We can learn a lot from this text, but I’ll mention but two lessons.
One, giftedness must be united with character to have a positive influence. Both Absalom and Ahithophel seemed to offer much, but as political opportunists gave only trouble. Let the lives of these infamous, clever men warn us. Clever can be dangerous.
Second, the kind of men who defended David’s crown modeled the kind of believer in Christ many senior citizens ARE—though overlooked and undervalued by the church’s youth culture. In every church with senior citizens God has in place the kind of people the youth culture can never be, IF ONLY because they haven’t had the time and experience with God to mature in discipleship.
Hurrah! for mature Christians of every age group. They may be long-dry from the baptistery, but remain flexible in discipleship, seeking new challenges and embracing them when they find. They can “leave it all” by remaining certain they retain “all that matters.” They admit to sometimes losing a spiritual battle but never to being defeated. They try, and fail, but never fail to try again, repeatedly.
They pray confidently for answers to prayer, but never make an appointment with disappointment when they don’t come. They consider unanswered prayer God’s expression of trust in them: they don’t need it to feel secure in faith. Indeed, as C.S. Lewis wrote, the Christian faith is never more secure in a Christian’s life than when it seems God doesn’t care, but the disciple still lives as if he does—because GOD SAYS he does. While exceptions occur, usually only people with convictions, commitments and assurances bolstered by years of experience have such robust faith—something younger Christians are too inexperienced to master.
Skeptic and critic Will Durant sat in his Chicago hotel room when he heard a church’s carillon ringing an old Christian hymn. The old infidel found himself bursting out with, “Oh, God, how beautiful.” He later wrote, it would be easy to believe in God when the music played. Then the bells stopped tolling, and back into his skepticism Durant sank.
The mature disciple of Christ will go through troubles, sorrows and losses WITH faith: when the music plays; and WITH faith when it stops. But their life experiences will never let them recede into doubt and despair when it stops! Mature Christians make one more decision that younger Christians often can’t. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress falling into the Slough of Despond—both believers and unbelievers get discouraged, the mature believer will always PRAY, “Lord, when I experience what I must, not what I please. PLEASE...when it’s past, let me be closer to you than before, not farther from you; let me love Jesus more than ever, not less.” Fini
The third proof:
C. Absalom’s Premature Death
In the confused fighting, some of David’s men chanced on Absalom in the thickets. Seeing them, he dug heels into his royal mule, who obliged by diving into the underbrush. Absalom soon found himself confused in a maze of oak trees with branches that seemed just high enough he could get under them. But when he rode under they proved just low enough to snatch him by his long hair from the beast while it went on, leaving its rider hanging in mid-air.
There he hung and swung, twisting, clawing, cursing, trying to get away, only to make the knots more secure.
One of Joab’s men had followed the rebel into the thicket and saw him, frantic and helpless. Off the trooper went to inform Joab. And after they had exchanged a few contradictory words, Joab and his bodyguard rushed into the thicket.
There the wild-eyed egotist still hung, begging for the mercy he had never shown. Joab instead pulled three javelins from his armor-bearer’s pouch and, one at a time, flung them into Absalom’s body—inflicting agony if not death.
Then, treating him like a Rasputin who refused to die, Joab ordered his men forward: to slash him apart; mangling him into a bloody pulp; then cutting down what remained and, casting it into a pit, covered with stones.
How far Absalom died from the glory he envisioned for himself! End Part III
The second proof of God’s Sovereignty:
He Had Joab choose the Site of Battle
Greek commander Themistocles faced the daunting challenge of meeting a vast Persian fleet in Grecian waters. Knowing the land, he carefully chose the small harbor at Salamis, which allowed only a few Persian ships entrance at a time. Since the Persian admiral obligingly sent few at a time, Themistocles beat each in detail, thus winning the battle.
By being familiar with the land’s geography, and by being on site before Absalom’s troops arrived, Joab seized the advantage the woods heavy with timber offered a defensive force—like Lee’s at Fredericksburg and Mead’s at Gettysburg. There Joab could better control his forces and use them to greater advantage. There fewer men could successfully fight more.
As the battle developed Joab’s men systematically withstood Absalom’s assaults. Once stopped, the rebel troops tried to reorganize—attacking warriors use more energy than those defending—Joab’s unleashed his offensive.
Suddenly Absalom’s men not only couldn’t advance, but couldn’t defend their positions. On Joab’s men came, driving the enemy back, causing high casualties. On they came, chasing men who had first retreated, then bolted the scene.
Into the thick timber they struggled, hoping for safety but finding themselves trapped in undergrowth; where men lost their footing and bearings, and fell over cliffs and into pits. The Forest of Ephraim fought for David as the “stars from their courses...fought against Sisera” Judges 5:20. End Part II
These blogs come from a message preached August 25 in Escondido, California.
A large number of officers led charges against enemy positions in the American Civil War. As an extreme example, the South lost nine generals in one day in the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.
Military strategists afterward decided to reduce officer mortality by removing them from front-line command. Which led, in WWI, to the most imbecilic strategy by both German and Allied commanders. Lacking personal knowledge of the terrain, they made impossible demands on their men. As General Gavin stressed from his WWII experience, a general had to get the smell of gunpowder in his nostrils to successfully direct troops in action.
God’s sovereignty was expressed in the battle of the Forest of Ephraim waged between David and Absalom’s armies. The text offers three proofs.
A. He Inspired David to Re-organized His Fighting Men
Whatever the previous arrangement, he re-organized it into three corps. Interestingly, after General Jackson’s death at Chancellorsville, General Lee re-organized his army into three corps. The decision in both armies reflected a smaller force being more capable of meeting a larger force. Each of David’s corps commanders had earned his position as a proven, trustworthy leader: Joab as the ultimate commander in David’s absence, Abishai and Ittai leading the other two.
Note the kind of men who served under David: Abishai had been with David when a giant Philistine tried to kill the king. Abishai instead killed him. He also “raised his spear against 300 men, whom he killed. Josheb-Basshebeth killed 800 men in one encounter. Sibbeci killed another Philistine giant. Eleazer stood his ground when others retreated. He stayed alone until relieved. When relieved, his hand had frozen to the sword’s hilt. Benaiah descended into a pit and killed a lion. Jonathan, David’s nephew, heard a Philistine giant taunt Israel. The warrior had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Nevertheless, Johnathan went forward and killed him.
Give David credit for showing it could be done. Give the warriors of Israel credit for following David’s example. These few served as vthe kind of men who would defend David’s crown. End Part I
This chapter teaches us valuable lessons about God’s sovereignty.
One, he knows the weakness of evil people and turns it into their defeat. That’s our comfort. Satan also knows the weakness of good people and often turns it against our discipleship. That’s our terror.
A remarkable difference distinguishes the two situations. The wicked can’t keep God from using their weaknesses to accomplish his will. Christians CAN keep Satan from using their sins in his cause. He has no power over us that we do not grant him. His authority stops with our rejection of him.
Two, Satan can interfere with but never overcome God’s will. He can carry his assault on God’s work only to the border God establishes. He can’t walk an inch across that frontier. God’s control of history hasn’t yet yielded, and won’t ever yield either to humanity or the Devil.
Three, with anti-Christian feeling in America preponderant, and likely to increase, Christ’s people must expect it, prepare for it, brace themselves to endure it and determine to defend Christianity any way possible.
And, four...be confident Christians, not fearful; bold, not tentative. While God has historically allowed his people to suffer for their faith, he has never allowed the Christian Faith to suffer.
A big difference. We may die in defense of Christ, as Antipas died in Pergamum, Asia, Revelation 2. But the Christian Faith never dies or is even wounded. It grows more robust with every attack on it and invariably conquers all who dare oppose it.
Therefore, Christians, do not FEAR. God has brought us into the kingdom to succeed, not fail; to overcome, not be conquered; to survive all cultural, societal and governmental opposition, never to join them as the debris of history!
Sursum corda! Lift up your hearts. Jesus Lives! Fini
With every one of his many followers across the Jordan River David could feel safe, but still be in danger from a lack of provisions. Then came God’s third act of sovereignty. He provisioned David’s army.
God delighted the king when he arrived at Mahanaim, in the highlands of Gilead east of the River. Sympathetic foreign rulers and Israelite patricians sent provisions. They brought every vessel of the potter’s wheel, every article of clothing from the loom, every kind of food from agriculture and every meat from animal husbandry. And weapons and their ammunition. And curds and wine and roasted grains.
As Wellington said about Waterloo, David had won “a near thing-victory” in retreat. Without his timely evacuation of Jerusalem; the providential appearance of Hushai on Olivet and Ziba beyond; the arrival of the young spies; and the bountiful provisions in Gilead, succeeding Israelite history could have been different. But...those timely events and circumstances were simply God’s way of exercising his rule over human pretensions. While giving humanity complete freedom of action, every decision they made worked his perfect will. He would provide more proofs of sovereignty in the coming battle.
That’s the story so far. As Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story” comes later. End Part V
The second example of God’s sovereignty came with Hushai’s hurrying intelligence to David. Remember that both Ahithophel and Hushai appeared separately before Absalom’s cabinet, who then met in executive session to decide between their counsels.
Not immediately knowing their decision, and not trusting his own perspective or Absalom’s disposition, Hushai communicated an urgent message to David via the priests, a servant girl and the priests’ sons.
The message chilled David: “Cross the Jordan ASAP. You are in great danger.” In colloquial speech: Get outta town!
At this point the account becomes a spine-tingling spy thriller. A young Absalom loyalist saw the servant girl talking to Ahimaaz and Jonathan at en-Rogel, where they remained awaiting news. Instantly divining their purpose, he turned and ran for the nearest gate into Jerusalem. Understanding their peril, the duo rushed northeast to out-leg the pursuit sure to follow.
That’s where the story got even more interesting. In Bahurim, their destination not far away, David’s intelligence service had arranged a safe-house. In a short time the men gained the summit of a hill and saw a farmhouse in the valley below.
Meanwhile, the boy had informed Absalom, who ordered a cavalry detachment to pursue and capture the spies.
And meanwhile, at the house in Bahurim, the housewife worked in her yard, glanced up the hill to the southwest and watched as two familiar faces crossed the crest at full speed, then shuffled themselves downward by hand holds that allowed rapid descent while keeping them from tumbling head-over-heels below.
A few breathless words apprised her. And, quickly acting on a pre-arranged plan, she sent them down the well-shaft, over which she placed the wood covering often used after harvest.
Quickly spreading grain over it she then smoothed the piles level and slowly picked at tares, as if working at length. Before long she heard cavalrymen clicking and clacking their way down the stony hill, pulling their mounts to a hard stop at the well, without ceremony demanding the two men.
Without looking at them, she tossed her head and right hand carelessly toward the northwest, as if they had gone that way. Preparing for that day and hour, the woman prevailed.
After being released the two men raced on to the fords of the Jordan and reached David. Shortly afterwards, he put his forces in motion, sending all non-combatants across the fords, his warriors their rear-guard. Then, with every civilian safe, every warrior followed. At daybreak, not a person remained west of the River. End Part IV
Hushai’s answer to Ahithophel’s counsel proved that God provided it. He declared, “The advice Ahithophel has given is not good this time” II Samuel 17:7. This time may refer to Hushai’s previous agreement when Ahithophel advised Absalom’s use of David’s concubines to prove his irrevocable break with the king.
That agreement gave this disagreement integrity. Senator Barry Goldwater once said we must give our opponent credit where we can. Otherwise, opposition loses its effectiveness. When Ernie Pyle sent home dispatches praising American triumphs in North Africa, 1942, they had authenticity. For some weeks previously he had filed sobering accounts of American losses in North Africa.
Hushai agreed with Ahithophel’s earlier suggestion, revolting as it was, since it wouldn’t be the critical issue over which all would be won or lost. Christians can learn from that. Changing worship styles may be no more than an alteration in society’s taste in music. Adjust to it. But if the change involves a change in message, oppose it. Christians cannot tolerate any teaching that diminishes Christ’s Virgin Birth, Deity, Miracles, Substitutionary Death and Bodily Resurrection. These are essentials distinguishing Christianity.
Giving up a non-supporting wall in Ahithophel’s counsel, Hushai protected the all-essential fulcrum of Israel: King David at the Jordan. He knew the desperately unprotected condition of civilians with David. That’s why God directed him to propose a different strategy. Take a few days to mobilize all the nation’s military loyal to Absalom. Then attack the king with overwhelming force.
God used Hushai’s appeal because he knew it appealed to Absalom’s weakness: cowardice.
Which led to the second example of God’s sovereignty. End Part III
God clearly exercised his providence in bringing disaster on Absalom. First, he made Hushai’s counsel superior to Ahithophel’s. Ahithophel recommended swift action, employing a select group of warriors and attack tonight with 12,000 men. Sound advice.
General Andrew Jackson learned to his dismay that British forces had arrived that night within 10 miles of New Orleans 12/20/1814. His intelligence service had them at least twice that far away. The shock, however, stirred Jackson to action, not lethargy. He ordered immediate attacks on all enemy positions. Which delivered punishing, if not mortal, blows.
They had the opposite impact on the British commander. Thinking it meant the Americans had larger forces than expected, he waited for reinforcements of his own. The delay gave Jackson time to organize the defense of New Orleans that, on January 8, 1815, wrecked British attacks in 30 minutes.
Ahithophel’s strategy could have succeeded if promptly implemented. However...thank God for that transition word...God wanted Absalom destroyed and providentially had Hushai effect it.
When Absalom sent Ahithophel from the room, he summoned Hushai. “Here’s what Ahithophel said...what is your view?” The old man shot a quick prayer for God’s guidance and, when he opened his mouth to reply, God had answered. End Part II
This blog comes from a message preached from II Samuel 17:1-22.
In the first volume of his multi-series on American history, Page Smith noted that older and modern historians differ on the subject of God’s sovereignty.
For example, older scholars attributed colonial success in the war to God’s providence: Modern historians look at the same facts: often warring, always jealous colonies agreeing to declare Independence; those same militarily weak colonies successfully contesting England’s vast military superiority; then, in a greater miracle-still, forging a United States from all their differences.
However, while modern scholars disregard God’s providence, they still see it as “mysterious indeed.”
Question, then: since even unbelievers see American history as “mysterious,” why not admit God’s sovereignty as the cause? For his WAYS are always “mysterious.” What historian Henri Pirenne called the “hazard” of history that frustrates our calculations isn’t hazard at all, but God’s personal will expressed in history, appointing, permitting, concluding all that we experience.
God’s control of events, nations and populations is the message of all revelation, particularly the book the Revelation. In Shakespeare’s words, his divine will “shapes our ends.” End Part I