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Sunday, June 15, 2014

[Matt's Messages] "O Absalom, My Son, My Son!"

“O Absalom, My Son, My Son!”
The LORD Is My Rock: The Message of 2 Samuel
June 15, 2014 :: 2 Samuel 16:15-19:8

We’re right smack dab in the middle of the story of Absalom’s conspiracy.

Absalom was the rebel son of King David. In last week’s message, he had stolen the hearts of Israel away from his father and had declared himself king.

David had been too passive where Absalom was concerned and has just woken from his passivity to organize a hasty retreat.

David and his loyal followers have left the city of David, crossed the Kidron Valley, climbed the Mount of Olives and are escaping on the other side.

In chapter 16, verse 14, they reached a resting place where they are pausing for much needed refreshment.

David has found out who his friends are: Ittai the Gittite, Hushai the Arkite, maybe Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth, and definitely not Shimei who was pelting him with rocks, dirt, and curses.

And he’s found out who his enemies are: Absalom and, to his surprise and chagrin, his chief adviser Ahitophel.

David has left the city in weeping, and we’re not sure how this story is going to turn out.

Well, most of you have probably read the story already and know how it’s going to turn out.

It’s a story with some twists and turns in it.

And it’s a sad story. A profoundly, hauntingly sad story.

Here’s the title; it comes from chapter 18, verse 33.  “O Absalom, My Son, My Son!”

You can tell from that anguished title, that it’s going to be, at least partly, a very sad story.

From David’s perspective, it’s a sad story, especially from a Father’s Day perspective.

But we have to remember that the Bible is a revelation of who God is and what God is up to in our world.

We don’t just have earthly fathers. We who belong to Christ have a Heavenly Father.

And the Bible is about Him.

As I studied this passage this week to share it with you, I kept asking myself what it taught, not about earthly fathers, but about our Heavenly Father.

And the one word that came to me to summarize what I saw here was: sovereign.

Our Heavenly Father is sovereign, meaning He rules.

And He’s not just sovereign. He is sovereign in and over a sad story.

Our Heavenly Father is sovereign in and over this sad story (and all sad stories, for that matter).

So, today, as we read about the anguish of one father, we are going to look for clues pointing to the sovereignty of our Heavenly Father.

Okay, let’s dive in. 2 Samuel chapter 16, verse 15.

“Meanwhile [back at the ranch], Absalom and all the men of Israel came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel was with him. Then Hushai the Arkite, David's friend, went to Absalom and said to him, ‘Long live the king! Long live the king!’”

I love this little part to the story.

Absalom hits town. He’s winning. He’s taking over Jerusalem and he’s got David’s chief adviser on his side. “Ahithophel was with him.”

But then up comes Hushai. Remember him from last week?

What team is he on?

He’s on David’s team. “David’s friend.” And we know, but Absalom doesn’t, that he’s a double agent.

And he’s really tricky with his words. “Long live the king! Long live the king!”  Sounds good. Which king? V.17

“Absalom asked Hushai, ‘Is this the love [hesed] you show your friend? Why didn't you go with your friend?’ Hushai said to Absalom, ‘No, the one chosen by the LORD, by these people, and by all the men of Israel–his I will be, and I will remain with him.  Furthermore, whom should I serve? Should I not serve the son? Just as I served your father, so I will serve you.’”

Masterful answer. He definitely gives the impression that he’s jumped David’s ship, but he never really says it outright! Everything he says could be taken another way.

And now it’s time for giving Absalom counsel. V.20

“Absalom said to Ahithophel, ‘Give us your advice. What should we do?’ Ahithophel answered, ‘Lie with your father's concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench in your father's nostrils, and the hands of everyone with you will be strengthened.’ So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he lay with his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel. Now in those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Ahithophel's advice.”

Now, that’s terrible advice on one level and excellent advice on another.

It’s terrible because it’s a great sin. We don’t have to go into all the ways that this plan was sinful.

But it’s brilliant, too, because it would send a shockwave message throughout the land that Absalom was the absolute king.  It would be burning his bridges. After this, there would be no turning back from this rebellion.

No wonder everyone listened to Ahitophel, he was a brilliant strategist, even if he was counseling sheer wickedness.

But before we move on too quickly, we have to see what this is. Do you see what this is? It’s the fulfilment of Nathan’s prophecy when he confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba.

What did Nathan say on behalf of God?

2 Samuel 12, “‘Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ This is what the LORD says: 'Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight” (vv.10-11).

This wicked act of Absalom, counseled by the brilliant Ahithophel is nothing less than the fulfillment of the LORD’s promise.

Here’s how we’ll put it:

BECAUSE OUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS SOVEREIGN:

#1. HE CAN ALWAYS KEEP HIS PROMISES.

And that includes His threats.

It includes the promises that we’d rather He didn’t keep.

This can be a little troubling for Christians, to find out that God is sovereign over the bad stuff, even over others sinning against us. God still rules. He doesn’t lose control.

A helpful way to think about it, I think is to say, “God sometimes ordains what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

God doesn’t sin, but He works sin into His plan to accomplish His greater purposes.

Like Joseph’s brothers selling Joseph into slavery, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.”

And sometimes that good purpose is hard-to-swallow discipline.

“The sword will never depart from your house...”

We have seen again and again in the last month how sin has consequences. You reap what you sow.

And our Heavenly Father is sovereign, so he can always keep those promises!

It should give us pause when we’re thinking about giving in to temptation.

It’s a wonderful thing that God always keeps His promises, but that shouldn’t just give us a nice warm feeling. It should also instill in us the fear of the Lord.

But Absalom obviously did not have the fear of the Lord.  He sets up his tent on the very roof where this trouble all started with David and Bathsheba and does his wicked deed.

And the counsel continues. Chapter 17, verse 1.

“Ahithophel said to Absalom, ‘I would choose twelve thousand men and set out tonight in pursuit of David. I would attack him while he is weary and weak. I would strike him with terror, and then all the people with him will flee. I would strike down only the king and bring all the people back to you. The death of the man you seek will mean the return of all; all the people will be unharmed.’ This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel.”

That is a good plan, isn’t it?

Again, Ahithophel is brilliant. He says strike while the iron is hot. You’ve got David on the run, press that advantage. Try to kill as few as possible. If you get David then it’s all over and the rest will follow you. Very few prisoners to kill or imprison.

Grab a big bunch of men and go to it right away.

And everybody agreed that was a good idea.   But...Absalom does something unexpected here. He asks Hushai for advice. V.5

“But Absalom said, ‘Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so we can hear what he has to say.’ When Hushai came to him, Absalom said, ‘Ahithophel has given this advice. Should we do what he says? If not, give us your opinion.’”

Why?

Why did he do that? He has never asked for Hushai’s advice before. I’m not sure he really trusted him just a few verses earlier.

But he wants to know what Hushai thinks.

Does anybody remember why?

Two chapter ago, when David heard that Ahithophel was on Absalom’s side, what did he do?

He prayed. He asked God, “O LORD, turn Ahithophel's counsel into foolishness.”

And in the very next verse, we were introduced to Hushai.

Coincidence? I think not. It’s sovereignty.

Number two: Because Our Heavenly Father Is Sovereign–

#2. HE CAN ANSWER ANY PRAYER.

Amen?

Because our Heavenly Father is rules over all, He can answer any prayer.

And I believe this is the answer to David’s prayer.

Hushai gets a shot at frustrating the counsel of Ahithophel. Let’s see how he does it. V.7

“Hushai replied to Absalom, ‘The advice Ahithophel has given is not good this time. You know your father and his men; they are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Besides, your father is an experienced fighter; he will not spend the night with the troops. Even now, he is hidden in a cave or some other place. If he should attack your troops first, whoever hears about it will say, 'There has been a slaughter among the troops who follow Absalom.' Then even the bravest soldier, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a fighter and that those with him are brave. So I advise you: Let all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba–as numerous as the sand on the seashore–be gathered to you, with you yourself leading them into battle. Then we will attack him wherever he may be found, and we will fall on him as dew settles on the ground. Neither he nor any of his men will be left alive. If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we will drag it down to the valley until not even a piece of it can be found.’”

Hushai uses images and flattery to convince Absalom to bide his time and look before he leaps. And he’s trying to buy time for King David. Does it work? V.14

“Absalom and all the men of Israel said, ‘The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than that of Ahithophel.’”

But...not just because Hushai gives a good speech. V.14

“For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.”

That’s the key sentence of these chapters, right there.

That tells us what is going on behind the scenes.

That tells us that God is sovereign over this situation and what He’s planning to do with it.

“For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.”

That’s an answer to prayer.

Our Heavenly Father can answer any prayer.

That’s why our Lord Jesus said “Which of you [Fathers], if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Are you praying?

Are you praying for things?

Our Heavenly Father is sovereign. He rules over all. And He loves to answer prayer.

Now, those answers may be obvious, or they may not be.

We know something that Absalom doesn’t, right now. Don’t we?

We know something that David doesn’t, right now. Don’t we?

We know what’s going to happen because we’ve read verse 14.

“For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.”

You and I know that, but they don’t.  It’s hidden from them right now.

Because Our Heavenly Father Is Sovereign.

#3. HE IS AT WORK EVEN WHEN WE CAN’T SEE IT.

Verse 14 is true even if both Absalom and David don’t know it!

And I think it is evidenced in the next few exciting action adventure moments. David’s spies meet up in verse 15.

“Hushai told Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, ‘Ahithophel has advised Absalom and the elders of Israel to do such and such, but I have advised them to do so and so. Now send a message immediately and tell David, 'Do not spend the night at the fords in the desert; cross over without fail, or the king and all the people with him will be swallowed up.'’ [Hushai is not sure his advice will win the day.]

Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying at En Rogel. A servant girl was to go and inform them, and they were to go and tell King David, for they could not risk being seen entering the city. But a young man saw them and told Absalom. So the two of them left quickly and went to the house of a man in Bahurim. He had a well in his courtyard, and they climbed down into it. His wife took a covering and spread it out over the opening of the well and scattered grain over it. No one knew anything about it.

When Absalom's men came to the woman at the house, they asked, ‘Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?’ The woman answered them, ‘They crossed over the brook.’ The men searched but found no one, so they returned to Jerusalem.

After the men had gone, the two climbed out of the well and went to inform King David. They said to him, ‘Set out and cross the river at once; Ahithophel has advised such and such against you.’ So David and all the people with him set out and crossed the Jordan. By daybreak, no one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.”

It would make a great action movie, wouldn’t it?

How did that plan work? Did they know it would work?

No, but we know that God is at work for our good even when we can’t see it.

Do you need to be told that today?

Your Heavenly Father is at work even when you can’t see it.

V.14 “For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.”

And Ahithophel realizes that he’s lost. He’s been a traitor and God is against him. V.23

“When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father's tomb.”

Verse 24.

“David went to Mahanaim, and Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. [He’s on the way, slower than he should have to be successful, but on the way for a showdown.] Absalom had appointed Amasa over the army in place of Joab. Amasa was the son of a man named Jether, an Israelite who had married Abigail, the daughter of Nahash and sister of Zeruiah the mother of Joab. The Israelites and Absalom camped in the land of Gilead.

When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Makir son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows' milk for David and his people to eat. For they said, ‘The people have become hungry and tired and thirsty in the desert.’”

Now, that’s pretty amazing itself.

This Shobi in verse 27 is probably the brother of the guy who humiliated David’s troops a few chapters ago and David had to teach a lesson.

And Makir was the guy sheltering Mephibosheth before David found him and treated him with hesed.

And Barzillai is an a pretty old man for those days. He’s in his eighties.

And they all bring David good gifts. Providence. God’s provision.

God was at work even when David couldn’t see it.

“The people have become hungry and tired and thirsty in the desert.” So our Heavenly Father took care of them.

Is God the best of Fathers?

Isn’t He sovereign even in a sad story?

Well, let’s see why this is a sad story. Strangely enough, it’s not because David loses the battle. Chapter 18, verse 1.

“David mustered the men who were with him and appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. David sent the troops out–a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab's brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The king told the troops, ‘I myself will surely march out with you.’

But the men said, ‘You must not go out; if we are forced to flee, they won't care about us. Even if half of us die, they won't care; but you are worth ten thousand of us. It would be better now for you to give us support from the city.’ The king answered, ‘I will do whatever seems best to you.’ [Passive David.]

So the king stood beside the gate while all the men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands. The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.’ And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

[What a lose-lose situation that David placed them in!]

The army marched into the field to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There the army of Israel was defeated by David's men, and the casualties that day were great–twenty thousand men.

The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword.”

[Another sign of God’s sovereignty.]

Now Absalom happened to meet David's men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom's head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going. [Perhaps because of that big heavy head of hair we read about last week!]

When one of the men saw this, he told Joab, ‘I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.’

Joab said to the man who had told him this, ‘What! You saw him? Why didn't you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior's belt.’

But the man replied, ‘Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lift my hand against the king's son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, 'Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.' And if I had put my life in jeopardy–and nothing is hidden from the king–you would have kept your distance from me.’

Joab said, ‘I'm not going to wait like this for you.’ So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom's heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. And ten of Joab's armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.

[Joab doesn’t fear David’s wrath and he doesn’t trust him to bring Absalom to justice.]

Then Joab sounded the trumpet, and the troops stopped pursuing Israel, for Joab halted them. They took Absalom, threw him into a big pit in the forest and piled up a large heap of rocks over him. [Like Achan after Jericho.] Meanwhile, all the Israelites fled to their homes.

During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King's Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, ‘I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.’ [Either he did this before his sons were born or they have perhaps died before him.] He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom's Monument to this day.”

What a sad situation!

Absalom was such a tragic figure.

And now that he’s defeated, it should be a time for celebration. Ahimaaz would like to deliver the good news. V.19

“Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, ‘Let me run and take the news to the king that the LORD has delivered him from the hand of his enemies.’ [That’s a key phrase. Watch for that again.]

‘You are not the one to take the news today,’ Joab told him. ‘You may take the news another time, but you must not do so today, because the king's son is dead.’

Then Joab said to a Cushite, ‘Go, tell the king what you have seen.’ The Cushite bowed down before Joab and ran off. Ahimaaz son of Zadok again said to Joab, ‘Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.’ But Joab replied, ‘My son, why do you want to go? You don't have any news that will bring you a reward.’

He said, ‘Come what may, I want to run.’ So Joab said, ‘Run!’ Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain and outran the Cushite.

While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. The watchman called out to the king and reported it. The king said, ‘If he is alone, he must have good news.’ [It’s not a retreat!] And the man came closer and closer.

Then the watchman saw another man running, and he called down to the gatekeeper, ‘Look, another man running alone!’ The king said, ‘He must be bringing good news, too.’  The watchman said, ‘It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.’ ‘He's a good man,’ the king said. ‘He comes with good news.’

Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, ‘All is well!’ He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, ‘Praise be to the LORD your God! He has delivered up the men who lifted their hands against my lord the king.’

The king asked, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’

[Notice that. Not “That’s great! I’m so happy.” Instead, he asks about the welfare of his enemy. And Ahimaaz lies.]

Ahimaaz answered, ‘I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king's servant and me, your servant, but I don't know what it was.’ The king said, ‘Stand aside and wait here.’ So he stepped aside and stood there.

Then the Cushite arrived and said, ‘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!’”

And there’s where we get our title for today.

The word “sad” doesn’t really communicate it, does it?

There is so much grief in David’s voice. So much anguish and, I think guilt and shame.  David knows that this is part of the consequence of his sin.

Absalom had his own sin, but David wishes at this point that he could have died instead.

David’s love for his son is admirable on one level.  He never lost sight of the fact that Absalom was his son. And it’s always right to love your son.

But David’s love was irrational and out of proportion.

Especially because he was not just a betrayed father. He was a betrayed king.

And all of his army was dishonored by his public display of grief over the death of his enemy. Chapter 19, verse 1.

“Joab was told, ‘The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.’  And for the whole army the victory that day was turned into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said, ‘The king is grieving for his son.’

The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle. The king covered his face and cried aloud, ‘O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!’

Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, ‘Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead.

Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the LORD that if you don't go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from your youth till now.’ So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, ‘The king is sitting in the gateway,’ they all came before him.”

Sad story, isn’t it?

I don’t enjoy preaching these parts of the Bible.

This was not David’s finest hour.

This was not one of those times when he was like Jesus.

Yes, our Lord loves those who hate Him. But He loves those who love Him.

And the way he loved those who hated them was to turn them into His friends and save them from their sins.

Not overlooking all of their sin and pretending it didn’t matter.

One thing that David was missing here was to rejoice that the LORD had delivered him from his enemies.

That was the message that Ahimaaz and the cushite and Joab all brought to David.

And he brushed that off. But they were right. It’s what God was doing.

God had delivered David once again from his enemies.

God had brought salvation.

And He still does.

Because our Heavenly Father is sovereign (even over a sad story like this one):

#4. HE CAN DELIVER HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR ENEMIES.

Because He is sovereign, He can be a Savior.

A sovereign Savior!

Isn’t that what our Heavenly Father is?

Our sovereign Savior!

Our Heavenly Father sent His one and only Son into the world to save us from our sins and to give us new eternal life.

And because He’s sovereign that plan worked!

He is keeping all of his promises.
He is answer our prayers.
He is working even when we can’t see it.
He is delivering us from sin, from Satan, and even from ourselves.

What a mighty, mighty savior He is!

***

Messages in This Series

00. "How the Mighty Have Fallen!"
01. King David
02. David's Kingdom
03. The Right Way to Worship
04. "I Will Build a House for You."
05. The Rule of King David
06. David's Scandal
07. Why Is This Sordid Story in the Bible?il This
08. Absalom's Conspiracy

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