—2 SAM. 18:24-33.—NOVEMBER 8.—
GOLDEN TEXT:—"A foolish son is a
grief to his father."—Prov. 17:25 .
UTTERLY surprised and unprepared for Absalom's unfilial conduct was King David, when he learned of his son's rebellion and realized its extensiveness and how the hearts of the people had been stolen from him by his son's perfidy. He at once perceived that no other course was open to him than that of flight. It was a time of peace, and he had not a large retinue of soldiers at the Capital, but merely what might be termed a body guard. With these and the loyal officers of the court he fled across the Jordan, where he had time and opportunity to gather a few reinforcements and where he might feel comparatively secure in the small but strongly fortified city called Mahanaim. Meantime Absalom displayed his contempt for his father and his household and thus, so to speak, showed the people that the rebellion was one in which no quarter or reconciliation was to be expected. With a large army which had cast in their fortunes with the rebellious prince and expected [R3268 : page 410] under his patronage to reap large results of honor and influence and power as successors to the officers of the kingdom, Absalom pursued King David with haste. There seems to have been no doubt whatever that he was bent on capping the climax of his disgraceful course by the murder of his father. His pursuit with a large army meant this.
Although King David's army was much the smaller of the two, they probably had the advantage in that many of the King's guard were men of special ability and large experience as warriors, according to the methods of their time. The King was persuaded not to go with the army, whereupon he divided it into three parts under three of his ablest adherents. These met Absalom's army, and attacking it from different quarters, the battle resulted in the slaughter of 20,000 of Absalom's forces and the routing of the remainder, including Absalom himself, who, being caught by the "head" in the low branches of a tree, was unhorsed and left helpless, and was slain by Joab, the chief of King David's generals.
Here our present lesson opens. Near the watch tower of the wall of Mahanaim King David awaits news of the battle, while the watchman in the tower reports that he sees a messenger running, and, later, another. The first he recognizes as the son of his friend the priest, and according to the custom of the times he interpreted this to mean that the tidings were good, because a good man had been sent with them. This custom should still be in force amongst the Lord's people—that a good man would always seek to bear a good message. The words of the mouth and the meditations of the heart of all who are loyal to the Lord should be good—only good, ever good. Thus it is that God chooses not the worldly wise neither the worldly great, but those who are loyal at heart to him as his mouthpieces; and it should more and more be recognized that the bad tidings of great misery are not of the Lord, that those who bear them are not bearing the Lord's message, and that if they had the right attitude of heart toward the Lord, and the right spirit of love, they would not have the disposition to bear an evil message which maligns the divine character in a manner that even the depraved would resent if it were charged against them.
When the first runner arrived he announced in a general way the success of the King's army. Then the King—in harmony with his parting words to the soldiers, that they should spare Absalom in any event—inquired first of all, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" As we are shocked with the unfilial conduct of Absalom toward his father, we are deeply impressed with the father love of David for his erring son, who sought not only his throne but his life. What was the difference between the two characters? which was the more noble, the more honorable, the more admirable? There could be but one answer from any quarter on this subject; even David's enemies could not read this record without an appreciation of his grandeur of soul. He was more anxious for Absalom than for his throne apparently—yea, and for his own life. The difference between the two characters can be accounted for in only one way, namely—that David was a man after God's own heart, one who had passed through trying experiences and learned profitable lessons, one in whom the spirit of love had been considerably developed. Absalom, on the contrary, is an illustration of selfishness and ambition which stooped to anything to accomplish its ends. David, although not a member of the house of sons of which Christ is the head, was one of the noble members of the house of servants of which Moses was the head.—Heb. 3:5,6.
Some have esteemed that the answer of Ahimaaz was an untruth, intended to soften the facts so as not to wound the feelings of the King; but we cannot agree to this. We hold that, according to the record, the young man told the truth, and we believe that it would be much better for everybody if all mankind similarly confined themselves in their replies to important questions to the strict meaning of the word "know." The reply was that he had seen a commotion, knew that the battle was ended, knew that the victory was on the King's side, but knew nothing more. True, he had heard Joab say something about the King's son, but that was hearsay and not knowledge, and the young man answered the King properly when he said that he did not know the answer to the query about Absalom. The Lord's people above all others should be particular to discriminate between knowledge and belief and hearsay, etc.
The second runner, Cushi, or literally a Cushite—that is, a negro—was probably one of the king's household servants who engaged in the battle. He quickly told the whole story, and it was upon hearing thus of Absalom's death that the King was moved to violent grief, and gave utterance to words which stand as amongst the most pathetic on the pages of history. "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
The pity is that the King's love for his son did not take a more practical course at the proper time. He was an indulgent rather than a wise father. Evidently the flash and glitter of the young man's natural talents not only charmed the people but charmed his father, so that he practically had whatever he wanted of everything, the King failing to apply to his son the valuable lessons which he himself would learn, to the effect that the reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that true happiness and true prosperity are only to be found in this path, which wisdom indicates. His unwise love for his son led him to feel that the young man must sow his wild oats and should not be much restrained, and now when he witnessed the reaping of those wild oats his heart was convulsed with sorrow. And so it has been with many a father and many a mother who, although truly the Lord's fail to apply to their children the lessons which the Lord has taught them by distressing experiences. It is unnecessary to comment upon the unwisdom of such love and to [R3268 : page 411] point the moral to Christian parents. It points itself, and Solomon the wise son expresses it tenderly when he said, in the words of our Golden Text, that "A foolish son is a grief to his father," and noted again that "He who spareth the rod hateth his son." From the practical standpoint, however the matter may appear to the superficial observer, the essence of wisdom is contained in his further observation, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Parents seem not to fully appreciate the fact that in the training of their children, either in the right way or in the wrong way, they are laying out for themselves either joys or sorrows for the future.
King David's inquiry respecting his son, "Is the young man safe?" should be the inquiry of every father and every mother respecting their sons and their daughters; but let them not do as David did—wait until sin has sprouted and blossomed and brought forth evil fruitage. Let them begin by realizing their duty toward their posterity in their earliest infancy. The duty of Christian parents toward their children is next to their duty to the Lord,—indeed the Lord has indicated that parental duty ranks first among all the earthly obligations of the saints.