These Three Kings (II Samuel 17:15-18:18)
Topic: II Samuel Passage: 2 Samuel 17:15–18:18
Crying for a King
These Three Kings
II Samuel 17:15-18:18
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
March 9th, 2014
In the second half of II Samuel 17, and the first half of II Samuel 18, we discover three kings. Who are these three kings? Well, let’s meet them by digging into those very passages this morning. Turn with me to II Samuel 17, verse 15.
You may recall from last time that, once again, David and those loyal to him find themselves on the run in the wilderness. But this time, it isn’t Saul who is chasing him. It isn’t Saul who is seeking his life. It is David’s own son, Absalom, who is leading a revolt in order to establish his own throne.
But as we saw in the first half of chapter 17, Absalom entertained two plans about how to deal with his father. One plan was from Ahithophel, the most revered advisor in all Israel and a supporter of Absalom. The second plan was offered by Hushai, a friend of David who is feigning support for Absalom in order to be David’s “inside man”.
II. The Passage: “Lest the King…Be Swallowed Up” (17:15-18:18)
Let’s pick up the story there, and look together at the remaining verses of chapter 17, beginning with verse 15.
A. The King who was Preserved (17:15-29)
Here we discover the first king, the king who was preserved. Verse 15…
Then Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, “Thus and so did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and so have I counseled.  Now therefore send quickly and tell David, ‘Do not stay tonight at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means pass over, lest the king and all the people who are with him be swallowed up.’”  Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were waiting at En-rogel. A female servant was to go and tell them, and they were to go and tell King David, for they were not to be seen entering the city.  But a young man saw them and told Absalom. So both of them went away quickly and came to the house of a man at Bahurim, who had a well in his courtyard. And they went down into it.  And the woman took and spread a covering over the well's mouth and scattered grain on it, and nothing was known of it.  When Absalom's servants came to the woman at the house, they said, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” And the woman said to them, “They have gone over the brook of water.” And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.  After they had gone, the men came up out of the well, and went and told King David. >>>
They said to David, “Arise, and go quickly over the water, for thus and so has Ahithophel counseled against you.”  Then David arose, and all the people who were with him, and they crossed the Jordan. By daybreak not one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.  When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.  Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel.  Now Absalom had set Amasa over the army instead of Joab. Amasa was the son of a man named Ithra the Ishmaelite, who had married Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab's mother.  And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead.  When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim,  brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils,  honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”
Now you may remember from our last study that Absalom, and the elders of Israel who were supporting him, had decided to go with Hushai’s plan, instead of Ahithophel’s. We read as much in verse 23 of this chapter. Why does Ahithophel take his own life? We can’t be sure. Maybe it was pure shame. He was the great Ahithophel! How could his counsel be rejected?
Or maybe it was because he could see the “handwriting on the wall”. What do I mean? Well, Hushai’s plan was to gather a massive army under Absalom’s leadership. But the plan was really devised to give David time to escape from the possibility of the rapid, surgical strike Ahithophel suggested. Ahithophel knows that if David has time, he will regroup, and he will regain the throne. Maybe he preferred to die on his own gallows instead of the ones David would erect for those who tried to oust him.
But Absalom’s decision to follow Hushai’s advice is just one indication of something we see throughout the passage we just looked at. Very clearly, David is the king who is being preserved. There are three examples of this in the second half of chapter 17:
First, David is preserved because the messengers are preserved (vs. 15-21). Why is all this ink spent on this story about the two messengers who were hidden in the well? Because the writer likes suspenseful plot twists? No. The point is to show that God is at work to preserve David’s life.
Second, David is preserved as one of his greatest enemies perishes (v. 23). Back in chapter 15, verse 31, we saw how anxious David was about the fact that Ahithophel was advising Absalom. This is why David immediately prayed and asked God to frustrate the Ahithophel’s influence. And last time, we saw God do just that. But as we see here, Ahithophel’s influence is not only frustrated; Ahithophel himself, this cold, cruel and calculating traitor, is taken out of the equation altogether…forever.
Third, David is preserved as a trio of preservers brings him provision (vs. 24-29). We don’t know much about the men who came to help David and his followers, except that they came at just the right time according to verse 29. Not only do they provide sustenance to this weary group, but also the critical support David needed. Undoubtedly, he saw God’s hand in all these things, and therefore, must have been encouraged.
B. The King who was Punished (18:1-18)
But as we move into chapter 18, we meet a second king. But this king was not God-anointed. He was self-appointed. Therefore, he is not the king who preserved, but the king who was punished. Look with me at 18:1…
Then David mustered the men who were with him and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds.  And David sent out the army, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the men, “I myself will also go out with you.”  But the men said, “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.”  The king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands.  And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom.  So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim.  And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.  The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword.  And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.  And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.”  Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.”  But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king's son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’  On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.”  Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak.  And ten young men, Joab's armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.  Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them.  And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home.  Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King's Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom's monument to this day.
So as David’s army prepares to face the much larger force led my Absalom, all of the men make it clear to David that he must stay behind and oversee the battle from a distance. They know that if David were to die, all hope would be lost in terms of the throne.
And we read about this battle in verses 6-8. Now, just as we saw in the latter part of chapter 17, in this passage, we also find three examples of the fact that Absalom is the king who was punished, rather than preserved. Think about what we’ve just looked.
First, Absalom’s much larger army is beaten as they foolishly fight in the forest. On a clear battlefield, David’s soldiers didn’t stand a chance. But in a thick forest, there small numbers would be less of a disadvantage. Did you hear what the writer said about the forest in verse 8: The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword. Why Absalom’s army went into the forest to fight isn’t clear. But clearly, it was a huge mistake.
Second, Absalom himself is strangely caught in the branches of tree. Did you notice that only three verses are spent on the battle itself, while more than twice as many are spent on how Absalom was killed? The writer is not interested in simply compiling a generic history of Israel. He is interested in how God is at work. But wait a minute. God is not mentioned here. This was just a bizarre accident, right? Wrong. Look again at verse 14…
And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom. (II Samuel 17:14)
When Absalom judged Hushai’s plan to be superior, God was actually judging Absalom. Those branches, and that forest path, and that mule were all part of God’s plan. Absalom the murderer. Absalom the arrogant son. Absalom the rebel, the usurper, the defiler…Absalom was going to be punished. It is as if the creation itself is being used by the Creator to bring about what He has ordained.
Third, Absalom is killed and buried in shame, in spite of the king’s command. Look again at verse 5: And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom. The author wants to make it crystal clear that David was crystal clear about his desire to spare Absalom. And when one of David's men, the one who finds Absalom in the tree, follows the king's command, he is berated by Joab, who does exactly what David said not to do: he kills Absalom.
Now, we know from earlier in the book that Joab has no problem with killing those whom he believes deserve death. And his decision was probably the right decision in terms of political stability. But he still does so against the explicit command of the king. Why is that important? Because I think it highlights the fact that Absalom was going to die, and nothing was going to change that, not even a command from God's anointed king.
The final piece of information we learn about is found in vs. 17 and 18. Not only is Absalom killed by Joab and his men, but he is also buried in a pit in the forest, marked only by a heap of stones. Other examples of this in the OT, and the contrast with the pillar Absalom has set up, and that fact that he died without sons, are meant to point us to the fact that he suffered a shameful end.
III. The King Who Preserves and Punishes
Now, as I mentioned at the beginning, in the final half of II Samuel 17, and the first half of II Samuel 18 we discover three kings. And as we've looked at those passages this morning, we've spent most of our time talking about two of these kings: the king who was preserved, and the king who was punished. But what about the third king?
Well, I did mention the third king. Who is he? The third king is not the king who was preserved, or the king who was punished. The third king is the King who both preserves and punishes. God is the third king. As we read the books of Samuel we should never, ever forget the importance of I Samuel 8:7...
And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (I Samuel 8:7)
When God's people first asked for a king, they did so because they had rejected God as their king. And when God raised up David, He did so to show them that, if they were to have a human king over them, the king they needed would need to be a man who was first committed, not to his own reign, but to God's reign. Saul, the first king, failed to do this. But David was a man of faith, and the people were blessed under his leadership. Why? Because he looked first to the leadership of God.
So why does God want us to think about these three kings this morning? Why does He want you to understand this account describing how David was preserved, how Absalom was punished, and how He, the King over all creation, was at work in all of it? Well, just as we learned three things in connection with the first two kings, let's finish with three lessons connected to God, the third king.
First, God is warning us about the fate of wannabe kings. We know from the previous chapters that Absalom really stood out from the crowd. His charisma, his looks, his initiative. But really...how different are any of us from Absalom? Don't we also have a desire to seize the throne? Isn't the heart of sin a rejection of God's will in order to establish our own will as supreme? A rejection of God's glory in order to showcase our own glory? That desire is not always expressed so explicitly, as we see with Absalom. But that same rebel tendency still is underneath so many of our words and actions and attitudes.
But as those who are like Absalom, God is warning all of us this morning: if you remain on that path of resistance, if you stubbornly refuse to relent, if you continue to fight against God's true king with all the resources you can muster...only death and shame await you. And no human power can change God's just judgment. By contrast...
Second, God wants us to submit to His loving leadership at all times. Even though David had sinned against God, his heart was softened by repentance and humility. Remember how his words revealed this when he first left Jerusalem, in light of the threat from Absalom? This is from a few chapters earlier, in 15:25, 26...
Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place.  But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.”
Does that express your heart this morning? Are you soft toward the King of heaven? Do you trust His will? Are you submissive to His desires for you?
I love the way this old Puritan prayer gives voice to this kind of wonderful submissiveness:
O God of the highest heaven,
occupy the throne of my heart,
take full possession and reign supreme,
lay low every rebel lust,
let no vile passion resist thy holy war;
manifest thy mighty power,
and make me thine forever.
Thou art worthy to be
praised with my every breath,
loved with my every faculty of soul,
served with my every act of life. ("Regeneration", The Valley of Vision)
Third, God is reminding us of our need for the King of Kings. Absalom failed miserably in terms of kingship. Even David struggled to be the king God's people needed, as we saw in II Samuel 11. But even the darkness of chapter 11, with its adultery, deception, and murder, even that cannot alter II Samuel 7. Strangely, from where we now stand, it is Absalom, hanging in that oak, who points forward to King we need. Think about it...a royal son...”suspended between heaven and earth” (v. 9) on a tree...whose death brings an end to a greatconflict...whose death secures God's chosen kingdom. Are we talking about Absalom or Jesus? Well...both.
Saul was the king the people wanted. But David was the king the people needed. But David's failures, and all the failures of the kings who came after him, should help us see our desperate need for a king who is not weighed down by sin's corruption. We have to see that our notions about autonomy are an illusion. You are not, you never will be in charge of your life. I think the singer-songwriter Bob Dylan said it best...
“You may be an ambassador to England or France, You may like to gamble, you might like to dance, You may be the heavyweight champion of the world, You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls, You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage, You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage, You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief, They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief, You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk, You may be the head of some big TV network, You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame, You may be living in another country under another name, You may be a construction worker working on a home, You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome, You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks, You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride, You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side, You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair, You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir...But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed, You’re gonna have to serve somebody, Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” (Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody”)
If Dylan is right, then shouldn't we desire the kind of loving leadership only Jesus can give us? Jesus came because of God's covenant promise to David. And through faith, faith alone...when we trust that He is enough, that his death, hanging on that tree, “suspended between heaven and earth”, that such a death was enough for your rebellion, my rebellion, we can be assured of God's promises to us. Each day, because of Jesus, we can see God doing for us what he did for David: God will provide for you. God will protect you. God will preserve you. Isn't that amazing?!
What's also amazing is that God's promises do not end when you die. They are eternal! In fact, strangely, but wonderfully, we even read this about the eternal life we will enjoy in the presence of the King of Kings...
…if we endure, we will also reign with him… (II Timothy 2:12a)
WHEN do you want to reign? If it's here and NOW, only judgment is store for you. But if your desire is to reign THEN, with Christ, then be encouraged, and endure in light of HIS reign NOW.
What have we seen? We’ve seen, that there are always and only two paths, two ways to live: that path of David or the path of Absalom. The path of a soft heart or a hard heart. The path of submission or the path of rebellion. God’s will or my will. And in the end, preservation or punishment. Which path are you on this morning?