The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.Pine Traits In the Character of David
2 Samuel 17-19
IT will have been observed that we have not spared king David in our judgment of the evil which he wrought in Israel. We have been careful to mete out to him the full penalty, so that the scoffer should have no advantage over the Christian in condemning the iniquity of the king. We ourselves have trembled under the thunders of the judgment which has been pronounced upon him. Sometimes as the hot sentences fell we almost cried out, Spare the king! Let pity have some place in judgment! But we did not spare him; for we thought of the dead soldier—the frank-hearted and valiant Uriah. But is it not time to inquire if there were any fine traits in the king's character? Was he all corruption? Is it not legitimate, not to say generous, to arrest the process of judgment for a little while that we may inquire whether there was in David—so base, so guilty—anything that should excite our imagination and draw forth commendatory and righteous words?
Absalom has been killed. Notwithstanding the king's injunctions respecting his rebel son, three darts have been delivered from the hand of Joab, and Absalom is dead. He was a faithless, most unworthy son; and now that three darts are quivering in his dead flesh, will the king rejoice that the rebel is no more? If so, his character has changed since king Saul died. Saul did not use David generously or justly, yet when he was killed we were present at the great cry of lamentation. Has king David changed? When the tidings were brought to him of Absalom's fate he was utterly crushed: he "was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (xviii. 33). If these words had been found alone we should have said, This is a species of parental selfishness, the expression of a natural instinct. But they are all but identical with the words which were uttered respecting king Saul: they were the expression of a great generous heart, they were the poetry of a just and noble spirit. And again:—"The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2Samuel 19:4). He cried in a great wilderness. His lamentation sounded hollow in the dreary void. So long as a man can feel distress in this way, there is hope of him; he is not an utterly dead and lost man. Wherever human feeling exhibits itself we may take hope. A tear shows that the door of the heart is still open. If we catch from the worst of men one word of penitence, one sigh of contrition, one utterance of deep genuine grief, let us not blot the man's name out of the record: he yet may entertain the Son of God. Woe be unto him who is past feeling, who takes all tidings with equal indifference, who cares not whether the king be dead or the king be alive, how the battle has gone! He is past feeling; he has become a fool in Israel, and over his burial none will weep. Now that the judgment is passed, or that the clouds have ceased to pour down their wrath for one little moment, it is beautiful to see that the man who has been thus condemned, and justly so, still has a heart—a great, responsive, sensitive heart. Let thus much at least be put down to his credit.
The king was swallowed up of grief; he could do nothing more; his state duties were suspended, his imperial relations were all but ignored. The people felt this most deeply:—
"And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines; in that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends. For thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest neither princes nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well. Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants: for I swear by the Lord, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night: and that will be worse unto thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now" (2Samuel 19:5-7).
Joab was an arrogant and imperious man, full of "the insolence of office"; a murderer, and one who could take mean advantage of another man's humiliation. Yet he was a statesman, longheaded and shrewd,—the very Iscariot of the Old Testament! He was right as to his appraisement of the circumstances in which Israel was placed; and David, who was a longer-headed man, knew it quite as well as Joab: so he "arose, and sat in the gate" (2Samuel 19:8). He shook off his sorrow, and became the king again. He said: A king must not give way to private grief too long; the king has imperial duties, royal obligations, and his place is not the chamber of solitude for ever; he must go out now and again, and sit in the gate, and show himself to the people. So there the king sat.
"And they told unto all the people saying, Behold the king doth sit in the gate. And all the people came before the king: for Israel had fled every man to his tent" (2Samuel 19:8).
This is the right exercise of influence. We must not allow personal griefs to last so long as to injure public or general responsibility. Sorrow may degenerate into a species of selfishness. We may urge that we are still mourning,—and the mourning in itself is not condemned: it may be right and proper; but life is larger than one hour of its duration; life has its duties; life is a battle-field; life is a continual controversy, and we miss the captain's presence, the eldest soldier's strong hand: we pine and perish because our leader is away. Thus the Bible has lessons for all circumstances and conditions of life: let those who need those lessons lay them wisely to heart.
Now the king was king again. The rebellion of Absalom was over, and the way was quite clear to the throne of Israel. Now it is the king's turn to avenge himself. We have just heard Shimei curse and rave and foam with madness; we have seen that base man throwing stones at the king and dust upon the king's servants;—now the king will be avenged. What does Shimei do now?
"And Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite, which was of Bahurim, hasted and came down with the men of Judah to meet king David;.... And said unto the king, Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart. For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king" (2Samuel 19:16, 2Samuel 19:19-20).
"But Abishai the son of Zeruiah, answered and said, Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord's anointed?" (2Samuel 19:21).
Abishai would have gone forth, sword in hand, and decapitated the contrite coward, suspecting his contrition, and suspecting it justly. And David would say—Yes; this is our opportunity: the wheel goes round, the whirligig of time keeps moving: now let the hands of my friends be upon this son of Gera and blot him out from the earth? But David did not speak so: said he,—
"Shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel? Therefore the king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him" (2Samuel 19:22-23).
Was he not worth killing? Was he a sincere man? In a little time we shall see. Judgment overtook him, and crushed him, and he lives in history as a rebel and a liar. Let us not presume too much upon God's clemency. We have done evil to our King: we have defiled his house; we have abandoned his altar; we have spent our spite and contempt upon his servants; we have said, Who is the Lord that we should serve him, or the Almighty that we should come unto him? The whole white heaven is empty, and we will do as we please upon the earth. Whilst we are talking so, let us refresh our memory with some historical instances. Shimei had his day: he cursed the king and threw stones at the head that was crowned; but he came and crawled before the same king, and asked for that king's pity. And David spared him. May it not be so with us spiritually? Are there not times when we feel very independent; when we are, indeed, quite defiant from the religious point of view, when we say, The earth is ours and the fulness thereof: we will sow when we please and reap when we like; we will pull down our barns and build greater, and our profits shall be redundant, and the latter end shall be more than the first? And then we forget to pray and sing and do all the sweet duties of worship. But the Lord sitteth in the heavens; he will not willingly slay the children of men. He spares even blasphemers. But "kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little." There is no escape from the final judgment. Shimei lives a day or two, but presently the fate he has invoked and deserved will swallow him up. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." There are threatenings as well as promises, and the threatenings are not the petulant words of defiance, but the solemn declarations of eternal righteousness. Sad is the lot of the enemy! He shall be dashed to pieces like a potter's vessel.
Then there was a supposed enemy as well as a real one:—
"And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace" (2Samuel 19:24).
Ziba had told lies to the king about Mephibosheth. Ziba had said: The lame dog tarries in Jerusalem, saying his chance has come now: the house of Saul will return to power; and Mephibosheth lies there in ambush, ready to seize the golden chance; I told thee before, at least suggestively, that he, the son of Saul, was of the quality of Saul (xvi. 3). David simply said to the lame man, "Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth?" (2Samuel 19:25). A beautiful inquiry! The king is calm. His equanimity assists the expression of his justice. He is nobly generous. See him: fair, wrinkled, grave: grief written all over his face; a man who has seen life in its most troubled aspects, yet chastened, subdued, mellowed: a shepherd-boy turned into a comparatively and prematurely old man. Observe how he looks down upon the lame son of Jonathan, and says, "Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth? "I expected to have found thee in my train: wherefore didst thou not come?
"And he answered, My lord, O king, my servant deceived me: for thy servant said, I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride thereon, and go to the king; because thy servant is lame. And he hath slandered thy servant unto my lord the king; but my lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes" (2Samuel 19:26-27).
And the king was generous to Mephibosheth. He seemed to understand the case. He knew the plots of liars, the plans of astute and selfish empirics and adventurers, and he saw in the face of the son of Jonathan some flash of sincerity that reminded him of his fastest friend and of his own oath. These qualities are not to be overlooked in estimating the character of king David. It was right that he should be thundered upon, and that the darts of God's lightning should strike him; at the same time, it is right that we should depict all the finer features, all the more exquisite lineaments of this manifold character. "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." So said the Son of David! Surely the historical father, the lineal ancestor, was not short of the quality which expresses itself in these noble exhortations. Let us quicken our eyes to see fine features, noble excellences; as well as quicken our judgment to criticise with exasperating severity.
David was tender-hearted. In his following there was an old man, eighty years old he said he was; "a very great man;" one of the three rich men who ministered to David when he came to Mahanaim (2Samuel 17:27). He was one of those who
"Brought beds, and basons, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and flour, and parched corn, and beans, and lentiles, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness" (2Samuel 17:28-29).
"And when the king was come over, the king kissed Barzillai, and blessed him; and he returned unto his own place" (2Samuel 19:39).
"But behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto thee. And the king answered, Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do to him that which shall seem good unto thee: and whatsoever thou shalt require of me, that will I do for thee" (2Samuel 19:37-38).
A sudden temptation seized king David. A great wind smote his little boat on the lake and overturned it as it were without notice. The adversary the devil, who goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, sprang upon king David, and the king gave way. He who killed the lion and the bear and the uncircumcised Philistine; he who was valiant beyond all soldiers and wise beyond all kings had his "vulnerable heel," and was brought to the dust of humiliation. But his good qualities were many and strong. Some of his critics are not so good as their victim. They should at least restrain judgment, and be made sorrowfully quiet in the presence of much of his iniquity. Let us hand the case over to the living God.
But character is not a question of points, and particular excellences, or special defects: character is a matter of spirit, purpose, aim, and tone of life. Separate actions are not to be viewed as if they included the whole case: the question is, What would you do if you could? What is your supreme desire and purpose? What is the main current of your motive, impulse, and action? If the inquiry be met with words of self-condemnation, you give me an opportunity of declaring the eternal gospel. We are rejoiced wherein any man condemns himself, because the measure of his condemnation gives the exact degree in which the door of his heart is open to receive messages from heaven. There is only one cure for human iniquity; there is only one way by which human character can be purified and ennobled: "Ye must be born again." "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." Then those sweet words, namely: "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Then this gracious challenge: "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?" Then this final assurance; "According to your faith be it unto you." The transaction is between man and God, between the sinner and the Saviour, between the man who can do nothing for himself, and a Saviour who has died to redeem him. So do not go into despair because of wickedness, and do not go into presumption because of occasional good qualities; but remember that the question is a vital one, that the matter rests entirely with the condition of the heart: "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." These are David's prayers, and they well become our sinful lips.
Almighty God, thou dost turn our mourning into joy, and make our tears blessings. Thou dost abolish death and set the grave on the road to heaven. All this thou dost in Jesus Christ, thy dear Son, our one and only Saviour, infinite in his sufficiency, tender beyond all human love in his inexhaustible compassion. In ourselves we die, we wither away and are no more, but in Christ we have resurrection and immortality and heaven, yea, we have unsearchable riches; because he lives, we shall live also, and in his eternity we shall find the continuance of our being. This is our Christian hope; we received this hope at the cross, at the vacant sepulchre, in the ascension hour when Jesus went up far above all principality and power and dominion to plead for us and prepare for his saints a place. We bless thee for all Christian hope; it chases away the deepest shadows; it fills the inmost recesses of our being with a tender light: it floods the firmament with ineffable glory. We bless thee that no longer do we die—death is abolished in Christ and by him: we now sleep unto rest, we are numbered with the mightiest of the Church of the firstborn: we now pass no grim monster, we are taken up into heaven. If thou wilt increase our faith so that we may lay hold of these truths more intelligently and more firmly, the earth shall charm us no more by its fascinations, its temptings shall be spurned as cruel mockeries, and whilst we are yet in the world we shall be in heaven with God.
We rejoice in the Christian sanctuary, in the calm Sabbath, in the open volume of revelation, in the communion of saints, in common prayer and praise, and in the mutual study of thy holy word. We pray that the light may come down from heaven, that there may be no darkness on the inspired page. May this opportunity be to us full of gladness, may it open as a gate upon heaven, may it come to us as liberty, the opening of the prison to them that are bound. May thy disquieted ones have rest, may thy troubled ones dry their tears and see beyond the clouds, may the weariest find rest and the most sinful feel the efficacy of the holy blood of sacrifice, and thus may every soul be blest, liberated, enriched, sanctified, and made content with the satisfaction of peace.
We mourn our sin: it is always before us, it overshadows our brightest gladness, it makes our feast a trouble, it turns our night into a time of judgment. O that we might know the cleansing of the blood of Christ, the liberty of complete pardon, the joy of final release from the burden and the torment of guilt. We are unequal to this task: for this wound we have no balm, for this sorrow we have no healing given by man. But there is balm in Gilead, there is blood on Calvary, there is a Sacrifice for sin—O that our faith might answer the privileges that are given unto us in Christ, that so we might be made free and pure and glad for ever. Enable us by the ministry of thy Holy Spirit to know the truth, to love it, to hold it fast, to manifest it in all needful speech, in all beautifulness of behaviour, in all nobility of temper, so that by gentleness, pureness, charity and honourableness among men we may evermore preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. May thy truth dwell in us, touching every point of our life, making us glad even in the midst of sorrow, giving us outlook and mighty reach over all interior things in the time of trial and dismay.
We bless thee that we know what life is in Christ. We know that we must have trial, we must be weary, we must feel occasional darkness, but these are light afflictions: they endure but for a moment while we look at eternal things. Help us to fix our wandering vision upon the abiding realities, upon the infinite spaces, yea, upon the throne of God and the cross of Christ,—then shall no enemy be able to trouble the depths of our peace.
Regard us as those who long to see thee and know thee and love thee with fuller love. Why else are we here? The world could please our senses and we could listen with momentary pleasure to the lying flatteries of time. Thou hast enabled us to outlive these, to know their true value, and to encounter them with sacred contempt. We yearn for true satisfaction—we would find our contentment only in God. We humbly beseech thee, therefore, seeing that this is our yearning, to meet us and make us glad. Thy servants have come from the market place, from positions of responsibility, danger, anxiety and temptation: from the study and the closet. Thine handmaidens have come from the house and from the nursery, and from the sick chamber, and from manifold conditions of life. These dear little children, too, are here, hardly knowing why: they have come for explanation—may that explanation give them joy. Regard us then as fathers, mothers, children, men and women who have responsibilities to sustain in life, and according to the necessity of each heart and the trouble of each spirit, according to the depth of the wound which gives us agony, and the height of the joy which makes us triumphant, do thou command thy fatherly blessing to rest upon us all. Thine are no partial showers, they are great rich rains that make the hills soft, and the rivers overflow. O that we might feel the impartiality of thy favour and grace, and all be blest according to our souls' capacity.
We pray that thy word may enrich us, teach us somewhat, humble us, correct our estimates and views of life, give a new tone to our whole purpose and being, and thus be fraught with manifold blessings to us, as those who are living a life of probation and hope. Again we own our sin, again we ask for pardon; now and evermore, till the delivering angel come and set us free from time, will we—must we each for himself—say "God be merciful to me a sinner." Amen.
But the people answered, Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us: but now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore now it is better that thou succour us out of the city."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"... thou art worth ten thousand of us."—2Samuel 18:3.
David was determined to go forth with the people, but they resisted and said, "Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us; but now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore, now it is better that thou succour us out of the city."—This was a right estimate of human worth.—Whilst there is a sense in which one man is as good as another, there is a larger sense in which one man may be equal to ten thousand.—Caesar was greater than all his legions.—Sometimes a name carries with it magic.—To know that such a man is in the war or in the council, is to know precisely how war and council will end.—Sometimes it is better to serve a cause intellectually than in a military sense.—The sword will cut down the greatest as well as the meanest.—We may actually, therefore, be showing more bravery by devoting our attention to the moral aspect and the intellectual need of the case, than by going forth with sword and buckler and spear.—When some men are taken out of the way the hearts of other men are filled with dismay.—So long as men of magical name and influence live, their very life is an inspiration to their followers.—We should be careful not to expose our leaders to needless danger.—The people showed a true and philosophical economy by requesting David to keep out of the way of physical danger, and to help the nation by prayer and counsel and music and words of stimulus and inspiration.—The king accepted the position, saying, "What seemeth you best I will do," and he who was a leader of soldiers, the very captain and glory of the army, "stood by the gate side, and all the people came out by hundreds and by thousands."—We may be great in waiting.—We may serve most by doing least.—In the Christian warfare we must not abuse this doctrine; we must remember that the Christian warfare is throughout spiritual, not carnal, and that every man is called to go forth to this war to fight for himself and to fight for the general good.—This is not a battle in which some men may remain at home merely for the sake of giving counsel; they can give the best counsel by showing the best example.—Armour is provided for every man, exactly adapted to his stature, and to the conditions tinder which he is to do battle, and to the peculiarity of his temperament—"Take unto you the whole armour of God."—This does not destroy the difference between one Christian leader and another, nor between Christian leaders and their followers.—There are great men in the Church,—great psalmists, great expositors, great preachers, great defenders of the faith, men who are mighty in prayer and mighty in sympathy.—There is nothing monotonous in all the providence of God over his Church: even its commonplaces are miracles; even the smallest men in the Church are greater than the mightiest men outside.—Jesus Christ declared this to be the case in reference to John the Baptist—how much more so in reference to those who have neither John's intellectual capacity or intensity of spiritual consecration?