At the end of C.S. Lewis’ adventurous Narnian tale The Horse and His Boy a king tells his son what it means to be king saying this, “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.” This is a good definition of a king, and I think it can be summarized by saying a king is the first to sacrifice for the people he leads and this isn’t a drudgery for him, it something he gladly does because he loves his people. 

Throughout our time in 2 Samuel these past few weeks we’ve haven’t seen much of this kingly ideal at all. We’ve seen much of the opposite. Today, as chapter 15 ends, there are some little faint hopeful moments where we begin to see this kingly ideal coming forth once again.

But first, recall the great and wicked patience of the handsome young man, Absalom. After the dreadful event of his sister Tamar being raped by his half-brother Amnon he waited two years, plotting and planning, to assassinate Amnon. Absalom then went off into exile for three years, and after Joab pled his case and brought him home Absalom waited two more years before he was allowed to come before the king. After the king officially welcomed him back, his patient plotting continued, as he took another four years to spread discontent and steal the hearts of Israel. So at the present moment, it’s been 11 years since the day his sister was raped, and he’s ready to take over the kingdom.

As chapter 15 closes out in the verses that follow, there’s a great deal of movement occurring. There’s coming and going, panicking, marching, crossing, ascending, weeping, instructing, planning, and trusting.[1] Let’s see these things firsthand…

David Flees (v13-18)

“And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” And the king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.” So the king went out, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house. And the king went out, and all the people after him. And they halted at the last house. And all his servants passed by him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king.”

v12 left us with Absalom in Hebron preparing to take over and making phony sacrifices to the Lord. In v13 we’re taken back to Jerusalem to David. And what we find is news. News that David will never forget the moment he heard it. News of Absalom’s overwhelming support and plans of rebellion finally reaching David’s ears. He likely knew something was happening behind the scenes he wasn’t aware of and now as this news comes to him he realizes what has occurred. The hearts of the nation have been stolen, and David knows: as goes the hearts of the people so goes the kingdom. So, in v14 he issues the command to flee the city to all the servants remaining there with him. Do you think this is a somewhat hasty decision? Some think so.[2] Some believe he fled too quickly and should’ve defended the city from his son’s invasion. Now, it really might seem to be hasty to abandon the city at first, but there are many factors that go into this decision that would lead us to another conclusion. David might have believed the 200 royal folks who left with Absalom went willingly and were eager to see Absalom as king instead of David. David also might have believed he couldn’t survive a head to head confrontation with Absalom due to lack of support in the nation. After all, not only are these 200 gone from David but the hearts of the nation no longer belong to him.[3] Those may have played a role in his choice to leave but I actually think something else is going on. I believe the arrival of this news is a turning point for David, that this news of v13 woke him from a deep, selfish, and sinful slumber which led him to make the choice to leave in v14. How do I arrive at that conclusion? Here’s how. We once saw David very willing to sacrifice those in the city for his own lusts…he sent Uriah to his death so he could cover up his affair. But now we see that reversed as he sacrifices his position as king to save the city from a war. You see that? He once sacrificed others for himself, now he sacrifices himself for the city.[4] It’s as if this news brings David back to his old self as he experiences afresh what used to be his norm: men seeking his death and he being forced to flee and hide out in the wilderness once again.[5]

Look at how this further unfolds. In v15-16 David’s servants show themselves ready to submit to him as the true king of the city. But as we see them follow him we also see David leaving 10 of his concubines behind to keep the house. We grew unsettled seeing David collect more and more concubines back in chapter 5 as he became king, but now why does he leave some of them behind? Is David leaving them behind in hopes that he’ll return soon?[6] He is God’s anointed king, and perhaps David believes he’ll win this battle in the end and return home. It seems like that is what’s happening. That David doesn’t believe they’re in any real danger and keeps them behind to maintain order until he can return. Whatever reason he does this it will soon be clear that he underestimated Absalom’s readiness to grievously sin. We’ll see this, Lord willing, as we continue on in chapter 16. But out they go, and David (though leaving the city in a hurry) stops at the last house of the city while the rest of his host goes on before him, almost as if he’s pausing to look back in reflection over what he had that he has now lost.[7] What a loaded moment! And what a contrast to the day he joyfully entered the city bringing the ark into town with him dancing and leaping for joy worshiping the Lord. How ironic that king David is now leaving what has come to be known as ‘the city of David.’

In the text we now come to specific interactions between David and a few key figures as he heads out east of the city. In v19-23 it’s…

David and Ittai (v19-23)

v19-22, “Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home. You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the LORD show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.” But Ittai answered the king, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” And David said to Ittai, “Go then, pass on.” So Ittai the Gittite passed on with all his men and all the little ones who were with him.”

As Ittai and those with him are passing by David at the edge of the city, David graciously gives his friend Ittai a way out. Telling him that there’s no need to get swallowed up in local political issues and go out of the city into exile with David. Ittai isn’t an Israelite, has only been there a short time, and should be free to leave king David, so David says as much and gives him his blessing. But how painful must it have been for David to say in v19, “Go back and stay with the king…”[8]He recognizes Absalom is in and he is out. Ittai responds in v21 with such a robust level of devotion to David it makes us think of Ruth’s deep devotion to Naomi. Whether there is death or life, he and all those with him big and little will follow David. Sure it’s their preference to stay in safety, but when it comes to following the king or having their preferences satisfied, what they prefer dies and off they go willingly into uncertainty with the king. In Ittai and those faithfully devoted to David we see what all believers are called to in following Christ. Perhaps in this we hear faint echoes of what the apostle Paul will one day say of Christ, “…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but with full courage now as always Christ will honored in my body, whether by life or death” (Phil. 1:21). It seems Ittai is to David here what his own son Absalom and the rest of Israel should’ve been to David, and he’s a Gittite from Gath, a Philistine! The faithful foreigner and the faithless son are contrasted here.[9] I think this greatly encouraged David during his pause at the end of the city to reflect on these events. Perhaps this is why we see that it’s none other than Ittai who is leading a great amount of David’s troops as they go out to war in chapter 18. As despairing as this day is for them, and as despairing days come to us, don’t we often find it’s the Ittai’s in life who serve to be a source of great encouragement to us? Those that stick with us in thick and thin? By so doing, they all point far ahead to Christ Himself, the Friend who sticks closer than a brother by not only remaining with us in suffering, but willingly suffering in our place to bring us to God.

In v23 we get a summary report on this whole event, “And all the land wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness.” Do those last few words alarm you? From v18-33 there is one phrase repeated nine times. Have you heard it? ‘Passed by’ or ‘crossed over’ shows up again and again. You know another place this Hebrew phrase is repeated like this? In Joshua 3-4 the exact same phrase is used twenty-two times as the people cross over the Jordan and pass into the promise land. Seeing the slow pace of their exit and the repetition of this phrase here while David and company leave the promise land and cross over into the wilderness gives us with a sense that a reverse exodus is occurring. Lesson? Things are not what they ought to be.[10] But more so, in David’s ascent up this mountain see Christ’s suffering afresh and remember…Adam sinned and went into exile east of Eden in the wilderness. Israel wandered in the wilderness east of Egypt for their unbelief. David here, sinned and went into the wilderness in exile east of Jerusalem. But Jesus, as if He’s retelling the same story but faithfully this time…as the second Adam, the true Israel of God, the Descendant of David, He goes willingly into the wilderness and where they all failed He succeeds, showing Himself to be the true Son of God! So for us walking through the wilderness of this fallen on our way to the promise land we look to Christ, who’s been here before us, knows what’s it like, and not only knows the way through it but provided a way in His cross for us to get through it! Praise Him!

David’s interactions keep coming. Next we see…

David and the Priests (v24-30)

“And Abiathar came up, and behold, Zadok came also with all the Levites, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God until the people had all passed out of the city. Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and let me see both it and His dwelling place. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let Him do to me what seems good to Him.” The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Go back to the city in peace, with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” So Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem, and they remained there. But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went.” 

This interaction begins with the priests of God thinking the ark of God must go where the king of God’s people goes. If David is heading out of the city, the ark must go with him too. David disagrees and in v25-26 tells the priests to turn around and carry the ark back into the city. David does this because he will not use the ark of God as a rabbit’s foot, or a good luck charm, no. David will not repeat the disaster of 1 Samuel 4, because his hope isn’t in God’s furniture but in God’s faithfulness already given to him in covenant. He knows he’s leaving the city, in large measure, because of his own sins, that this is well-deserved. And he doesn’t know the extent which the Lord will discipline him for this, and (don’t miss this Church!) he confesses contentment in this.[11] God might indeed bring him back into the city but God may not. Either way David concludes, “…let Him do to me what seems good to Him.” This is true faith. Yes, there are many players in this fiasco. Yes, David’s sins have created much of this plight. But also yes, God’s power is greater and, also yes, God’s promises are surer. Whatever God does, wherever God leads, he will trust and follow.

Notice though, does David’s faith and trust in the sovereign God always leading him well bring David to a point of inactivity or passivity? No. When understood rightly, God’s sovereignty doesn’t lead to one just sitting on their hands and waiting for God to act and bring about His purposes. David didn’t believe that, do you? David starts acting and doing his own righteous sneaking. In v27-29 David tells Zadok and Abiathar to go back into the city so they, through their sons, can be informants for him while he’s in the wilderness. So they did so. And v30 begins with a contrasting image. On the way out of the city David paused at the last house to reflect, all those with David has passed by him, the priests came bringing the ark, David turned them around, and now David turns around himself toward the wilderness and walks into it. Where did his path take him? v30, “But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went.”

This is a mournful procession. To see an aged king with a heavy heart, covered head, barefoot and weeping fleeing from the rage of his son. Charles Spurgeon comments here saying this is a “spectacle of woe seldom seen”, and he’s right. David is learning a hard lesson here. Perhaps we can bring it all the way back to chapter 11 and wonder…would David have done all he did in the episode with Bathsheba if he would’ve known the cost he’d have to pay? No way. But sin is like that isn’t it? It never reveals the full price: consequences, destruction, suffering, heartache, exile…it promises the world while forcing you to pay a cost in consequences you can’t afford. Many of you know what this is like, some of you have had to pay much yourselves, others of you have held the hands and hearts of those who’ve had to pay much for their sins. Dark days indeed. But even here God is faithful and makes the valley a place of vision, hemmed in by mountains of sin in the depths He lifts our eyes to see Him in the heights! We’ll see some of this, Lord willing, in the weeks to come.

We’ve come now to the last interaction of our passage…

David and Hushai (v31-37)

“And it was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and dirt on his head. David said to him, “If you go on with me, you will be a burden to me. But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father’s servant in time past, so now I will be your servant,’ then you will defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel. Are not Zadok and Abiathar the priests with you there? So whatever you hear from the king’s house, tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. Behold, their two sons are with them there, Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son, and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son, and by them you shall send to me everything you hear.” So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.”

The text began today with news of Absalom’s soon arrival in v13, it now ends with another messenger bringing news in v31.[12] While we readers learned back in v12 that David’s grandfather and close counselor Ahithophel had deserted to Absalom, David doesn’t learn about it until now, and his knee-jerk reaction is a short breath of prayer, asking God to turn his renowned counsel into folly. Perhaps more despairing after hearing this news David continues on heading up the Mount of Olives but as soon as he gets there he sees his friend Hushai coming to him. The timing is perfect and natural, as providence often feels like. It’s almost as if God had sent him for such a time as this.[13] David has the first word in v33, telling him he’d be a burden to him if he stayed by his side and wants him to go into the city. I’m unsure of why he’d be a burden to David with him, but David surely believes he could be a more valuable asset away from him near Absalom. That’s David request, and after telling Hushai there are already a few other spies for him there as well (Zadok, Abiathar, and their sons) we see the chapter end with Hushai leaving and entering the city “…just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.”

Conclusion:

For all the hopeful hints of David’s great faith here, David is still suffering for his sins, it is still a dark day for Israel, even though he is the rightful king. But all of this points to a darker day yet to come. We see David march up the Mount of Olives weeping here and some of you know this scene will soon be repeated. A greater King, with the greatest right to rule, who just happens to be David’s Son and David’s Lord, will ascend the Mount of Olives also weeping, not over His own rejection but over the weight of sin He’s beginning to feel the burden of.[14] It looked like defeat, and it was for David…but for Christ, Easter was just around the corner! 


[1] A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 11, 2 Samuel, First Edition (Waco, Texas: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989), 202.

[2] Anderson, 203.

[3] Peter J. Leithart, A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), 268.

[4] Leithart, 268.

[5] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, Vol. 2, The Prophets (New York, New York: Norton, 2019), 371.

[6] John L. Mackay and J. Gary Millar, ESV Expository Commentary: 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles, ed. Iain M. Duguid, Hamilton Jr James M., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2019), 401.

[7] John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 391.

[8] Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 372.

[9] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 192–93.

[10] Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 392.

[11] David Toshio Tsumura, 2 Samuel – NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2019) 239.

[12] Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 395.

[13] Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 373.

[14] Davis, 2 Samuel, 197.

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