The song in this chapter is prefaced by the clarification that David prayed these words after being saved from all his enemies and Saul. This is one of the reasons why I am not sure where this chapter fits in chronologically. Is it something David prayed after all his battles near the end of his life or earlier? Regardless of timing it is a beautiful expression of David’s relationship with God and how he worked at it daily. Rather than waffle on, I shall quote from the chapter some of my favourite verses from The Message version of the Bible.
“I sing to God the Praise-Lofty, and find myself safe and saved.
The waves of death crashed over me, devil waters rushed over me.
Hell’s ropes cinched me tight; death traps barred every exit.
A hostile world! I called to God, to my God I cried out.
From His palace He heard me call;
My cry brought me right into his presence – a private audience!” (verses 4-7)
“But me He caught – reached all the way from sky to sea; He pulled me out,
of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved – surprised to be loved!” (verses 17-20)
“God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before Him.
When I cleaned up my act, He gave me a fresh start.
Indeed, I’ve kept alert to God’s ways’ I haven’t taken God for granted.
Every day I review the ways He works, I try not to miss a trick.
I feel put back together, and I’m watching my step,
God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to His eyes.” (verses 21-25)
“What a God! His road stretches straight and smooth.
Every God-direction is road-tested.
Everyone who runs towards Him
Makes it.” (verses 30-31)
Of course these words are more poignant if said after David’s sin with Bathsheba and his loss of Absolom. But there is nothing in other descriptions of David that would suggest that he would have prayed any differently before or after his recorded bad choices.
There was a famine in Israel for 3 years and David asked God for the reason. God told him that it was a result of Saul killing the Gibeonites, who were allies of the Israelites. The next few chapters do not appear to be chronological so perhaps this famine was closer to Saul’s death than it appears in 2 Samuel.
At first the Gibeonites said they wanted nothing and were explicit that they did not wish to kill any Israelite. But David persisted and finally they asked for 7 men from the house of Saul to die for Saul’s attack on them. David saves Mephibosheth because of his promise to Jonathan but send Armoni and Mephibosheth who were sons of Rizpah and Saul, as well as five sons of Merab, Saul’s daughter.
The Gibeonites hung the descendants of Saul and left the bodies there from the beginning of the harvest until the rains came. Throughout this time, Rizpah camped out and protected the bodies from birds and animals.
David heard of Rizpah’s actions and gathered together these 7 bodies with those of Saul and Jonathan from Jabesh Gilead. He had them all buried with Saul’s father, Kish.
There follows descriptions of a series of skirmishes with Philistines. The first does appear to be later in David’s reign because he came close to being killed in battle by Ishbi-Benob. Abishai saved David and the men decided David must not go into battle any more. Another skirmish where Sibbecai killed Saph (another descendant of Rapha); yet another where Elhanan killed Goliath the Gittite (as opposed to Goliath the Philistine who David had already killed); yet another huge man with 6 fingers and 6 toes on each hand and foot was killed by David’s nephew Jonathan.
Whether all these skirmishes happened after David had regained his throne or earlier in his reign, it does appear that David and his army were constantly busy.
The Benjamites seem to be a rebellious bunch. They do appear to do their own thing against the other tribes. Whilst David forgave Shimei, there was another Benjamite fermenting rebellion – Sheba. He managed to get the rest of Israel, excluding the tribe of Judah to follow him in civil war.
David was taken to Jerusalem by the men of Judah and then he sent Amasa to muster men for chasing Sheba. Amasa was late in reporting back and David sent Joab to hunt Sheba down. Joab then killed Amasa on the hunt for Sheba. There is perhaps a suggestion that Amasa had betrayed David and this was why he did not return to report in, this would then give a reason for Joab killing him. But Joab had already shown himself to be fiercely loyal to David and always preferring to kill David’s enemies rather than let them live. He was not a man to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.
Joab and the men pursued Sheba through Israel until they besieged him in Abel Beth Maacah. It suggests that the other tribes had not been keen on returning David to Jerusalem and used the excuse of Sheba’s rallying cry to desert David; but they were not fighting with Sheba against Joab. I am not sure many men would consider this a healthy option ever. Only the Bicrites, who were Sheba’s kin, were supporting him.
A wise woman who is not named, asked Joab not to destroy the city. He pointed out that all he wanted was Sheba’s head and he would leave peaceably. This unnamed woman then convinced the people in the city to kill Sheba and give Joab what he wanted. Joab then left to go back to David.
David’s kingdom was back in order. The author returns to a description of David’s kingdom which was last mentioned in chapter 8. Joab commanded the whole army of Israel as he did previously. Benaiah was in charge of the Kerethites and Pelethites as he had been previously. Jehoshaphat was the clerk again. Zadok and Abiathar were the priests – previously Zadok and Abiathar’s son were the priests, so Abiather must have been getting older now but keen to serve David in his son’s place. In chapter 8 Seraiah is mentioned as secretary and not mentioned here, but new places and people are:
- Sheva the historian
- Ira was David’s chaplain
- Adoniram was over the work crews.
David ran an orderly kingdom and delegated government to various men. He was also loyal to his men as they were to him.
Joab realised that David’s mourning had turned the army’s victory into a sad occasion so he brought this to David’s attention. David then met with the armies and cheered the people. The people also wanted David returned as king because he had not yet been formally made king again.
David asked Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, to ask the men of Judah (David’s tribe) why they were delaying in asking him to return. This prompted all of Judah to bring him back across the Jordan, where he was met by a few men. Shimei, a Benjamite, went to meet David brining a thousand Benjamites. Shimei was apologetic because he had not treated David well went he left Jerusalem – and David’s men, specifically Abishai, wanted to kill Shimei. But David insisted that no one would be killed that day. Ziba, Saul’s steward also met David bringing supplies to make him comfortable.
Mephibosheth also met David at the Jordan. He had not shaved or washed since David left and told David that he has asked Ziba to saddle his donkey so he could go to David and Ziba double crossed him. David, who had previously given Ziba all Mephibosheth’s goods because he thought Jonathan’s son had betrayed him, now told the two men to share the property. Mephibosheth, who lived in the palace with David, said Ziba could have everyone as he was simply pleased David had returned as king.
Barzillai who had provided well for David when he was on the run, also met David at the Jordan. David wanted to reward his friend and invited him to live in the palace. Barzillai said that at eighty he would not really enjoy this and wanted to be at home. Barzillai did ask that David took his servant, Kimham, with him and treat him well. David agreed to this.
Finally David crossed the Jordan at Gilgal. But the men of Judah and the men of Israel were arguing about who should process with the king.
David had his faithful army and commanders with him – he deployed them in three forces under Joab, Abishai (Joab’s nephew) and Ittai the Gittite. The army asked David to remain in the city so that he was safe and set off to meet Absolom’s men in the Forest of Ephraim.
The fighting was heavy and over twenty thousand of Absolom’s men were killed by David’s forces and the forest. I am not sure how the forest joined in the fight but it is clear it did in verse 22.
David had ordered his men not to harm Absolom, but Joab killed him. David was heartbroken when he was told that Absolom was dead. Perhaps his grief was enhanced by his knowledge that his family feud might not have taken this path had he not committed adultery and murder himself. He was living with the consequences of his behaviour. But this does not take away the grief that he felt at the death of his eldest son.
God knows us so well and He does give us the blueprint for the right way to live. However our human failing is that we are not really capable of following these guidelines very well. When you combine the individual sinful nature with all the other people in their family and community (and their own sinful nature) the result is not pretty. It does not mean that Bad Things don’t happen to Good People or that Good Things don’t happen to Bad People. But it does mean that the human life is messy and living it without regard to God’s laws do make it more complicated.
Yet David never lets go of God. Saul’s family was less messy than David’s and he lost God along the way. David is ruthless in his dependence on God in good times and bad times.
Hushai and Ahithophel gave Absolom conflicting advice. The resultant delay gave David enough time to flee further away and muster more troops. Absolom’s dismissal of Ahithopel’s advice, caused Ahithopel to kill himself – which seems strange to me. Even if he felt Absolom’s cause was lost because David would defeat him why give up without a fight (so to speak).
David was informed of everything in Absolom’s court via two brave young men – Jonathan and Ahimaaz – who heard the news via Zadok and Abiathar. They narrowly escaped being caught and were hidden in a well in Bahurim whilst Absolom’s troops searched for them.
David had his old friend and commander, Joab, leading his troops. Absolom has Amasa, a man married to Joab’s cousin, leading his troops. They encamped at Gilead. David received supplies from Mahanaim, Shobi, Makir and Barzillai who saw that his people needed bedding and food after their time in the desert.
I wonder how Absolom coped with living and preparing for war. He had always being provided for – even when he was not in David’s court, he was in a royal palace or his own home that I am sure did not miss any luxuries. Perhaps he realised that Ahithopel had been right after all – sending a small elite squadron of men to kill David would have saved Absolom going to war? But Hushai had been correct too – David’s men had proved themselves, time and again, as seasoned warriors. They would never have given David up without a fight – I would not have bet ten times the planned twelve thousand men against David and his faithful men.
But did Absolom ever consider the damage of civil war – the commanders were cousins! There must have been many many relatives on either side waiting for battle.
Apart from the fact that David’s sin with Bathesheba created the consequence that within David’s family David would be humiliated by someone sleeping with his women, I cannot understand what Absolom hoped to achieve by sleeping with the ten concubines David had left to look after the palace. Yes, David had prayed that Ahithophel’s advice would be foolish, but Absolom had to be stupid to believe what he said:
“Lie with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench in your father’s nostrils and the hands of everyone with you will be strengthened.” (verse 21)
What part of this advice makes any sense at all? The only way I can see this behaviour as strengthening Absolom’s support is that his supporters would have known there was no way back. This could have had the result that they would have fought even harder. But Absolom had used careful clever planning and loads of incentives to get himself this far, why did he listen to such stupid advice?
When I thought about it, I started to think that I hoped no one ever prayed that I would get foolish advice like David had done – then I realised I did not need foolish advice to do stupid things. My innate humanness makes me prone to really dumb decisions, I guess Abosolom had the same problem.
Therefore I need to pray that God opens my heart and soul and mind to His guidance, and stops me listening to stupid advice from my own head or other people.