Expositor's Bible Commentary
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.CHAPTER XIX.
2 Samuel 15:1-12.
WHEN Absalom obtained from his father the position he had so eagerly desired at Jerusalem, he did not allow the grass to grow under his feet. The terms on which he was now with the king evidently gave him a command of money to a very ample degree. By this means he was able to set up an equipage such as had not previously been seen at Jerusalem. "He prepared him a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him." To multiply horses to himself was one of the things forbidden by the law of Moses to the king that should be chosen (Deuteronomy 15:16), mainly, we suppose, because it was a prominent feature of the royal state of the kings of Egypt, and because it would have indicated a tendency to place the glory of the kingdom in magnificent surroundings rather than in the protection and blessing of the heavenly King. The style of David's living appears to have been quiet and unpretending, notwithstanding the vast treasures he had amassed; for the love of pomp or display was none of his failings. Anything in the shape of elaborate arrangement that he devised seems to have been in connection with the public service of God - for instance, his choir of singers and players (1 Chronicles 23:5); his own personal tastes appear to have been simple and inexpensive. And this style undoubtedly befitted a royalty which rested on a basis so peculiar as that of the nation of Israel, when the king, though he used that title, was only the viceroy of the true King of the nation, an i where it was the will of God that a different spirit should prevail from that prevalent among the surrounding nations. A modest establishment was evidently suited to one who recognized his true position as a subordinate lieutenant, not an absolute ruler.
But Absalom's tastes were widely different, and he was not the man to be restrained from gratifying them by any considerations of that sort. The moment he had the power, though he was not even king, he set up his imposing equipage, and became the observed of all observers in Jerusalem. And no doubt there were many of the people who sympathized with him, and regarded it as right and proper that, now that Israel was so renowned and prosperous a kingdom, its court should shine forth in corresponding splendour. The plain equipage of David would seem to them paltry and unimposing, in no way fitted to gratify the pride or elevate the dignity of the kingdom. Absalom's, on the other hand, would seem to supply all that David's wanted. The prancing steeds, with their gay caparisons, the troop of out-runners in glittering uniform, the handsome face and figure of the prince, would create a sensation wherever he went; There, men would say emphatically, is the proper state and bearing of a king; had we such a monarch as that, surrounding nations would everywhere acknowledge our superiority, and feel that we were entitled to the first place among the kingdoms of the East.
But Absalom was far too shrewd a man to base his popularity merely on outward show. For the daring game which he was about to play it was necessary to have much firmer support than that. He understood the remarkable power of personal interest and sympathy in winning the hearts of men, and drawing them to one's side. He rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate, where in Eastern cities judgment was usually administered, but where, for some unknown reason, little seems to have been done by the king or the king's servants at that time. To all who came to the gate he addressed himself with winsome affability, and to those who had "a suit that should come to the king for judgment" (R.V.) he was especially encouraging. Well did he know that when a man has a lawsuit it usually engrosses his whole attention, and that he is very impatient of delays and hindrances in the way of his case. Very adroitly did he take advantage of this feeling, - sympathizing with the litigant, agreeing with him of course that he had right on his side, but much concerned that there was no one appointed of the king to attend to his business, and devoutly and fervently wishing that he were made judge in the land, that every one that had any suit or cause might come to him, and he would do him justice. And with regard to others, when they came to do him homage he seemed unwilling to recognize this token of superiority, but, as if they were just brothers, he put forth his hand, took hold of them, and kissed them. If it were not for what we know now of the hollowness of it, this would be a pretty picture - an ear so ready to listen to the tale of wrong, a heart so full of sympathy, an active temperament that in the early hours of the morning sent him forth to meet the people and exchange kindly greetings with them; a form and figure that graced the finest procession; a manner that could be alike dignified when dignity was becoming, and humility itself when it was right to be humble. But alas for the hollow-heartedness of the picture! It is like the fabled apples of Sodom, outside all fair and attractive, but dust within.
But hollow though it was, the policy succeeded - he became exceedingly popular; he secured the affections of the people. It is a remarkable expression that is used to denote this result - "He stole the hearts of the men of Israel." It was not an honest transaction. It was swindling in high life. He was appropriating valuable property on false pretences. To constitute a man a thief or a swindler it is not necessary that he forge a rich man's name, or that he put his hand into the pocket of his neighbour. To gain a heart by hypocritical means, to secure the confidence of another by lying promises, is equally low and wicked; nay, in God's sight is a greater crime. It may be that man's law has difficulty in reaching it, and in many cases cannot reach it at all. But it cannot be supposed that those who are guilty of it will in the end escape God's righteous judgment. And if the punishments of the future life are fitted to indicate the due character of the sins for which they are sent, we can think of nothing more appropriate than that those who have stolen hearts in this way, high in this world's rank though they have often been, should be made to rank with the thieves and thimble-riggers and other knaves who are the habitués of our prisons, and are scorned universally as the meanest of mankind. With all his fine face and figure and manner, his chariot and horses, his out-runners and other attendants, Absalom after all was but a black-hearted thief.
All this crooked and cunning policy of his Absalom carried on with, unwearied vigour till his plot was ripe. There is reason to apprehend an error of some kind in the text when it is said (2 Samuel 15:7) that it was "at the end of forty years" that Absalom struck the final blow. The reading of some manuscripts is more likely to be correct, - "at the end of four years," that is, four years after he was allowed to assume the position of prince. During that space of time much might be quietly done by one who had such an advantage of manner, and was so resolutely devoted to his work. For he seems to have laboured at his task without interruption all that time. The dissembling which he had to practice, to impress the people with the idea of his kindly interest in them, must have required a very considerable strain. But he was sustained in it by the belief that in the end he would succeed, and success was worth an infinity of labour. What a power of persistence is often shown by the children of this world, and how much wiser are they in their generation than the children of light as to the means that will achieve their ends! With what wonderful application and perseverance do many men labour to build up a business, to accumulate a fortune, to gain a distinction! I have heard of a young man who, being informed that an advertisement had appeared in a newspaper to the effect that if his family would apply to someone they would hear of something to their advantage, set himself to discover that advertisement, went over the advertisements for several years, column by column, first of one paper, then of another and another, till he became so absorbed in the task that he lost first his reason and then his life. Thank God, there are instances not a few of very noble application and perseverance in the spiritual field; but is it not true that the mass even of good men are sadly remiss in the efforts they make for spiritual ends? Does not the energy of the racer who ran for the corruptible crown often put to shame the languor of those who seek for an incorruptible? And does not the manifold secular activity of which we see so much in the world around us sound a loud summons in the ears of all who are at ease in Zion - "Now it is high time to awake out of sleep"?
The copestone which Absalom put on his plot when all was ripe for execution was of a piece with the whole undertaking. It was an act of religious hypocrisy amounting to profanity. It shows how well he must have succeeded in deceiving his father when he could venture on such a finishing stroke. Hypocrite though he was himself, he well knew the depth and sincerity of his father's religion. He knew too that nothing could gratify him more than to find in his son the evidence of a similar state of heart. It is difficult to comprehend the villainy that could frame such a statement as this: - "I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the Lord, in Hebron. For thy servant vowed a vow, while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying. If the Lord shall indeed bring me again to Jerusalem, then I will serve" (marg. R.V., worship) "the Lord." We have already remarked that it is not very clear from this whether up to this time Absalom had been a worshipper of the God of Israel. The purport of his pretended vow (that is, what he wished his father to believe) must have been either that, renouncing the idolatry of Geshur, he would now become a worshipper of Israel's God, or (what seems more likely) that in token of his purpose for the future he would present a special offering to the God of Israel. This vow he now wished to redeem by making his offerings to the Lord, and for this purpose he desired to go to Hebron. But why go to Hebron? Might he not have redeemed it at Jerusalem? It was the custom, however, when a vow was taken, to specify the place where it was to be fulfilled, and in this instance Hebron was alleged to be the place. But what are we to think of the effrontery and wickedness of this pretence? To drag sacred things into a scheme of villainy, to pretend to have a desire to do honour to God simply for the purpose of carrying out deception and gaining a worldly end, is a frightful prostitution of all that ought to be held most sacred. It seems to indicate one who had no belief in God or in anything holy, to whom truth and falsehood, right and wrong, honour and shame, were all essentially alike, although, when it suited him, he might pretend to have a profound regard to the honour of God and a cordial purpose to render that honour. We are reminded of Charles II. taking the Covenant to please the Scots, and get their help towards obtaining the crown. But indeed the same great sin is involved in every act of religious hypocrisy, in every instance in which pretended reverence is paid to God in order to secure a selfish end.
The place was cunningly selected. It enjoyed a sanctity which had been gathering round it for centuries; whereas Jerusalem, as the capital of the nation, was but of yesterday. Hebron was the place where David himself had begun his reign, and while it was far enough from Jerusalem to allow Absalom to work unobserved by David, it was near enough to allow him to carry out the schemes which had been set on foot there. So little suspicion had the old king of what was brewing that, when Absalom asked leave to go to Hebron, he dismissed him with a blessing - "Go in peace."
What Joab was thinking of all this we have no means of knowing. That a man who looked after his own interests so well as Joab did, should have stuck to David when his fortunes appeared to be desperate, is somewhat surprising. But the truth seems to be that Absalom never felt very cordial towards Joab after his refusal to meet him on his return from Geshur. It does not appear that Joab was much impressed by regard to God's will in the matter of the succession; his being engaged afterwards in the insurrection in favour of Adonijah when Solomon was divinely marked out for the succession shows that he was not. His adherence to David on this occasion was probably the result of necessity rather than choice. But what are we to say of his want of vigilance in allowing Absalom's conspiracy to advance as it did either without suspecting its existence, or at least without making provision for defending the king's cause? Either he was very blind or he was very careless. As for the king himself, we have seen what cause he had, after his great trespass, for courting solitude and avoiding contact with the people. That he should be ignorant of all that was going on need not surprise us. And moreover, from allusions in some of the Psalms (38, 39, 41) to a loathsome and all but fatal illness of David's, and to treachery practiced on him when ill, some have supposed that this was the time chosen by Absalom for consummating his plot. When Absalom said to the men applying for justice, whom he met at the gate of the city, "There is no man deputed of the king to hear thee," his words implied that there was something hindering the king from being there in person, and for some reason he had not appointed a deputy. A protracted illness, unfitting David for his personal duties and for super- intending the machinery of government, might have furnished Absalom with the pretext for his lamentation over this want. It gives us a harder impression of his villainy and hardness of heart if he chose a time when his father was enfeebled by disease to inflict a crushing blow on his government and a crowning humiliation on himself.
Three other steps were taken by Absalom before bringing the revolt to a crisis. First, he sent spies or secret emissaries to all the tribes, calling them, on hearing the sound of a trumpet, to acknowledge him as king at Hebron. Evidently he had all the talent for administration that was so conspicuous in his nation and in his house, - if only it had been put to a better use. Secondly, he took with him to Hebron a band of two hundred men, of whom it is said "they went in their simplicity, and they knew not anything" - so admirably was the secret kept. Thirdly, Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counsellor, from his city, having reason to believe that Ahithophel was on his side, and knowing that his counsel would be valuable to him in the present emergency. And every arrangement seemed to succeed admirably. The tide ran strongly in his favour - "the conspiracy was strong, for the people increased continually with Absalom." Everything seemed to fall out precisely as he wished; it looked as if the revolt would not only succeed, but that it would succeed without serious opposition. Absalom must have been full of expectation that in a few days or weeks he would be reigning unopposed at Jerusalem.
This extraordinary success is difficult to understand. For what could have made David so unpopular? In his earliest years he had been singularly popular; his victories brought him unbounded éclat; and when Ishbosheth died it was the remembrance of these early services that disposed the people to call him to the throne. Since that time he had increased his services in an eminent degree. He had freed his country from all the surrounding tribes that were constantly attacking it; he had conquered those distant but powerful enemies the Syrians; and he had brought to the country a great accumulation of wealth. Add to this that he was fond of music and a poet, and had written many of the very finest of their sacred songs. Why should not such a king be popular? The answer to this question will embrace a variety of reasons. In the first place, a generation was growing up who had not been alive at the time of his early services, and on whom therefore they would make a very slender impression. For service done to the public is very soon forgotten unless it be constantly repeated in other forms, unless, in fact, there be a perpetual round of it. So it is found by many a minister of the gospel. Though he may have built up his congregation from the very beginning, ministered among them with unceasing assiduity, and taken the lead in many important and permanent undertakings, yet in a few years after he goes away all is forgotten, and his very name comes to be unknown to many. In the second place, David was turning old, and old men are prone to adhere to their old ways; his government had become old-fashioned, and he showed no longer the life and vigour of former days. A new, fresh, lively administration was eagerly desired by the younger spirits of the nation. Further, there can be no doubt that David's fervent piety was disliked by many, and his puritan methods of governing the kingdom. The spirit of the world is sure to be found in every community, and it is always offended by the government of holy men. Finally, his fall in the matter of Uriah had greatly impaired the respect and affection even of the better part of the community. If to all this there was added a period of feeble health, during which many departments of government were neglected, we shall have, beyond doubt, the principal grounds of the king's unpopularity. The ardent lovers of godliness were no doubt a minority, and thus even David, who had done so much for Israel, was ready to be sacrificed in the time of old age.
But had he not something better to fall back on? Was he not promised the protection and the aid of the Most High? Might he not cast himself on Him who had been his refuge and his strength in every time of need, and of whom he had sung so serenely that He is near to them that call on Him in sincerity and in truth? Undoubtedly he might, and undoubtedly he did. And the final result of Absalom's rebellion, the wonderful way in which its back was broken and David rescued and restored, showed that though cast down he was not forsaken. But now, we must remember, the second element of the chastisement of which Nathan testified, had come upon him. "Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house." That chastisement was now falling, and while it lasted the joy and comfort of God's gracious presence must have been interrupted. But all the same God was Still with him, even though He was carrying him through the valley of the shadow of death. Like the Apostle Peter, he was brought to the very verge of destruction; but at the critical moment an unseen hand was stretched out to save him, and in after-years he was able to sing, "He brought me up also out of a fearful pit, and out of the miry clay; and He set my feet upon a rock and established my goings; and He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God; many shall see it and shall fear, and shall trust in the Lord."
And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.CHAPTER XX.
DAVID’S FLIGHT FROM JERUSALEM.
2 Samuel 15:13.
THE trumpet which was to be the signal that Absalom reigned in Hebron had been sounded, the flow of people in response to it had begun, when "a messenger came to David saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom." The narrative is so concise that we can hardly tell whether or not this was the first announcement to David of the real intentions of Absalom. But it is very certain that the king was utterly unprepared to meet the sudden revolt. The first news of it all but overwhelmed him. And little wonder. There came on him three calamities in one. First, there was the calamity that the great bulk of the people had revolted against him, and were now hastening to drive him from the throne, and very probably to put him to death. Second, there was the appalling discovery of the villainy, hypocrisy, and heartless cruelty of his favourite and popular son, - the most crushing thing that can be thought of to a tender heart. And third, there was the discovery that the hearts of the people were with Absalom; David had lost what he most prized and desired to possess; the intense affection he had for his people now met with no response; their love and confidence were given to a usurper. Fancy an old man, perhaps in infirm health, suddenly confronted with this threefold calamity; who can wonder for the time that he is paralyzed, and bends before the storm?
Flight from Jerusalem seemed the only feasible course. Both policy and humanity seemed to dictate it. He considered himself unable to defend the city with any hope of success against an attack by such a force as Absalom could muster, and he was unwilling to expose the people to be smitten with the sword. Whether he was really as helpless as he thought we can hardly say. We should be disposed to think that his first duty was to stay where he was, and defend his capital. He was there as God's viceroy, and would not God be with him, defending the place where He had set His name, and the tabernacle in which He was pleased to dwell? It is not possible for us, ignorant as we are of the circumstances, to decide whether the flight from Jerusalem was the enlightened result of an overwhelming necessity, or the fruit of sudden panic, of a heart so paralyzed that it could not gird itself for action. His servants had no other advice to offer. Any course that recommended itself to him they were ready to take. If this did not help to throw light on his difficulties, it must at least have soothed his heart. His friends were not all forsaking him. Amid the faithless a few were found faithful. Friends in such need were friends indeed. And the sight of their honest though perplexed countenances, and the sound of their friendly though trembling voices, would be most soothing to his feelings, and serve to rally the energy that had almost left him. When the world forsakes us, the few friends that remain are of priceless value.
On leaving Jerusalem David at once turned eastward, into the wilderness region between Jerusalem and Jericho, with the view, if possible, of crossing the Jordan, so as to have that river, with its deep valley, between him and the rebels. The first halt, or rather the rendezvous for his followers, though called in the A.V. "a place that was far off," is more suitably rendered in the R.V. Bethmerhak, and the margin "the far house." Probably it was the last house on this side the brook Kidron. Here, outside the walls of the city, some hasty arrangements were made before the flight was begun in earnest.
First, we read that he was accompanied by all his household, with the exception of ten concubines who were left to keep the house. Fain would we have avoided contact at such a moment with that feature of his house from which so much mischief had come; but to the end of the day David never deviated in that respect from the barbarous policy of all Eastern kings. The mention of his household shows how embarrassed he must have been with so many helpless appendages, and how slow his flight. And his household were not the only women and children of the company; the "little ones" of the Gittites are mentioned in 2 Samuel 15:22; we may conceive how the unconcealed terror and excitement of these helpless beings must have distressed him, as their feeble powers of walking must have held back the fighting part of his attendants. When one thinks of this, one sees more clearly the excellence of the advice afterwards given by Ahithophel to pursue him without loss of time with twelve thousand men, to destroy his person at once; in that case, Absalom must have overtaken him long before he reached the Jordan, and found him quite unable to withstand his ardent troops.
Next, we find mention of the forces that remained faithful to the king in the crisis of his misfortunes. The Pelethites, the Cherethites, and the Gittites were the chief of these. The Pelethites and the Cherethites are supposed to have been the representatives of the band of followers that David commanded when hiding from Saul in the wilderness; the Gittites appear to have been a body of refugees from Gath, driven away by the tyranny of the Philistines, who had thrown themselves on the protection of David and had been well treated by him. The interview between David and Ittai was most creditable to the feelings of the fugitive king. Ittai was a stranger who had but lately come to Jerusalem, and as he was not attached to David personally, it would be safer for him to return to the city and offer to the reigning king the services which David could no longer reward. But the generous proposal of David was rejected with equal nobility on the part of Ittai. He had probably been received with kindness by David when he first came to Jerusalem, the king remembering well when he himself was in the like predicament, and thinking, like the African princess to Æneas, "Haud ignara mali miseris succurrere disco" - "Having had experience of adversity myself, I know how to succour the miserable." Ittai's heart was won to David then; and he had made up his mind, like Ruth the Moabitess with reference to Naomi, that wherever David was, in life or in death, there also he should be. How affecting must it have been to David to receive such an assurance from a stranger! His own son, whom he had loaded with undeserved kindness, was conspiring against him, while this stranger, who owed him nothing in comparison, was risking everything in his cause. "There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
Next in David's train presented themselves Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, carrying the ark of God. The presence of this sacred symbol would have invested the cause of David with a manifestly sacred character in the eyes of all good men; its absence from Absalom would have equally suggested the absence of Israel's God. But David probably remembered how ill it had fared with Israel in the days of Eli and his sons, when the ark was carried into battle. Moreover, when the ark had been placed on Mount Zion, God had said, "This is My rest; here will I dwell;" and even in this extraordinary emergency, David would not disturb that arrangement. He said to Zadok, "Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He shall bring me again, and show me both it and His habitation: but if He thus say, I have no delight in thee, behold, here am I; let Him do to me what seemeth good unto Him." These words show how much God was in David's mind in connection with the events of that humiliating day. They show, too, that he did not regard his case as desperate. But everything turned on the will of God. It might be that, in His great mercy, He would bring him back to Jerusalem. His former promises led him to think of this as a possible, perhaps probable, termination of the insurrection. But it might also be that the Lord had no more delight in him. The chastening with which He was now visiting him for his sin might involve the success of Absalom. In that case, all that David would say was that he was at God's disposal, and would offer no resistance to His holy will. If he was to be restored, he would be restored without the aid of the ark; if he was to be destroyed, the ark could not save him. Zadok and his Levites must carry it back into the city. The distance was a very short one, and they would be able to have everything placed in order before Absalom could be there.
Another thought occurred to David, who was now evidently recovering his calmness and power of making arrangements. Zadok was a seer, and able to use that method of obtaining light from God which in great emergencies God was pleased to give when the ruler of the nation required it. But the marginal reading of the R.V., "Seest thou?" instead of "Thou art a seer," makes it doubtful whether David referred to this mystic privilege, which Zadok does not appear to have used; the meaning may be simply, that as he was an observant man, he could be of use to David in the city, by noticing how things were going and sending him word. In this way he could be of more use to him in Jerusalem than in the field. Considering how he was embarrassed with the women and children, it was better for David not to be encumbered with another defenseless body like the Levites. The sons of the priests, Ahimaaz and Jonathan, would be of great service in bringing him information. Even if he succeeded in reaching the plains (or fords, marg. R.V.) of the wilderness, they could easily overtake him, and tell him what plan of operations it would be wisest for him to follow.
These hasty arrangements being made, and the company placed in some sort of order, the march towards the wilderness now began. The first thing was to cross the brook Kidron. From its bed, the road led up the slope of Mount Olivet. To the spectators the sight was one of overwhelming sadness. "All the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over; the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over toward the way of the wilderness." After all, there was a large number who sympathized with the king, and to whom it was most affecting to see one who was now "old and grey-headed" driven from his throne and from his home by an unprincipled son, aided and abetted by a graceless generation who had no consideration for the countless benefits which David had conferred on the nation. It is when we find "all the country" expressing their sympathy that we cannot but doubt whether it was really necessary for David to fly. Perhaps "the country" here may be used in contrast to the city. Country people are less accessible to secret conspiracies, and besides are less disposed to change their allegiance. The event showed that in the more remote country districts David had still a numerous following. Time to gather these friends together was his great need. If he had been fallen on that night, weary and desolate and almost friendless, as was proposed by Ahithophel, there can be no rational doubt what the issue would have been.
And the king himself gave way to distress, like the people, though for different reasons. "David went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered; and he went barefoot; and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up." The covered head and bare feet were tokens of humiliation. They were a humble confession on the king's part that the affliction which had befallen him was well deserved by him. The whole attitude and bearing of David is that of one "stricken, smitten, and afflicted." Lofty looks and a proud bearing had never been among his weaknesses; but on this occasion, he is so meek and lowly that the poorest person in his kingdom could not have assumed a more humble bearing. It is the feeling that had so wrung his heart in the fifty-first Psalm come back on him again. It is the feeling, Oh, what a sinner I have been! how forgetful of God I have often proved, and how unworthily I have acted toward man I No wonder that God rebukes me and visits me with these troubles! And not me only, but my people too. These are my children, for whom I should have provided a peaceful home, driven into the shelterless wilderness with me! These kind people who are compassionating me have been brought by me into this trouble, which peradventure will cost them their lives. "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions!"
It was at this time that someone brought word to David that Ahithophel the Gilonite was among the conspirators. He seems to have been greatly distressed at the news. For "the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had inquired of the oracle of God" (2 Samuel 16:23). An ingenious writer has found a reason for this step. By comparing 2 Samuel 11:3 with 2 Samuel 23:34, in the former of which Bathsheba is called the daughter of Eliam, and in the latter Eliam is called the son of Ahithophel, it would appear - if it be the same Eliam in both - that Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba. From this it has been inferred that his forsaking of David at this time was due to his displeasure at David's treatment of Bathsheba and Uriah. The idea is ingenious, but after all it is hardly trustworthy. For if Ahithophel was a man of such singular shrewdness, he would not be likely to let his personal feelings determine his public conduct. There can be no reasonable doubt that, judging calmly from the kind of considerations by which a worldly mind like his would be influenced, he came to the deliberate conclusion that Absalom was going to win. And when David heard of his defection, it must have given him a double pang; first, because he would lose so valuable a counsellor, and Absalom would gain what he would lose; and second, because Ahithophel's choice showed the side that, to his shrewd judgment, was going to triumph. David could but fall back on that higher Counselor on whose aid and countenance he was still able to rely, and offer a short but expressive prayer, "O Lord, I pray Thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness."
It was but a few minutes after this that another distinguished counselor, Hushai the Archite, came to him, with his clothes rent and dust on his head, signifying his sense of the public calamity, and his adherence to David. Him too, as well as Ittai and the priests, David wished to send back. And the reason assigned showed that his mind was now calm and clear, and able to ponder the situation in all its bearings. Indeed, he concocts quite a little scheme with Hushai. First, he is to go to Absalom and pretend to be on his side. But his main business will be to oppose the counsel of Ahithophel, try to secure a little time to David, and thus give him a chance of escape. Moreover, he is to co-operate with the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and through their sons send word to David of everything he hears. Hushai obeys David, and as he returns to the city from the east, Absalom arrives from the south, before David is more than three or four miles away. But for the Mount of Olives intervening, Absalom might have seen the company that followed his father creeping slowly along the wilderness, a company that could hardly be called an army, and that, humanly speaking, might have been scattered like a puff of smoke.
Thus Absalom gets possession of Jerusalem without a blow. He goes to his father's house, and takes possession of all that he finds there. He cannot but feel the joy of gratified ambition, the joy of the successful accomplishment of his elaborate and long-prosecuted scheme. Times are changed, he would naturally reflect, since I had to ask my father's leave for everything I did, since I could not even go to Hebron without begging him to allow me. Times are changed since I reared that monument in the vale for want of anything else to keep my name alive. Now that I am king, my name will live without a monument. The success of the revolution was so remarkable, that if Absalom had believed in God, he might have imagined, judging from the way in which everything had fallen out in his favour, that Providence was on his side. But, surely, there must have been a hard constraint and pressure upon his feelings somewhere. Conscience could not be utterly inactive. Fresh efforts to silence it must have been needed from time to time. Amid all the excitement of success, a vague horror must have stolen in on his soul. A vision of outraged justice would haunt him. He might scare away the hideous spectre for a time, but he could not lay it in the grave. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."
But if Absalom might well be haunted by a spectre because he had driven his father from his house, and God's anointed from his throne, there was a still more fearful reckoning standing against him, in that he had enticed such multitudes from their allegiance, and drawn them into the guilt of rebellion. There was not one of the many thousands that were now shouting "God save the king!" who had not been induced through him to do a great sin, and bring himself under the special displeasure of God. A rough nature like Absalom's would make light of this result of his movement, as rough natures have done since the world began. But a very different judgment was passed by the great Teacher on the effects of leading others into sin. "Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of God." "Whoso shall cause one of these little ones which believe in Me to stumble, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast in the depth of the sea." Yet how common a thing this has been in all ages of the world, and how common it is still! To put pressure on others to do wrong; to urge them to trifle with their consciences, or knowingly to violate them; to press them to give a vote against their convictions; - all such methods of disturbing conscience and drawing men into crooked ways, what sin they involve! And when a man of great influence employs it with hundreds and thousands of people in such ways, twisting consciences, disturbing self-respect, bringing down Divine displeasure, how forcibly we are reminded of the proverb, "One sinner destroyeth much good"!
Most earnestly should everyone who has influence over others dread being guilty of debauching conscience, and discouraging obedience to its call. On the other hand, how blessed is it to use one's influence in the opposite direction. Think of the blessedness of a life spent in enlightening others as to truth and duty, and encouraging loyalty to their high but often difficult claims. What a contrast to the other! What a noble aim to try to make men's eye single and their duty easy; to try to raise them above selfish and carnal motives, and inspire them with a sense of the nobility of walking uprightly, and working righteousness, and speaking the truth in their hearts! What a privilege to be able to induce our fellows to walk in some degree even as He walked "who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth;" and who, in ways so high above our ways, was ever influencing the children of men "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God"!