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Sunday, June 08, 2014

[Matt's Messages] "Absalom's Conspiracy"

“Absalom’s Conspiracy”
The LORD Is My Rock: The Message of 2 Samuel
June 8, 2014 :: 2 Samuel 14:1-16:14

We’re returning now to our study of the book of 2 Samuel, and for the next 3 weeks, we’re going to be studying the story of “Absalom’s Conspiracy” and its consequences.

“Absalom’s Conspiracy”

Do you remember who Absalom is?

He is the son of King David.  And when we last studied 2 Samuel together, Absalom was in exile. He had very craftily murdered his step-brother Amnon for the rape of his sister Tamar. Do you remember this?

Absalom had fled to the nearby country of Geshur and has lived there in exile for 3 years.

But in today’s story, he will attempt to come back, and then he will conspire to overthrow the throne of David.

But that’s getting ahead of our story.

First we need to pray and then we’ll dive into this long story. The whole story covers chapters 14 through 20, but we’re just going to make it into chapter 16 before we have to stop today.

And let me tell you what we’re going to see. We’re going to see sin. We’re going to see sin’s consequences. We’re going to see more lying, manipulation, betrayal, and sinful passivity. We’re also going to see faithfulness and loyalty. And by the time we’re done, I think we’re going to see some more of why David is called a man after God’s own heart–when he’s at his best–and how we can be like more like him.

There’s a lot of story here, so most of what I’m going to do today is simply read it to you. Chapter 14 is about bringing Absalom home. Verse 1.

“Joab son of Zeruiah knew that the king's heart longed for Absalom.

So Joab sent someone to Tekoa and had a wise woman brought from there. He said to her, ‘Pretend you are in mourning. Dress in mourning clothes, and don't use any cosmetic lotions. Act like a woman who has spent many days grieving for the dead. Then go to the king and speak these words to him.’ And Joab put the words in her mouth.”

Stop there for just a second.

Joab, that rascal that we’ve been aware of now for some time, knew that David was pining for Absalom. That’s very important to understand for what we’re going to see this week and next.

David seemed to have a foolish excessive affection for Absalom. Even though Absalom has killed David’s firstborn son, the putative heir to the throne, David’s heart longs for Absalom’s return.

But David can’t see any good way to make that happen. So he does nothing.

But Joab does something. He hires a Meryl Streep level actress to come and do her best acting job. In this, he’s learned from Nathan that David can be swayed by a story. V.4

“When the woman from Tekoa went to the king, she fell with her face to the ground to pay him honor, and she said, ‘Help me, O king!’ The king asked her, ‘What is troubling you?’ She said, ‘I am indeed a widow; my husband is dead. I your servant had two sons. They got into a fight with each other in the field, and no one was there to separate them. One struck the other and killed him. Now the whole clan has risen up against your servant; they say, 'Hand over the one who struck his brother down, so that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he killed; then we will get rid of the heir as well.' They would put out the only burning coal I have left, leaving my husband neither name nor descendant on the face of the earth.’

[Pretty good, huh? See where this is going?]

The king said to the woman, ‘Go home, and I will issue an order in your behalf.’

But the woman from Tekoa said to him, ‘My lord the king, let the blame rest on me and on my father's family, and let the king and his throne be without guilt.’

The king replied, ‘If anyone says anything to you, bring him to me, and he will not bother you again.’ She said, ‘Then let the king invoke the LORD his God to prevent the avenger of blood from adding to the destruction, so that my son will not be destroyed.’ [Legal protection, please!]

‘As surely as the LORD lives,’ he said, ‘not one hair of your son's head will fall to the ground.’

[Got ‘em.]

Then the woman said, ‘Let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.’ ‘Speak,’ he replied. The woman said, ‘Why then have you devised a thing like this against the people of God? When the king says this, does he not convict himself, for the king has not brought back his banished son?

Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.

‘And now I have come to say this to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid. Your servant thought, 'I will speak to the king; perhaps he will do what his servant asks. Perhaps the king will agree to deliver his servant from the hand of the man who is trying to cut off both me and my son from the inheritance God gave us.'

‘And now your servant says, 'May the word of my lord the king bring me rest, for my lord the king is like an angel of God in discerning good and evil. May the LORD your God be with you.'’

Do you see how this works?

She’s saying that two situations are the same. Two brothers fight, one is killed, and instead of losing the crown prince which Israel so desperately needs, there must be a way of providing clemency.

Is there anything lacking in her argument?  Well, the two situations are pretty different, aren’t they? Amnon and Absalom didn’t fight in a field. Absalom conspired to murder his step-brother. And Absalom is not the only son left who could inherit the throne. The two situations are NOT the same. And David smells a little Joab here. V.18

“Then the king said to the woman, ‘Do not keep from me the answer to what I am going to ask you.’ ‘Let my lord the king speak,’ the woman said. The king asked, ‘Isn't the hand of Joab with you in all this?’ [I think he’s standing right there.] The woman answered, ‘As surely as you live, my lord the king, no one can turn to the right or to the left from anything my lord the king says. Yes, it was your servant Joab who instructed me to do this and who put all these words into the mouth of your servant.

Your servant Joab did this to change the present situation. My lord has wisdom like that of an angel of God–he knows everything that happens in the land.’ [Flattery will get you everywhere.]

The king said to Joab, ‘Very well, I will do it. Go, bring back the young man Absalom.’

Joab fell with his face to the ground to pay him honor, and he blessed the king. Joab said, ‘Today your servant knows that he has found favor in your eyes, my lord the king, because the king has granted his servant's request.’

[It worked! But I’m not sure it was a good thing.]

Then Joab went to Geshur and brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. But the king said, ‘He must go to his own house; he must not see my face.’ So Absalom went to his own house and did not see the face of the king.”

I’m not sure why. Perhaps he is welcomed home but not at court so that he is not in line to succeed the kingship. Perhaps David just doesn’t know what to do. David doesn’t seem to know very well what to do with his children. They are still estranged even though Absalom has returned from exile.

What kind of a man was Absalom? V.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.  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. [Up to 5 pounds! Blair said to me this week that Troy Polamalu had nothing on Absalom!]

Three sons and a daughter were born to Absalom. The daughter's name was Tamar, and she became a beautiful woman. [Named after her desolate aunt.] Absalom lived two years in Jerusalem without seeing the king's face.”

I think this is a scary thing to read–how good looking he was.

Because we’ve already learned in 1 Samuel 16 that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the [what?] heart.

It’s not bad to have a good appearance. But it’s bad if that’s all you’re known for.  David has sired a Saul.  And he’s tired of waiting. V.29

“Then Absalom sent for Joab in order to send him to the king, but Joab refused to come to him. So he sent a second time, but he refused to come. Then he said to his servants, ‘Look, Joab's field is next to mine, and he has barley there. Go and set it on fire.’ So Absalom's servants set the field on fire. [That’ll get his attention!] Then Joab did go to Absalom's house and he said to him, ‘Why have your servants set my field on fire?’  Absalom said to Joab, ‘Look, I sent word to you and said, 'Come here so I can send you to the king to ask, ‘Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!’ 'Now then, I want to see the king's face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.’ [He’s counting on his father’s passivity.] So Joab went to the king and told him this. Then the king summoned Absalom, and he came in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king. And the king kissed Absalom.”

He’s home. For better or for worse. He’s home.

His power play worked. So, he conspires for a bigger one. Chapter 15.

“In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. [A presidential entourage!] 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.’

Then Absalom would say to him, ‘Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.’ 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.’

Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. 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.”

It’s obvious to us that Absalom is running for office.  He basically says that he is running judge.

But he’s really running for king.

Do you see how he stabs his dad in the back?

Early at the gates, intercepting all of those looking for justice, glad-handing and kissing his way into the hearts of Israel.

All along insinuating that David does not and will not bring justice.

And Absalom agrees with everyone!  He doesn’t make any enemies. He tells everyone that they’re right.

Great trick, huh? And for four years, he steals hearts and prepare the groundwork of his conspiracy. V.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. 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. '’ The king said to him, ‘Go in peace.’ So he went to Hebron.”

What is the significance of Hebron? That’s where David became king over all Israel.

And David has either missed everything that Absalom is doing or has been sinfully passive about stopping him.

If Absalom made a vow 4 years ago, it should have been kept by now!  V.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.'’ Two hundred men from Jerusalem had accompanied Absalom. They had been invited as guests and went quite innocently, knowing nothing about the matter. [But roped in.] While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counselor, to come from Giloh, his hometown. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom's following kept on increasing.”

Everything is now in place for a coup.

Absalom is declared king, trumpets are sounded simultaneously around the country, and the conspiracy is now a coup d’etat. V.13

“A messenger came and told David, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.’

[And David finally wakes up. And he finally takes action. And that action is a necessary retreat. V.14]

Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, ‘Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin upon us and put the city to the sword.’

The king's officials answered him, ‘Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.’ The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace. So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at a place some distance away.

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.”

That’s interesting!  The Gittites were apparently those from Gath, the Philistines who had defected from the Philistines and had joined David.

And they were apparently loyal when David’s son was not!

You know, it’s when you go through trials that you can find out who your real friends are. V.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. 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 [hesed] and faithfulness be with you.’

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.’ [That’s loyalty! That’s friendship. That’s hesed.]

David said to Ittai, ‘Go ahead, march on.’ So Ittai the Gittite marched on with all his men and the families that were with him. The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the desert.”

Now, just a quick a comment. Don’t forget that whenever King David is at his best, he is a picture of his great, great, great, great, great grandson, King Jesus.

Do you know anybody else who was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief who crossed the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives?  (John 18:1)

Well, this time David meets another friend. Zadok and Abiathar the priests. V.24

“Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. [There it is again!] They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city.

[Do you see it in your mind’s eye? What an event!]

Then the king said to Zadok, ‘Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD's eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, 'I am not pleased with you,' then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.’”

Now this, again, is David at his best.

And here’s where I want to start noting applications for us today.

Because David choose well here. He doesn’t always. In fact, up till now in this story, he’s not been very impressive.

But his heart for God seems to have kicked back into gear.

And he makes a key choice here.

He chooses not to take the symbolic throne of God with him into exile.

He choose to NOT take the ark of the covenant with him.

I think that’s wise. He doesn’t give in to the “God in a Box” idea that we learned about a few months ago.

If you have the ark then you have God in your pocket.

No way. David knows that he certainly does not have God in his pocket. And he’s not going to act like it!

Instead he’s:

#1. TRUSTING GOD’S WISDOM.

V.25 again.

“Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD's eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, 'I am not pleased with you,' then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”

David knows that God will choose what is best.

He’s trusting that God will do what is right.

He believes that God is wise, and that whatever He does will be best.

“Let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”

There’s a heart for God!

That’s a heart for the heart of God right there.

Have you ever said that about the Lord, when you were going through a hard time–either a hard time caused by your own choices or a hard time caused by someone else’s choices?  This one is both.

“Let God do to me whatever seems good to him.”

That’s humility. That’s submission. That’s faith.

Absalom’s conspiracy finally brings out the best in David. And the best in David is marked here by trusting in God’s wisdom.

David doesn’t know what God is going to do. He’s not saying, “Oh, God’s going to fix all of this!  I just know it. I’ve got faith! I believe!”

No, he says, “Either way, I’m good. Let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”

That’s a great place to be in life.

I want to live there. Do you?

So often I charge God with not knowing what He’s doing. My complaining, my whining, my grumbling, my mealy-mouth half-hearted obedience gives it away.

But I want to grow in my trust in God’s wisdom so I can say, “Either way, I’m good. Let him do to me whatever seems good to him. I’m sure it will be the best.”

Now, that trust in God’s sovereignty and wisdom doesn’t make David passive. It actually makes him active. In the very next verse, he sends Zadok and Abiathar back to Jerusalem to be spies. V.27

“The king also said to Zadok the priest, ‘Aren't you a seer? [Absalom will love having you!] Go back to the city in peace, with your son Ahimaaz and Jonathan son of Abiathar. You and Abiathar take your two sons with you. I will wait at the fords in the desert until word comes from you to inform me.’ So Zadok and Abiathar took the ark of God back to Jerusalem and stayed there.”

“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.”

A man of sorrows. Did he walk barefoot and weeping through what eventually would be called the Garden of Gethsemane? V.31

“Now David had been told, ‘Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.’”

Oh no! Not Ahithophel! He’s like the wisest old man in Israel!  David relied heavily on Ahithophel’s counsel.  Ahithophel was, apparently, Bathesheba’s grandfather.  And now he was on Absalom’s side?! V.31

“So David prayed, ‘O LORD, turn Ahithophel's counsel into foolishness.’”

#2. ASKING GOD’S AID.

David knows that he’s in trouble if both Absalom and Ahitophel are against him.

But David knows someone wiser than both of them.

And he doesn’t just trust in God’s wisdom, he asks God to act on his behalf.

That’s what prayer is!

“So David prayed, ‘O LORD, turn Ahithophel's counsel into foolishness.’”

David asks God to do something for him.

Are you regularly asking God to act on your behalf?

Some people are afraid to ask God for anything for themselves.

Now, we are supposed to pray for others. But the Bible tells us to pray for ourselves and ask God for our needs, for help!

We’re disobedient if we don’t pray to God for help!

What’s on your prayer list right now?

What aid are you asking from God?

David knew he was in trouble, but he knew that God was wise, and powerful, and loving and loved to answers prayer for help.

And here’s the answer–in the next verse! V.32

“When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head. David said to him, ‘If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. [He was probably also an old man.] But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, 'I will be your servant, O king; I was your father's servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,' then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel's advice. [A double agent!] Won't the priests Zadok and Abiathar be there with you? Tell them anything you hear in the king's palace. Their two sons, Ahimaaz son of Zadok and Jonathan son of Abiathar, are there with them. Send them to me with anything you hear.’ So David's friend Hushai arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.”

We’ll find out next week how God answered David’s prayer.

The point here is that he prayed it!

Now, we’re coming to the end of today’s story. We’re running out of time.

David is running out the city.

That’s sad isn’t it?  King David is forced to leave the City of David.

And on the way out, he meets two different men. And these men treat him in two very different ways.  The first is Ziba whom we have met before. And the second is Shimei whom we will meet again.

Chapter 16, verse 1.

“When David had gone a short distance beyond the summit [only one hill separating him now from his attacking son, Absalom], there was Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth, waiting to meet him. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine.

[A sight for sore eyes?]

The king asked Ziba, ‘Why have you brought these?’ Ziba answered, ‘The donkeys are for the king's household to ride on, the bread and fruit are for the men to eat, and the wine is to refresh those who become exhausted in the desert.’

The king then asked, ‘Where is your master's grandson?’ [Saul’s grandson, Mephiboseth, where is he?] Ziba said to him, ‘He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, 'Today the house of Israel will give me back my grandfather's kingdom.'’

Then the king said to Ziba, ‘All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.’ ‘I humbly bow,’ Ziba said. ‘May I find favor in your eyes, my lord the king.’”

Hmmm. Sounds a little fishy to me. I think we’ll hear more about this later. V.5

“As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul's family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out.

[No free donkeys from him!]

He pelted David and all the king's officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David's right and left.

As he cursed, Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel! The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The LORD has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood!’

Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.’ [Abishai was the guy that snuck into Saul’s camp with David back in 1 Samuel 26. He’s ready to knocks heads and slice necks to defend David’s honor.]

But the king said, ‘What do you and I have in common, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, 'Curse David,' who can ask, 'Why do you do this?'’

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. It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.’”

#3. ACCEPTING GOD’S DISCIPLINE.

David is accepting God’s discipline.

Now, David knows that Shimei is in the wrong. David has not sinned against the house of Saul as Shimei believes.

But David does know that all of his trouble finds its genesis in David’s own sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah.

God’s words ring in his ears, “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.”

David accepts this sword. He knows that he brought it on himself.

“It’s okay Abishai. Let him say what he’s got to say. Let him throw his rocks.”

V.13

“So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.”

“It’s okay, Abishai! I know that I deserve worse.”

Have you gotten to a place where you know that you are undergoing the loving discipline of God and you can accept it as the loving discipline of God?

We’ve seen for weeks now that sin has consequences.

You reap what you sow.

The odometer on the Chevy Citation may flip over to zero miles, but there are still 100,000 miles of wear and tear to contend with.

And David accepts those consequences. He doesn’t like them. He doesn’t say, “Oh, hit me again, Shimei. That hurts so good!”

It’s distressing to him.

But He knows that God is in control and that he deserves so much worse. So, he can learn even from this.

Now, I’m not saying that he completely forgave Shimei or that he agreed with him. Some of you will have just read 1 Kings 1 and 2 this week and see what David eventually said about this matter.

But he’s bigger than pettiness here.  He accepts God’s discipline.

And more than that!  He believes in God’s mercy.  Number four (and last):

#4. BELIEVING IN GOD’S MERCY.

Did you catch that in verse 12?

“It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.’

That would be grace, wouldn’t it?

That would be mercy!

The word translated “distress” in verse 12 could be translated “iniquity.”

Yahweh may look on my iniquity and instead of giving me more cursing, give me more blessing!  He’s that kind of a God!

Or it could be “distress” as the NIV has it.

The LORD may look on all of my trouble right now which I brought on myself. He may look on the sword in my household and show me mercy–repay me with good for the cursing I’m receiving from Shimei today.

David looks to God for mercy, for grace, for blessing.

He knows that’s the kind of God that he belongs to.

Even when David doesn’t deserve it one bit!

Next week, we’ll see what God does with that hope.

But it’s enough this week to just see that David had that hope.

Here he is–barefoot, crying, in exile from his own palace, his own city, his own throne. Soon to be pursued, he assumes by his very own son who has conspired against him.

And David is hoping, trusting, believing in God’s mercy.

He knows that God gives good gifts to those who do not deserve it.

And how much more do you and I know that on this side of the Cross of Christ?

Paul said to Titus, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

Do you have the hope of eternal life?

Because you have the Holy Spirit?

Because you have been justified by death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Not because of any righteous thing you have done, but because of His mercy.

Praise God for His mercy!

***

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