Leaders and governments come and go. So do countries and nations. Israel’s hope was not in David’s leadership, but in God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. Our hope is the same. If we are shaken by an election, for good or for bad, then to that extent, our faith is not truly grounded in an eternal God who promises us an eternal hope. This isn’t just about elections. This is about anything in life that threatens to shake us.
To listen to the sermon, click the play button:
To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 2 Samuel Part 17
2 Samuel #17 . 2 Samuel Chapter 17
This is not a political sermon, so just bear with me through the first few paragraphs, and you’ll see that there is some rich spiritual application.
I think it is safe to say that the election in the United States this past week reveals that we often deeply divided as a nation. Although the electoral college victory for Barak Obama was clear and decisive, the margin int he popular vote was less than 3%. These division may cause us dismay. Sometimes it may seem that the atmosphere is far to bitter and partisan. Many people are dismayed by politicians themselves — so many of them seem willing to push the envelope of ethical behavior extremely far.
The scripture that we are looking at today is especially relevant in these times. David was good king; in fact, he was God’s choice for king. But Absalom sounded good, looked good and deceived enough good people, and recruited enough schemers, to take power and send his dad David running for his life. Politically, things looked bad for Israel. How could the country be so ignorant as to let this smooth-talking, charming megalomaniac come to power? Obviously, there were still many who supported David, and who felt that Absalom was a very bad choice for king. But they were defeated and silenced. God’s choice no longer mattered. Righteousness and right didn’t matter. Instead, power went to the one who was most ruthless and clever. Those who were wise and aware in Israel, who trusted the Lord, must have been deeply dismayed.
At the end of 2 Samuel chapter 15, we learn that when David fled from his son Absalom, he left behind a kind of spy network. Two priests who were loyal to David stayed in the city – Zadok and Abiathar. Their two sons – Ahimaaz and Jonathan stayed outside the city, ready to relay messages to David. David also had a friend and advisor named Hushai. Hushai stayed behind and pretended to betray David, and so became an false advisor to Absalom, a kind of double agent.
David had another close friend who was an advisor. This man was named Ahithophel. 2 Samuel 16:23 says this:
Now the advice Ahithophel gave in those days was like someone asking about a word from God — such was the regard that both David and Absalom had for Ahithophel’s advice. (2Sam 16:23, HCSB)
This man truly did betray David. He supported Absalom and threw his lot in entirely with him. It is quite likely that when David wrote psalm 55, it was primarily Ahithophel whom he had in mind. He said these things:
Now it is not an enemy who insults me — otherwise I could bear it; it is not a foe who rises up against me — otherwise I could hide from him. But it is you, a man who is my peer, my companion and good friend! We used to have close fellowship; we walked with the crowd into the house of God. (Ps 55:12-14, HCSB)
…My friend acts violently against those at peace with him; he violates his covenant. His buttery words are smooth, but war is in his heart. His words are softer than oil, but they are drawn swords. (Psalm 55:20-21)
When David first heard that Ahithophel had betrayed him, he prayed for the Lord to confound his advice and to defeat him. He says similar things in Psalm 55. There is something here that intrigues me. If you read the Psalms especially, David is never shy about praying for destruction to come upon evil and evil-doers. Whenever I read such things, I cringe a little bit. I think most modern Christians do. It sounds so simplistic to our sophisticated ears. These types of prayers seem to assume that we are good, not bad, and we have the ability to discern who the bad ones are. I don’t think I’ve ever heard modern Christians pray that way. Now, Jesus did say to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. So I think we ought to do that. But have we ever considered that part of our prayers could be asking God to frustrate and confound the schemes of unrighteous and wicked people? Here’s another sample from David:
Let those who seek to take my life be disgraced and confounded. Let those who wish me harm be driven back and humiliated. Let those who say to me, “Aha, aha! ” be horrified because of their shame. (Ps 40:14-15, HCSB)
If we pray in faith, trusting that God knows who truly needs to be confounded frustrated, and who doesn’t I think it is appropriate at times to pray against the success of those who appear to be against God. I’m not saying that we get to judge who those people are – I’m just saying that we can appeal to God to restrain and defeat wickedness, trusting him to judge who is wicked and who is not.
Ahithophel certainly appeared to become a wicked person. His first advice to Absalom was that he publicly violate the women of David’s harem, who had been left behind when David fled. This was a symbolic cultural gesture, expressing contempt for David, and showing the people that he had completely cowed and defeated him. The possession of the King’s wives was a way of solidifying his own claim to be the new king.
Absalom took that advice, fulfilling Nathan’s prophecy that David’s wives would be treated publicly as David treated Uriah’s wife privately. The Hebrew leaves a little bit of room for interpretation. Absalom’s men pitched tents in public view – on the roof of the palace. The text says that Absalom “went in” to the women. It could mean that he raped them. But in the customs of those days, when a married woman was alone with a man who was not her husband, it was a disgrace. Whether or not anything happened, it was assumed that something had. So, whatever happened, from that time forth, those women were treated as if they had been raped. In those days, the custom (not biblical, just cultural) was that no other man would ever again be with them. They would have no place with their previous husband, nor any chance of a new one. However, after the rebellion was all over, David made sure that they were well cared for for the rest of their lives.
Ahithophel’s next advice was cunning and probably would have been effective. He told Absalom to pursue David quickly, to strike and kill him while he was still on the run, and end any doubt about who was king. But Absalom chose to also ask Hushai, David’s secret agent in the palace. Hushai gave advice that sounded excellent. He reminded Absalom that David was a cunning, fearsome old warrior, and that some of the Thirty were also with him. It would be no small thing to take such heroes on without enough preparation or force. David and Abishai (who was with him) had once killed six hundred men in a single battle, just between the two of them. Hushai suggested that Absalom could not risk bad news like a battle gone wrong, so early in his bid for power. The Lord heard David’s prayer, and Ahithophel’s scheme was frustrated.
Ahithophel’s reaction seems completely out of proportion. He goes and hangs himself. The text doesn’t really tell us why. I have a few theories, but they are only guesses. One thought is that Ahithophel reacted a little bit like Judas did one thousand years later, when he betrayed Jesus. Ahithophel may have realized that what he had done was wrong, and failed to believe that he could be forgiven and restored. So rather than repent and trust the mercy of God, he listened to lies of the devil that there was no forgiveness or hope, and destroyed himself.
The text does give us one clue. It says that Ahithophel did killed himself after he realized that his advice had not been followed. It could be that in his wisdom, he realized even at that early stage that if they didn’t kill David quickly, then they would inevitably lose. He may have seen right then that Absalom’s rebellion was doomed to failure. Rather than wait through all the turmoil and then be executed by David, he decided to put his affairs in order and deprive David the satisfaction of doing justice upon his body.
In any case, David’s prayer against evil was answered quite clearly.
Chapter 17 verses 17-29 read like an adventure novel. Hushai didn’t know at this point if Absalom would follow his advice or Ahithophel’s, and so he activated the spy network, warning David to flee across the Jordan river that very night. A servant girl went out from the palace bearing a message to the sons of the two priests. But the activity was noticed, and the two young men were pursued as they carried the message to the fleeing king. They took refuge in the courtyard of a friend, hiding in the well. The woman of the house spread canvas out over the well, and covered it with grain, so that no one even knew it was there. The soldiers of Absalom searched, but failed to discover the hidden well. Afterward, the young men continued on and successfully delivered their message, with the result that David and his household fled further on to safety.
So what do we do with all this? Let me be clear as I offer the first application. I am not saying that president Barak Obama is evil or unrighteous or that he is not God’s choice for president. I am not saying either that he is God’s first choice to be our president. But I know that whether or not he is God’s choice for president, many informed faithful Christians are very concerned that he has been reelected.
I want to point out that people have been following the Lord for thousands of years, and really only in the last three hundred years have human beings had consistent opportunities to choose their own government. Christian faith thrives in freedom. Christian faith thrives in oppression. God is not hindered by unrighteous rulers – if he were, Christianity would never have survived. So if you are thrilled that president Obama has been reelected, good. Just remember your hope should be in the Lord, not in a ruler. If you are dismayed, remember the same thing.
Leaders and governments come and go. So do countries and nations. Israel’s hope was not in David’s leadership, but in God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. Our hope is the same. If we are shaken by an election, for good or for bad, then to that extent, our faith is not truly grounded in an eternal God who promises us an eternal hope. David, as he fled from his murderous son, wrote this:
Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. (Psalm 55:22)
This isn’t just about elections. This is about anything in life that threatens to shake us. What does it mean, “he will never allow the righteous to be shaken?” When David wrote that, he had lost all that he had worked so hard for decades to attain. He was in danger of losing his life. His own son was trying to kill him. But he says, “the Lord will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Obviously, he did not mean that things would never be hard. Obviously, he did not meant that the future on earth would never look bleak. What he meant is that our faith in the Lord looks beyond the here and now. You may wonder, “am I one of ‘the righteous’?” You are, if you trust Jesus. The promise of scripture is that Jesus imparts his own righteousness to us. This is not based upon what we have done, but rather on our faith in what he has done for us.
I think it is helpful to see David’s heart of faith in his extremely difficult and discouraging circumstance. Paul writes to the Philippians. He mentions people who are focused mainly on what is happening here and now:
They are focused on earthly things,but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)
We are citizens of heaven. We have the same eternal king today that we had two weeks ago, the same leader that our predecessors in faith had two thousand years ago. Our best future is ahead of us, and nothing can take it away. It is difficult when life is unpleasant, or hard, or full of sorrow. But circumstances did not fundamentally shake David. They don’t have to shake your either. Set your hope fully in your eternal future with Jesus.