The Peril of Protracted Temptation
1 Kings 2:28
Then tidings came to Joab: for Joab had turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom…

Joab was David's nephew, the second of the three sons of his sister Zeruiah. His youngest brother, Asahel, famous for his swiftness in running, was killed by Abner at the battle of Gibeon. The oldest, Abishai, a brave, fierce, revengeful man, was always at his uncle's side, and rendered him invaluable service. But Joab, greatest in military prowess, as well as most statesmanlike, reached the place of power next the king himself. He treacherously killed Abner, partly in revenge for his brother's death and partly lest he should hold under David the same post of commander-in-chief that he had held under Saul. The king was grieved and outraged at this act, and compelled Joab to attend Abner's funeral in sackcloth and with rent robe. Still, induced, no doubt, by his pre-eminent fitness, he gave him Abner's place. Joab had fairly won this by accepting the challenge of David to scale the rock of Jebus and thus capture the fortress that was to become the national capital So far as defence and conquest are concerned he may be called the founder of the kingdom. Joab was loyal to his sovereign through a long life. He was loyal against many temptations to be otherwise. From the time of Abner's death David feared his impetuous, passionate nephews; indeed, he said at the funeral, "I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me" (2 Samuel 3:39). Joab could not have been uninfluenced by this fact; it is difficult for an inferior to retain respect for a superior who he knows fears him, or whom he regards as in any essential particular a weaker man than himself. Moreover, he was in the secret of his master's great crime — guilty, indeed, as an accessory, but not so guilty as the principal, and so with another consciousness of superiority which worked against his devotion. And monarchy was new in Israel. The king reigned more by virtue of his personal power than of an established habit of obedience on the part of his people. There were the incessant intrigues against the throne that to this day mark all Oriental governments. A score of times Joab must have been solicited to join the fortunes of this or that pretender, to accept anything that he chose to ask, to escape the growing ill-will of his sovereign and avenge the repeated slights that he had suffered. Against all solicitations he had stood firm year after year. But now David is near his end — in fact, is almost comatose. It is known that he has promised the succession to a younger son, Solomon. The legitimist party, who favour the oldest son, Adonijah, determine not to wait for the king's death, but to at once seize the throne. It is particulariy odious treason against a dying and presumably helpless man. And it is especially pitiful to find the aged Joab engaged in it. A few years before he had resisted the pretensions of the fascinating and popular Absalom, and at the risk of his own life had put him to death, as he deserved. But meanwhile his moral fibre has deteriorated. He lacks the robust virtue of other years. Even the thought of his dying sovereign and of the great things that they had passed through together cannot hold him to loyalty. So he "turns after Adonijah, though he had not turned after Absalom." The theory is commonly held that old men and women are safe from temptation. We talk about character being formed, settled, fixed. We speak of unassailable virtue. We devote all our skill and energy to safeguarding the young, which is right; but we neglect to throw any protection about the middle-aged, which is wrong. We treat ourselves in the same fashion, assuming that, say, after middle life we are in small peril of going astray. We accordingly subject our virtues to strain to which we would not have thought of exposing them twenty or thirty years earlier. Hence every community is frequently shocked by acts of amazing folly, vice, and even crime on the part of those who were supposed to have outlived all temptation in such directions. Hence we have the proverb, "Count no man happy until he is dead" — until he has passed beyond the possibility of throwing away by one stupendous blunder or sin the accumulated good reputation of three or four score years. We say of such a man, "He was old enough to know better," which is in effect a confession that knowing better by no means carries with it the strength to do better. Hamlet regards it as the gravamen of his mother's offence in her criminal marriage with the king, that she had passed the age when she could plead the excuse of impetuous passions. History, literature, our own observation unite to demonstrate that, while youth is imperilled by temptation, age is not safe, and to give some countenance to the rather harsh maxim that "there is no fool like an old fool." The fact is, that the danger that lurks in temptation is not a matter of age at all. Personality is of course the main thing. We are tempted accordingly to our heredity, our appetites, our constitutional or acquired weaknesses, our individual proclivities toward this or that sin. These vary at different periods of life. Hence some temptations are strongest in youth, others in maturity, others in old age. There is a sense, too, in which youth is weaker to resist than maturity or age. The moral fibre, like the physical, is not yet toughened. Physicians tell us that the period of greatest peril to life, after infancy, is from eighteen to twenty-five or thirty years. All vital organs have developed rapidly; one looks most robust; he will quickly take high physical training in any direction, and, if he endures it, gain marvellous power. But at the same time, he lacks high efficiency to resist or throw off disease. Add to this such imprudence as must accompany the unthinking conviction that nothing can harm him — that he may eat and sleep and exercise as irregularly as he pleases — and it is not marvellous that so many young men die .in their years of greatest promise and apparently highest vitality. They are carried off by disease before they have learned their own powers of endurance, or, knowing them, gained the moral courage to live well within them. It is not an irrational solicitude, therefore, that parents feel for the health of their sons and daughters even after they are old enough to be supposed to wisely care for themselves. Here the moral and spiritual nature affords a close analogy to the physical. Time brings to the soul certain qualifications to resist temptation that nothing else can bring, such as an intelligent fear of doing wrong and an accurate conception of its pernicious consequences. Especially it brings the habit of resisting the wrong and doing the right. And it is to that settled habit more than to anything else, except the immediate grace of God, that we all owe our moral safety. But, whatever the age, the real peril of temptation lies in its being long continued. It was not because Joab was old that he turned after Adonijah, while a few years before he had not turned after Absalom, but because at that time the temptation of disloyalty to his king had not been long enough at work to undermine his powers of resistance. When, however, Adonijah raised the standard of revolt and invited Joab to join him, the soliciting voice had spoken so many times, and each time more alluringly, that his ability to say no had been exhausted. He threw away reputation, honour, life itself, not because he was a weak old man — for he was not that — but because he had exposed himself through a series of years to the temptation that he had always hitherto been able to master, but that now at last mastered him. The fact is — and herein lies the reason for the young standing so grandly as they do — that few are swept away by the first attack of temptation. The fortress of our instinctive love of the right and our careful early training is not usually carded by assault, but by sapping and mining. The bravest army ever marshalled cannot for ever stand such dogged attacks from an enemy with resources sufficient to keep them up indefinitely. Nor can the strongest human nature stand such attacks of temptation. No matter how confident you and I are of the quality of our moral fibre, we will act unwisely in subjecting it to too prolonged a strain. Indeed, this law holds throughout all nature. We speak, for instance, of the life of a steel rail, meaning the period during which it can do its work. The incessant hammering on it of locomotive and car wheels finally changes the relation of its molecules until their coherence is so weakened that the strength of the metal is gone. Suddenly there is an unaccountable railway accident. It means only that rail or bridge or locomotive had been strained, not too hard, but too long. They stood through Absalom's day, but could not stand through Adonijah's. Bacteriologists say that the germs of many or most diseases exist in our bodies while we are in good health; but we are able to resist them. There comes a time, however, when such resistance is weakened by that clogging of the system that we call a cold, and we have pneumonia; or when our foes are reinforced by impure water, and we nave typhoid fever, we can withstand for a long time — a marvellously long time — the poison of a foul atmosphere, but the most robust constitution will finally succumb to it. We are horrified by stories of plagues and pestilences, as the yellow fever, cholera, the black death. They sweep over a country with awful devastation. But they pass by, and, after all, do not kill one where bad ventilation and unsanitary drainage, with their endless persistence, kill tern The mighty storms that sweep the Matterhorn throw down with awful crash only the rocks that the constantly trickling and freezing rills of water have through years or centuries insensibly crowded to the edge of the cliff. We may be too proud to believe that we who have withstood so long can ever yield, but this is the very "pride that goeth before destruction." "I do not allow myself to look at a bad picture," said Sir Peter Lely, the artist, "for if I do my brush is certain to take a hint from it." The only safe way to treat a temptation that has begun to meet us frequently is the way of this wise book: "Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass on." And even this counsel, good as we at once recognise it to be, we will not heed unless we seek Divine .grace. And that is ready: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it." Trust Him and you shall not turn after either Absalom or Adonijah.

(T. S. Hamlin, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then tidings came to Joab: for Joab had turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom. And Joab fled unto the tabernacle of the LORD, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.

WEB: The news came to Joab; for Joab had turned after Adonijah, though he didn't turn after Absalom. Joab fled to the Tent of Yahweh, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.

Repentance Unavailing
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