortune, and be a brother to him, helping him to rise--is a splendid thing to do. But such sympathizing as we see in Absalom is anything but Christlike. He only pretended to be the people's friend--that he might get their confidence, and then use them in his wicked plot to seize his father's throne! It was the flatterer's base art, not the friend's, that he used.
"Oh that I were made judge," he said, "that every man who has any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!" He poisoned the minds of the people towards David, by making them think that their king was neglectful, and that they were suffering wrong and injustice through his neglect. Then he suggested how different matters would be if he were judge in his father's place. Absalom cared nothing for the people's real or imaginary wrongs. He had no true sympathy with them. He was the worst kind of a demagogue. He thought only of destroying the people's confidence in David, and winning them to himself.
There always are people, alas! who think of no way of getting up--but by pulling others down! It is easy for any of us, by careless words, even unintentionally, to disparage others by indirectly suggesting how much better we would perform these duties--if they were ours. It requires a noble heart and most watchful care, to be always loyal to others.
"So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel." When we see a young man rising in the world, we have a right to know by what means he is rising--before we can admire his success and approve it. Is he getting up honestly--or dishonestly? Is his prosperity fairly and legitimately won--or is it won by treachery, by deceit and falsehood? For such advancement as Absalom's, is as a palace built on sand. Before any man follows Absalom's example, he would better ask what became of Absalom's fine palace in the end.
On this matter of stealing hearts--we should linger also a little. To steal is to take something which is another's, to which we have no right. We have a right to make friends--but not to steal hearts. We steal a heart when we get a person to be our friend--by influencing him against another person, and making him think we will be a better friend to him than the other. We have no right to interfere with the friendships of others--to get people to love us. We need to guard against doing anything dishonorable, to win friends.
"Absalom said unto the king, I pray you, let me go and pay my vow." He stole the people's hearts and induced them to care for him more than his father. Then he stole the garb of heaven to hide his vile treachery! He must get away from Jerusalem to sound the signal of revolt, and the best way to get off would be on a religious errand. He easily fabricated such an errand. He said he had made a vow when he was in exile--would his father permit him now to go and pay that vow? He knew this would please his father. David would think that Absalom was growing penitent, and that soon he would be a better man. There is nothing baser possible in this world--than such a use of the name of religion.
"With Absalom went two hundred men ... in their simplicity." Absalom had attached these men to himself, no doubt, by flatteries and favors. Now he invites them to go "with him to Hebron, and to be present at the princely feast he would there give. It was a high honor. The men were complimented by the invitation. All Jerusalem would envy them. They had no thought of Absalom's real design, and yet, without intending it, they seemed to enter with him into the rebellion.
This is an illustration of the way in which men still try to lead others into evil. They cover up their real object, and under the profession of friendship, draw the innocent and unsuspecting into their schemes. When the true nature of their design is disclosed, it is too late to withdraw. Compliments from bad men or women should be accepted charily, for ofttimes they have some evil design behind them. We ought never to allow ourselves to be led blindfolded into any wicked scheme. We need to be ever on our guard against designing people--plausible flatterers, professing friendship--but insincere in their profession.
The story of Absalom's plot is told in much detail. David seems to have been utterly unmanned when he was told of his son's treachery. He lost his courage. He arose at once and fled. There is none of the old-time heroism in his conduct. Each incident in the flight is described. "All the country wept with a loud voice." The route of the fleeing king was over the Kedron, the same path over which a thousand years later, David's greater Son passed on the night of his betrayal.
The priests and the Levites came with the ark--but David bade them to return to Jerusalem. "David walked up the road that led to the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. His head was covered and his feet were bare as a sign of mourning. And the people who were with him covered their heads and wept as they climbed the mountain." The story of those terrible days is most pathetic. At length David reached Mahanaim, over the Jordan, and preparation was made for resistance. The army was organized and the day of battle came. David would have gone to the field--but his officers did not allow him to imperil his life. "David was sitting between the two gates." Never did a ruler watch more anxiously for news from a battlefield, than David watched that day. It was not only his kingdom that was imperiled--the fact that the rebel leader was his own son, terribly complicated the issue. Either defeat or victory--would bring anguish to his heart.
Children who go away in sin, never know with what bitterness loving parents at home think of their evil courses. There are parents who pace the floor many long nights, and look out at their windows into the streets, watching for the return of those who are dearer to them than their own life. If children knew how they crush the hearts of devoted fathers and mothers by going into sin--they would never choose such a life!
All David could do that day, was to sit between the gates and wait and watch. He could put forth no hand to save his son. He could only sit there in utter powerlessness and wait for the tragedy which would end the sad story. Years ago he might have prevented this terrible catastrophe--but now it was too late.
At length a messenger came. The king said: "Is it well with the young man Absalom?" The king was lost in the father. David's interest in the safety of the country--was swallowed up in his anxiety for the fate of his rebel son. He heard of the victory of his army--but that availed him nothing, unless he knew that Absalom was safe.
There is a story of a mother, hearing of the coming of a messenger from the battlefield. The woman hastened out into the street to ask him what news he bore. With gentle words, so as not to add to her sorrow, the messenger said: "Your five sons are dead." With a look of withering scorn, she replied, crushing down in her heart her own personal grief: "I did not ask you of the welfare of my sons. I asked if the country is safe." Patriotic feeling was stronger in her--than parental love. In David it was the reverse. Yet there were reasons in David's case for this difference. His son's name was dishonored, and, besides, David knew that Absalom's ruin was, in part at least, his work. This added to his bitterness.
The one question that persisted that day on the king's lips was: "Is it well with the young man?" We may put other names in the place of Absalom's, and ask the question concerning young men we know: "Is it well with the young man?" It is never well with the young man--if he is living sinfully, if he is not following Christ. This is a world of danger. Every young man must meet countless perils!
Storms sweep the sea and the wrecks go down, bearing noble lives beneath the waves, and there is sorrow in the homes when the missing ones come not. The battle rages and many a brave soldier falls to rise no more, and there is grief in the homes where the cruel blow strikes. But there are fiercer storms raging than those upon the sea! Our noblest young men are exposed to these. There are more terrific battles than those history records.
"Is it well with the young man?" We mourn for those whom death claims; should we not mourn for our living, when we remember to what perils they are exposed?
They tried to have the news broken gently to the king. The first messenger, Ahimaaz, told the story so timidly that the king seems not to have grasped the worst. Then came the blunt Cushite and told all with terrible plainness. "My lord the king, hear the good news! The LORD has delivered you today from all who rose up against you." The king asked the Cushite, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" The Cushite replied, "May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man." The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!" 2 Samuel 18:31-33
We see in this picture of the weeping king a glimpse of the father's heart. Some might say that long before this, David would have ceased to love such a son as Absalom had been, and would not have been so affected by his death. But no one who knows a parent's heart will say this. This intense love which had loved on through such a history of crime as had darkened Absalom's name--is the same kind of love that all true fathers and mothers have for their children. It never unclasps its arms. It loves unto the uttermost.
David's love also gives us a glimpse of God's love for His children. Even their worst sins--do not change His love. In David's grief over his lost child, we see how our Heavenly Father feels when His children go astray. Christ weeping over Jerusalem shows this phase of Divine experience. He wept because the people He loved and had come to save--had rejected Him and His love and refused His mercy.
"O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!" No doubt David would gladly have died for Absalom, as he said. In a burning mine, when there was room for no more in the car that was starting up on its last trip, one brave lad stepped off and gave his place to another lad, saying: "He is not ready to die--and I am." David would have taken Absalom's place for the same reason--but it was impossible. If David had lived for Absalom more faithfully, when his son was younger--he might never have had this terrible sorrow to bear.
The time for parents to show their love for their children most effectively, is when they have them in their hands in tender youth, and not when they are dead! No doubt the bitterest element of David's grief, was the thought that if he had lived differently himself--this might never have happened.
There is a story of an old ship-wrecker whose son had long been a wanderer on the sea. One night the father set his false lights on the coast, and a ship came ashore on the rocks. As the old man went along the beach, gathering up the booty, he came upon the body of a sailor washed up by the waves. One glance told him it was his own long-lost son. It was his son's ship coming home--that the wrecker had lured upon the rocks! His anguish was indescribable. Some such feeling must have been David's in his pathetic grief that day.
In our sympathy with David in his grief, we must not lose the lessons from Absalom himself. He had splendid gifts and opportunities--but he threw them all away! He gave loose rein to his passions, and was carried headlong into ruin. He was a type of what are called "fast young men." We need only to study Absalom's story through to the end--to see the outcome of all such lives!