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"David - Dealing with Difficulty, Pt.6: Deception & Defeat"

July 19, 2015 2Sam.15:13-31


It's all too easy for leaders amongst humans to become arrogant and puffed up, to be "full of hot air", all show and no substance. Jesus shows us leadership can sometimes mean leading as a servant all the way to the cross. It's not about letting power go to your head. Arnold Glasgow said, "A good leader takes a little more than his share of blame; a little less than his share of credit."

Those who knew Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, might say he was a leader who was not just a stuffed shirt. Before becoming prince, he worked his way up through the ranks in the Royal Navy. He was commander of a frigate (the Magpie) and a destroyer. My father-in-law, who was a detective at Scotland Yard in the early 1960s, recalls hearing the story of Prince Philip touring the old Scotland Yard sometime in the late 50s. Having been in the navy, he was familiar with inspections and how some areas received more emphasis in preparation, and others less. While touring the Yard, he voiced a need to use a washroom. Someone recommended a washroom that was just a little further on and (probably) well prepared for such a contingency, given the prominence of the visiting dignitary. But Prince Philip, likely with a twinkle in his eye, said something like, "No, I think I spotted one just back there..." and proceeded to search it out. It, of course, had not received the special cleaning! This caused some humour amongst the lower-ranking police, and endeared him to them, as it showed the Prince was nonetheless familiar with how things often got done - or didn't get done - on the job where the "common folk" lived.

As we continue our review of how David responded to difficulties in his life, we see a real contrast between this true king's approach, and that of his rebel son who grooms his profile and attempts to seize the throne.


Absalom had a big head. Yes, he was selfish, but I mean he also literally had a BIG HEAD - in that his hair was exceptional. The barbers just loved to see this boy coming! 2Sam 14:25-26 "25 In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom.From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him.26 Whenever he cut the hair of his head-- he used to cut his hair from time to time when it became too heavy for him-- he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard." (NIV text note "about 5 pounds (2.3 kg)". This guy ranked as 'virile plus'! Today our culture takes a hairy chest as a sign of manliness; Absalom's admirers were in awe of his mop. He would have stood out in a crowd. Unfortunately, good appearance can also predispose a person to arrogance, smugness, self-centredness, conceit.

Absalom began acting like a big shot. He started augmenting his profile, like a movie star might drive around in a flashy convertible. 2Sam 15:1 "In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him." The NIV Study Bible notes, "As far as is known, Absalom was the first Israelite leader to acquire a chariot and horses." Hear that? Unlike his father David who used more pedestrian modes of transportation, Absalom engaged horses and a chariot, and not 1 or 2 but 50 bodyguards! You sure knew HE was coming down the street. It's all about IMAGE, pomp, show, making a splash. Interestingly, what are 2 key factors in his demise? His long hair (which gets him hung up in a tree) and riding a mule (without which he might not have gotten caught in the branches).

A second characteristic of Absalom is that he was FLATTERING AND MANIPULATIVE. Vv2-6 "2 He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, "What town are you from?" He would answer, "Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel." 3 Then Absalom would say to him, "Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you." 4 And Absalom would add, "If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice." 5 Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him.6 Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the men of Israel."

What an actor! The consummate politician, saying what the people want to hear in order to get their vote - whereas really it's just a charade. Absalom is manipulating them, making them putty in his hands - and the people love him for it. At this point, probably about 30 years into David's reign, the aging king is keeping close to home and lacks pizzaz. People's hearts are yearning for a royal figurehead with more flair.

Third, Absalom is DECEPTIVE, lying to present a false front. Note in particular v4, "And Absalom would add, "If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice."" JUSTICE! Absalom appointed JUDGE? He doesn't care about justice! Several years earlier, Absalom's sister Tamar, who was herself very beautiful, had been raped by her half-brother Amnon. When King David their father heard about it, he was furious, but did not take action - a failure on his part. Absalom seemed to let it slide; he said nothing to Amnon, but secretly hated him for disgracing his sister so. It was not until two years had gone by that Absalom sneakily seized a party occasion to order his men to kill Amnon (13:28f). Rather than pursuing justice in the courts, Absalom in his privilege and pride figured he could "get away with murder" - and did, literally.

His ego knows no bounds; he supposes the world is his oyster. He rises up as a usurper against his aging father the king. Later, he brazenly beds his father's concubines in a move calculated to make it clear he is seizing what was his father's; as his adviser puts it, 16:21 "Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench in your father's nostrils..." As rapacious as his half-brother, but in a different way: Amnon brutally seized Tamar, but Absalom seized the kingdom.

Fourth, Absalom was SELF-EXALTING NOT GOD-HONOURING. He worshipped himself rather than his Creator. 15:7-9 "7 At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, "Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD.8 While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: 'If the LORD takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the LORD in Hebron.'" 9 The king said to him, "Go in peace." So he went to Hebron.10 Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, "As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, 'Absalom is king in Hebron.'""

Absalom's intent was clearly NOT to honour God or worship the Lord as he pretended, but instead to promote himself as king, treason against his own dad! Selfishness is ultimately self-worship, putting ourselves above God, wanting to call the shots ourselves rather than accept the Lord's direction for our lives.

Our society, like Absalom, lives in the godlessness and wickedness of Romans 1:21-23, worshipping what we see in the mirror rather than the God who made the universe and us. Rom 1:21-23 "21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for IMAGES made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." Absalom looked at his own image in the mirror - that beautiful head of heavy hair, the shiny chariot, the 50 men trumpeting his approach - and he made the mistake of starting to believe his own press releases. He worshiped himself and supposed HE deserved to be king! But as Paul notes, when we refuse to glorify God, our values become inverted, distorted, perverse; our thinking becomes wise, and our foolish hearts are darkened.


David's attitude stands in sharp contrast to Absalom's. David was not perfect, far from it; but in the words of Samuel the prophet, 1Sam 13:14 "...the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart..." David made mistakes, but like a compass needle seeking out magnetic north, his heart always swung back to orient itself afresh to God.

In contrast to Absalom's big-shot arrogance, note first of all David's HUMILITY. Having heard of Absalom's uprising, David hurries to flee Jerusalem, taking his family with him, sparing the city so innocent lives aren't drawn into the fray and slaughtered. 2Sam 15:30 "But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot.All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up." Absalom shows off his Clairol-sheeny heavy-hairedness, but David covers his head as a sign of mourning and humbling, walking in bare feet - no chariots and horses here. He stayed down at the people's level, degrading his appearance to make it clear he was sorrowful, unpretentious, relying on God not his own strength or wisdom.

Did you know we have a humble Saviour? Jesus called and promised in Matt 11:28f, "28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

Second, David is FREEING & RELEASING NOT COERCING. His sons are grabby by comparison: Amnon grabbed Tamar, Absalom grabbed the throne. Absalom carefully manipulated people, promising them justice if only he were in authority (15:4). When he plots his power grab, he secretly drags along many of the leading people of Jerusalem without them even being aware of what was happening, so as to seem to give his actions credibility: 15:11 "Two hundred men from Jerusalem had accompanied Absalom.They had been invited as guests and went quite innocently, knowing nothing about the matter."

Far from trying to control and hang on to people, David freely releases them, gives them every opportunity to abandon him when it seems his world is falling apart around him. Note in particular his interaction with Ittai, a leader from Gath in charge of 600 men who seem to have attached themselves to David as faithful mercenaries. David tries to let Ittai go: 2Sam 15:18-21 "18 All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king.19 The king said to Ittai the Gittite, "Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom.You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland.20 You came only yesterday.And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your countrymen.May kindness and faithfulness be with you." 21 But Ittai replied to the king, "As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.""

It's clear David is trying to release Ittai of any obligation, giving him and his valuable warriors full permission to abandon David when things are looking hopeless; but David's offer of freedom only draws forth from Ittai a pledge of devotion as faithful and endearing as that of Ruth to Naomi back in Ruth 1(16f).

Jesus doesn't drag us along when we believe in Him, He doesn't coerce us against our will; He invites us to follow Him, with a promise of companionship and commendation. Jn 12:26 "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.My Father will honour the one who serves me."

Third, Absalom took advantage of people, saying one thing then just doing whatever he wanted; whereas David is ABSORPTIVE, RESPECTFUL, TRUSTING GOD TO JUDGE. As David and troupe mournfully make their way down the Mount of Olives heading northeast of Jerusalem, a man named Shimei from the former king Saul's tribe of Benjamin comes out and follows along beside them, cursing David, pelting him with stones, and tossing dirt. He denounces David for taking over from Saul and for shedding blood. This is just too much for Abishai, one of David's trusted warriors, who offers to cut off the disrespectful and abusive man's head!

Note the manner with which David responds. He certainly could have accepted Abishai's offer. But he says: 2Sam 16:10-12 ""...If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, 'Curse David,' who can ask, 'Why do you do this?'" 11 David then said to Abishai and all his officials, "My son, who is of my own flesh, is trying to take my life.How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to.12 It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.""

David trusts God absolutely to be the Judge, to settle the score, to keep track of any wrongs done to us and put things right. If it's discipline that's warranted, David can accept it, as from the Lord's hand. He has faith God sees it all, is watching and waiting. Can we do the same when we are wronged? Have you been pelted by any rocks this past week? How about curse words, or denounced injustly for things you didn't actually do? Isn't it all too easy to lash back, to let fly verbal missiles of your own to counter-attack and defend your honour?

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:17&19 "Do not repay anyone evil for evil...Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord." Absorb the hurt as Jesus absorbed the whipping and pain of crucifixion to pay for your sins. Trust God to look after payback. His sense of justice, and his record-keeping, are far better than yours.

Finally, David shows he is GOD-HONOURING NOT GOD-MANIPULATING. Absalom used the pretense of going to worship God as a smokescreen for officially kicking off his rebellion (15:8). As David's crew are leaving Jerusalem, two faithful priests are there with the ark of the covenant. But David does not presume to have any right to try to force God's hand by absconding with tokens of worship. 15:24-26 "24 Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God.They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city. 25 Then the king said to Zadok, "Take the ark of God back into the city.If I find favour in the LORD's eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again.26 But if he says, 'I am not pleased with you,' then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him."

About a century before, when Samuel was young, the Israelites had persuaded Hophni and Phinehas to take the ark into battle against the Philistines as a sort of "good luck charm" (1Sam 4:4) - with disastrous results. God will NOT be manipulated by our religious machinations! He's not some kind of divine vending machine into which we can put our coinage of religious actions and draw out whatever we want.

By contrast, hear David's deference to God's will: He knows God is in charge and well able to rescue David if He pleases. Yet there's also relinquishment of his fate into God's hands - if He's done with David. "If I find favour in the Lord's eyes, He will bring me back...But if He says, 'I am not pleased with you,' then I am ready; let Him do to me whatever seems good to Him."

Can we have that same total trust in God, committing our moments and prospects into His hands? We serve a BIG God who can't be manipulated, but also who is well able to be in charge of our fate, who has demonstrated 2000 years ago at the cross how much He loves sinners and wants to redeem us to be with Him forever. Paul writing to the Philippians expresses similar submission to the Lord, putting Himself totally at Jesus' disposal, confident He will work out everything for the best. Php 1:20-21 "20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."

However you slice it - however this all pans out - God is able and to be honoured; Christ being exalted is what it's all about!


Shortly after the death of their daughter Robin, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans met a pale little boy who stuck out his hand and said, "Howdy, pahtnah!" He had been abandoned in a Kentucky motel, and was physically and mentally disabled.

Roy and Dale adopted him, calling him Sandy in honour of his hair. He was bright-eyed and good-natured. During a Billy Graham Crusade, Sandy became a Christian.

Roy and Dale enrolled him in military school and he loved it. At 17, he enlisted in the army (as he put it) "to prove myself." Sandy worked hard and won respect. He was sent to Germany, then volunteered for Vietnam. He wrote home, "Put your faith in the Lord, because (as I have found out) He's always around when you need Him. All He asks in return is your devotion."

Then one day Dale Evans, returning from a trip, was met at the airport. "It's Sandy, Mom.He's dead." Sandy had returned from 26 days of manoeuvres, dog tired. His buddies had taken him out for the night, needling him to "prove you're a man." Sandy, who couldn't tolerate alcohol, had given in. They fed him hard liquor until he collapsed. He was found next morning dead in his bunk.

Dale Evans survived the sorrow only by drawing strength from Scripture, particularly from Job 13:15. She wrote, "Tragedy in a Christian's life is a refiner...God has not promised an easy way, but peace at the centre of the hard way. The clouds of sorrow have been heavy, but I have reached the point of no return in my Christian experience, and with Job I can cry, 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.'"