Last month in this column, we looked at one of the darkest periods of David’s reign. David’s own son, Absalom, had usurped the throne, forcing David to flee the city where God chose to dwell. An undercurrent in these chapters is Nathan’s prophecy in 2 Samuel 12:10-14. Nathan had prophesied that the sword would never depart from David’s house and that the Lord would bring David to a state of open shame. Nonetheless, Nathan also had promised that the Lord had taken away David’s sin and that David would not die.
The passage for this month fulfills the second part of the prophecy.
When we left the story last month in 2 Samuel 16, Absalom and his men had taken the capital. In 2 Samuel 17, a tiny flicker of light broke through the darkness. Because of his great wisdom, Bathsheba’s grandfather, Ahithophel, had been a revered advisor to David before defecting to Absalom. Because David’s men were tired and discouraged, Ahithophel volunteered to pursue David with a small group of men. His goal was simply to kill David.
He predicted that the nation would quickly unite under Absalom. Hushai, another and lesser-known advisor, had secretly sworn loyalty to David. Appealing to Absalom’s pride, Hushai purposefully gave Absalom bad advice: Absalom should wait and lead a large army himself into battle. In the Lord’s providence, Absalom took Hushai’s advice. Realizing Absalom’s cause was doomed, Ahithophel committed suicide.
The plot moves quickly. David traveled to Mahanaim, which was 37 miles on the other side of the Jordan where wealthy landowners rushed to support David and his army. Absalom led the troops into battle, but the Lord ensured that the forest where the fighting took place was too much for Absalom’s larger, less-experienced army to maneuver. After David’s army defeated Absalom’s army, a tree entangled Absalom, whom Joab killed in direct defiance to David’s command.
One of the obvious points of this passage is the tragic consequences of David’s earlier sins. His sons had followed his example. The action of the story concludes with David’s inconsolable cries: “My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33, CSB). Without Joab’s stern words, would David have ever been able to pursue healing for the country?
Another truth in this passage is the way the people’s loyalties foreshadow the way people respond to Christ. David was God’s king; Absalom was not. Hushai put his faith in God’s chosen one, while Ahithophel did not. Lesser-known men like Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai trusted in David, while others did not. Sometimes, however, the commitments aren’t entirely clear. Which side were Ziba and Mephibosheth on? Did Shimei really repent of opposing David? Joab appears to have been loyal to David, but his actions speak otherwise. Sometimes, in our lives, it’s obvious that some follow Christ and that others do not. For a third group, only God knows. When your life is over, will people see you as a Joab, Ahithophel, or Barzillai?
One last truth we see in this passage overshadows the others. God is faithful. God promised that David would not die. And David did not die. When the darkness overshadows our lives so that we do not even see a flicker of spiritual light, we can remember and trust in the faithfulness of God. Jesus promised that He would rise from the dead (Mark 9:31), and He kept that promise. God promises never to leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). And He will keep that promise.