2 Samuel 15:1-37
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.…
I. ABSALOM'S CONDUCT BEGAN IN THE EXERCISE OF THE BASEST INGRATITUDE. He assassinated Amnon at a banquet, and then fled to his grandfather's city Geshur for a refuge. There he remained for some years; the popular soldier Joab caused the woman of Tekoa to go to David with a parable and an entreaty; and the king reluctantly permitted his son to return to Jerusalem, but he would not meet him in the palace. That gave Absalom a chance again. And now we have two lessons to learn at once.
1. One is this: what a man sows he must also reap. David's boys divided up David's crimes between them, and repeated his guilt there under his own roof. That was an instance of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind. It is wise to remember that harvests are greater than seed.
2. The second lesson is, there is no. gain in discipline unless it leaves behind it a better heart. "Even after a shipwreck," the old philosopher Seneca remarks, "there are hosts who still wilt seek the sea." It is not for any man to say that affliction sanctifies; of itself it sours a heart which is not sanctified beforehand. And he has lost much who has lost a discipline at God's hand; he has had all the weary pain of it without any of the good; he has had the roughness of the ploughing without any of the fruit from the furrows.
II. THIS REBELLION DISCLOSED ITSELF IN THE MERE SHOW OF PERSONAL VANITY. That is the only significance of such gorgeousness of equipage, and a half a hundred men to run before this conceited creature Absalom's chariot. There is not a sign of patriotism in his course. So here we have another lesson to learn: all true leadership is taught by the discipline of endurance under fierce distress. It was with David as with Jesus Christ; he that is to be a Captain of salvation unto God's people must consent, as our Divine Saviour consented, to be made "perfect through suffering."
III. THIS OUTBREAK OF ABSALOM WAS CONDUCTED WITH THE HYPOCRISIES OF MALICIOUS DECEIT. How plausibly the man talked; how venomous were his insinuations; how false were his kisses; yet thus it was that he won the people's hearts and undermined his father's throne. The lesson that comes to us just here is: there can be no dependence on mere personal advantages unless they are put to a serviceable use. The record which is familiar to us all reminds us of the old commendations of Saul in the day when he came out before the people a head and shoulders above any one of those who cried "God save the king!" We have a kindling picture of Absalom's attractions of person and form. The old honest historian of the Greeks says with a creditable frankness that Themistocles was able to make his insipid son, Cleophantes, a good horseman, but he failed in every particular when he endeavoured to make him a good man. And that same failure has been reached a great many times since.
IV. THAT THIS INSURRECTION WAS RELENTLESSLY CONTINUED THROUGH A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. Not "forty years," surely, as one of the verses seem to say; such a chapter can be found neither in David's nor in Absalom's biography. It is impossible to put the reckoning anywhere. Josephus states the time, with the authority of the Syriac and the Arabic version behind him, as being four years instead of forty. And that is long enough certainly for an ungrateful son to continue mischievously to plot against his father is so villianous a way. There can be no value in a noble lineage unless the position is employed nobly. Absalom had nothing to do with the item of his birth; it would be a credit to him or a shame according to what he should do with it. Honour and wealth from no condition rise. The Bible makes short work with primogeniture; in almost every instance the chieftainship goes away from the sons earliest born. Later history is suggestive. Cleanthes lived by watering gardens; Pythagoras was the child of a silversmith; Euripides was brought up to help his brothers till the fields; Demosthenes was the son of a cutler; Virgil's father was a potter. There is no pretension more impertinent than that which is forcing itself forward on the merits of mere parentage and position:
V. THAT THIS WILD REBELLION IS CONSUMMATED AT LAST WITH A LIE IN THE NAME OF RELIGION. This was at once the meanest and the shrewdest of all Absalom's subterfuges. In order to cover his absence from suspicion, and put David off his guard in Jerusalem, he trumped up this pretext of an old vow. God sometimes leaves wicked people to the retribution of apparent success. Absalom comes to Jerusalem, is actually crowned as king, has a few military victories; then his downfall is swift and heavy; the triumph of traitors is short. In a part of one year is dissipated all the fortune of the four years the treacherous son had plotted against his father. Ahithophel closes his career with a suicide, and ere long the rebellion is ended; David sits in his throne and sings brighter songs even while he mourns in his heart.
VI. We mention A FEW REFLECTIONS CONCERNING THE DEATH WHICH THIS REBEL PRINCE DIED.
1. There is a limit beyond which patience, both human and Divine, cannot be expected to go. When the heart of this royal ingrate became fixed in his wickedness, the Lord simply withdrew from all interposition; so he was left to his fate; he died the rebel he had lived. Here is an inspired warning: "Some men's sins are Open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after."
2. When a false leader falls, he drags down his favourites in the failure. The most interesting feature of this story has always been the immediateness with which the rebellion subsided when those darts went through Absalom's heart: What ultimately became of those who had perilled all their fortunes upon his success we are not informed. Their hopes failed; they had attributed many excellences to that young and beautiful prince; possibly they had not studied the future carefully, into the abysses of which they land now plunged. Hereafter they were outlaws and wanderers.
3. There can be no advantage in having "a fair chance" in life unless one hastens to improve it for the good of others. The fact is, we instinctively hold this man Absalom responsible all the more sternly because he had opportunities so fair and abused them so basely. His sin was the more heinous on account of his conspicuous position.
4. The hour of retribution is likely to be an hour of melancholy review. Confidence in the successful issue of evil purposes only deepens the humiliation of defeat. There is even to this day pointed out in the valley close by Jerusalem a lofty structure of stone called "Absalom's Tomb." The Scripture has given us a hint concerning its true origin, but not of its date: "Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's place." That particular structure is perhaps replaced by this: tradition says it is not a sepulchre, but a monument; and Josephus goes so far as to insist that it was called Absalom's Hand," and bore at its summit a hand as the symbol of power and victory.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.