The Life of David, Vol. II.
by A. W. Pink
2 Samuel 15
The second half of 2 Samuel 15 displays a striking blending of lights and shadows: in David’s darkest hour we not only see the shining forth of some of his own loveliest virtues, but we also behold his friends and followers at their best. It is the way of our gracious God to temper our severest crosses by mingling comforts with them. David’s favorite son and his chief counsellor had both turned traitors against him, but the loyalty of part of his army, the faithfulness of the Levites, the sympathy expressed by those of the common people who witnessed his distress, afforded some real consolation to his stricken heart. In times of deep distress and seasons of sore despondency we are apt to imagine that our enemies are more numerous than is actually the case, and that we have fewer friends than is really so; but David was now to discover that a goodly number were prepared to cleave to him at all costs.
It is not so much from the natural (though even here there is much that is praiseworthy) as the spiritual viewpoint that our passage needs to be pondered. The key to it lies in the state of David’s heart at this time. He is to be viewed as the penitent soul, as one who realized that in justice he was being afflicted. He knew that his sin had found him out, that he was being lovingly yet righteously chastised for the same. He was filled with godly sorrow and mourned before Him whose Name had been so dishonored by him. He humbly bows to God’s rod and submissively receives its stroke. In this spirit he would be alone in his trouble, for he alone had sinned and provoked Jehovah: therefore does he counsel the Gittites to leave him. In the same lowly spirit he sends the ark—the symbol of Jehovah’s manifested presence—back to Jerusalem: it was his chief joy, and that he felt he was not now entitled to taste.
But we will not generalize any further upon our passage, but consider its details. "Then said the king to Ittai the Gittite. Wherefore goest thou also with us? return to thy place, and abide with the king (Absalom, who now usurped the throne): for thou art a stranger, and also an exile. Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go hither I may, return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee" (2 Sam. 15:19, 20). What a lovely spirit did the king here evidence: in the midst of his own deep trouble, his thought and concern was for those about him, desiring them to escape the hardships and peril which now lay before him. What a gracious example for us to heed in this selfish age—that even in our sorest trials we must not impose upon those who are kind to us and load them with our troubles. "For every man shall bear his own burden" (Gal. 6:5).
It would appear that Ittai was the leader of the six hundred Gittites (v. 18). They had thrown in their lot with David while he sojourned in Gath of the Philistines, and followed him when he returned to the land of Israel: either because they believed that Philistia was doomed or, more likely, because they were attracted by David himself. They were now among the king’s most faithful attendants, having accompanied him as he fled from the royal city. They would be a most useful bodyguard for him at this time, but in his noble generosity and tender compassion David desired to spare them the inconveniences and dangers which were now his portion. How this makes us think of David’s Son and Lord, who, probably, at this identical place, said to those who had come to arrest Him, "If therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way" (John 18:8). The Antitype should ever be in mind as we read the Old Testament Scriptures.
"And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the Lord liveth, and my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in life or death, even there also will thy servant be" (v. 21). David desired to dismiss them, but their attachment to him and his cause was much stronger than that of many of the Israelites. Most blessed and striking is this, for David had nothing to offer them now save fellowship with him in his rejection and sufferings; yet they valued his companionship so highly that they refused to leave their stricken leader. Spiritually, that love of the brethren which is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ, when it is healthy and vigorous, will not be deterred through tears of hardship or danger, but will stand by and render assistance to those in affliction. Antitypically, this verse teaches us that we should cleave faithfully to Christ no matter how low His cause in the world may be.
"And David said to Ittai, Go and pass over. And Ittai the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones that were with him" (v. 22). Such devotion as had been displayed by these loyal followers must have touched the king’s heart, the more so as it proceeded from those who were of a heathen stock. From Ittai’s words, "as the Lord liveth" (v. 21), it would seem that they were influenced by David’s religion as well as his person; and assuredly he would not have kept them so near him, or have said "mercy and truth be with thee" (v. 20), unless they had definitely renounced all idolatry. There is a seeming ambiguity in his words here "go and pass over," yet this disappears in the light of the next verse: it was the Kidron they crossed—thus they were given the place of chief honor, taking the lead and heading David’s present company!
"And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over" (v. 23). Though the multitude favored Absalom, yet there were many who sympathized with David. It must indeed have been a hard heart which remained unmoved by such an affecting sight: the aged king forsaking his palace, with but a small retinue, fleeing from his own son, now seeking shelter in the wilderness! They had been less than human if they grieved not for poor David. And let it be duly noted that the Spirit has recorded their weeping, for God is not unmindful of genuine tears, either of personal repentance or pity for others. This mention of their weeping plainly teaches that we should feel deeply for those parents who are abused or ruined by their children.
"The king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness" (v. 23). This manifestly foreshadowed one of the most bitter episodes in our Lord’s passion. Not only is this same brook actually mentioned in John 18:1—the slight difference in spelling being due to the change from the Hebrew to Greek—but there are too many points of analogy between David’s and Christ’s crossing of it to miss the merging of the type into the antitype. But before tracing these striking resemblances, let us—as its solemn historical interest requires—make a few remarks upon the brook itself.
Significantly enough "Kidron," or to use the more familiar spelling of John 18:1 "Cedron," signifies "black." It was aptly named, for it was a dark rivulet which ran through the gloomy valley of Moriah, which Josephus tells us was on the east side of Jerusalem. It lay between the bases of the temple hill and the mount of Olivet. Into this brook was continually emptied the sewage of the city, as well as the filth from the temple sacrifices for sin. This was the "unclean place without the city" (Lev. 14:40, 45), where the excrements of the offerings were deposited and carried away by the waters of this brook. In a figure it was the sins and iniquities of the people which were being washed away from before God’s face—from the temple, where He dwelt in Israel’s midst.
It is interesting to note there are other references to "Kidron" in the Old Testament, and what is recorded in connection therewith is in striking and solemn harmony with what we have just pointed out above. This brook not only (later) received the filth of the city and the refuse from the temple, but into its foul waters the godly kings of Judah cast the ashes of the idols they had destroyed: see 2 Chronicles 15:16; 30:14; 2 Kings 23:4, 6. Over this unclean brook our blessed Saviour passed on His dolorous way to Gethsemane, where His holy soul loathed our iniquities put into His "cup," represented by this filthy and nasty Cedron. That foul brook served as a suitable reminder of the deep mire (Ps. 69:2) into which Christ was about to sink. Nothing could be more repulsive and nauseating than the soil and waters of this brook, and nothing could be more loathsome to the Holy One than to be encompassed with all the guilt and filth of sin belonging to His people.
But let us now consider the points of resemblance between the type and antitype. First, it was at this brook the humiliating flight of David began, and the crossing of the same marked the commencement of the Saviour’s "Passion" (Acts 1:3). Second, it was as the despised and rejected king that David now went forth, and so it was with the Redeemer as He journeyed to Gethsemane. Third, yet David was not entirely alone: a little company of devoted followers, still clung to him; thus it was with the Antitype. Fourth, Ahithophel, his familiar friend, had now joined forces with his enemies: in like manner, Judas had gone forth to betray Christ to His foes. Fifth, though the multitude favored Absalom, some of the common people sympathized with and "wept" for David; so, while the general cry against the Lord Jesus was "crucify Him," nevertheless, there were those who wept and bewailed Him (Luke 23:27).
"And lo Zadok also, and all the Levites were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God: and they set down the ark of God; and Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city" (v. 24). This spoke well for David, that even the Levites, and the high priest himself, were prepared to throw in their lot with him in the day of his rejection. Notwithstanding his sad failures, the ministers of the tabernacle knew full well the affection which the sweet Psalmist of Israel had for them and their office. The policy which Absalom had followed in order to curry favor with the people had not appealed at all to these servants of the Lord, and therefore they steadfastly adhered to the king, in spite of the drastic change in his fortunes. Alas, how often has it been otherwise, when the religious leaders turned traitors at the time the ruling monarch most needed their support and ministrations.
Ministers of God should always set an example of submission and loyalty to "the powers that be" (Rom. 13:1), and more especially should they openly manifest their fealty unto those rulers who have countenanced and protected them in their pious labors, when those rulers are opposed by rebellious subjects. "Fear God: honour the king" (1 Peter 2:17) are joined together in Holy Writ, and if the ecclesiastical leaders fail to render obedience to this divine precept, how can we expect that those who are under their charge will do better? "They that are friends to the ark in their prosperity, shall find it a friend to them in their adversity. Formerly, David would not rest till he had found a resting place for the ark (Ps. 132); and now, if the priests may have their mind, the ark shall not rest till David returns to his resting place" (Matthew Henry).
"And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city; if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me again, and show me both it and His habitation" (v. 25). This too is very impressive, bringing out as it does the better side of David’s character. The presence of the Levites, and particularly of the ark, would have considerably strengthened the king’s cause. That ark had figured prominently in Israel’s history, and the very sight of it would hardly have failed to stir the hearts of the people. Moreover, it was the recognized symbol of God’s presence, esteemed by David more highly than anything else. But the king, like Eli of old, was extremely solicitous of the welfare of the sacred coffer, and therefore he refused to expose it to the possible insults of Absalom and his faction. He "preferred Jerusalem—the honour of the Lord—above his chief joy" (Ps. 137:6). Furthermore, David knew that he was under the divine rebuke, and so felt himself to be unworthy for the ark to accompany him, and therefore while he was being chastised for his sins, he refused to pretend that God was on his side.
"If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me again, and show me both it and His habitation." Clearly, David recognized that everything hinged upon the unmerited "favour" of the Lord. This is a point of considerable importance, for our modern dispensationalists suppose that Israel was under such a stern regime of Law that the grace of God was virtually unknown, yea that He did not exercise it till Christ appeared—a view based on an entirely erroneous interpretation of John 1:17. This is a great mistake, for the Old Testament Scriptures make it unmistakably clear that God’s free grace is the foundation of all blessing: see Numbers 14:8; Deuteronomy 10:15; 1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Acts 7:46. It is blessed to observe David’s "If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me back again and show me (not "my place," but) both it and His habitation:" he valued the humble tabernacle far more highly than his own throne and honor!
"But if He thus say, I have no delight in thee: behold, here am I, let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him" (v. 26). Precious submission was this. The Lord was rebuking him for his sins, and he knew not what would be the outcome. He humbled himself beneath the mighty hand of God, and left the issue to His sovereign pleasure. He hoped for the best, but was prepared for the worst. He realized that he deserved to suffer the continued displeasure of the Holy One, and therefore did he commit the outcome of his cause unto God’s sovereign grace. Mark it carefully, dear reader, that David saw God’s disciplinary hand in this dark hour of Absalom’s revolt, and that preserved him, in measure at least, both from rebellion against heaven and the fear of man. The more we discern the controlling hand of the Most High in all events, the better for our peace of mind.
There is much important and precious instruction for our hearts in this incident. It is a true act of faith when we yield ourselves to that sovereign pleasure of God wherein He is gracious to whom He will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom He will show mercy" (Ex. 33:19); yes, just as truly so as when we appropriate one of God’s promises and plead it before Him. We conceive it was thus that David’s faith now directed him in the sore strait that he was then in. He knew not how grievously the Lord was provoked against him, nor how things were now likely to go; so he bowed before His throne and left Hint to determine the case. Many a sorely-stricken soul has obtained relief here when all other springs of comfort have completely failed him, saying with Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Job 13:15).
A sin-entangled soul with guilt burdening his conscience, sees that, in himself, be is unquestionably lost: how the Lord will deal with him, he knows not. His signs and tokens are completely eclipsed: he can discern no evidence of God’s grace in him, nor of His favor unto him. What is a guilt-bowed soul to do when he is at such a stand? To definitely turn his back upon God would be madness, for "Who hath hardened himself against God and hath prospered?" (Job 9:4). Nor is there the slightest relief to be obtained for the heart except from and by Him, for "who can forgive sins, but God only?" The only recourse, then, is to do as David did: bring our guilty soul into God’s presence, wait upon the sovereign pleasure of His grace, and gladly acquiesce in His decision.
"If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will 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 as seemeth good unto Him." Here is an anchor for a storm-tossed soul: though it may not (at once) give rest and peace, yet it secures from the rock of abject despair. To solace the heart with a "who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?" (Jonah 3:9), or a "Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me?" (2 Sam. 12:22), is far better than giving way to a spirit of hopelessness. "Who knoweth if He will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him" (Joel 2:14): there the soul must abide until more light from above break forth upon it.