The Lord’s Day Evening
March 13, 2011
“Walking by Faith When You Don’t Know the End of the Story”
2 Samuel 17:1-29
The Reverend Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Turn with me if you would to 2 Samuel chapter 17. 2 Samuel chapter 17. David,
King David, has fled the city of Jerusalem. His son, Absalom, has declared
himself king in Hebron and he is making his way toward the city. And David fled.
Along the way, he was provided with some food from an unexpected source — a man
by the name of Ziba. And he was called a few names by another individual along
the way. And David finds himself now encamped on the west side of the river
Jordan, east of Jerusalem, almost at the point where the Jordan River spills
into the Dead Sea — a place notorious for caves and so on, which we’ll see in a
moment, may have some significance.
Absalom has been counseled by Ahithophel, one time closest advisor to
King David, but has now defected over to Absalom. Ahithophel, you should bear in
mind, is Bathsheba’s grandfather and possibly and probably bears ill-will toward
David ever since the Bathsheba incident. It is Ahithophel who suggests to
Absalom the incident, or can we call it, the “roof-top incident” with the tent
and the concubines. What David had done in secret, Absalom does in public to
David’s concubines. If that’s not revenge on Ahithophel’s part, I’m not sure
what is. It was bad counsel. You remember David had prayed a prayer that
Ahithophel’s counsel would come to nothing. It was bad counsel. Absalom should
have pursued David while he was vulnerable. He’s already lost a significant
And now in this chapter, we will encounter Ahithophel and a man by the name
of Hushai, who is David’s spy in Absalom’s camp. And the thing that we need to
ask ourselves as we read this passage is the question that we always have to ask
ourselves when we’re reading historical narrative in the Old Testament: How is
the promise of God – the promise of God with regard to His kingdom, the promise
that Samuel had said that the kingdom was being taken from the hands of Saul and
being given into the hands of David – how is that promise going to be fulfilled?
Can God and His Word and His covenant be trusted when you find yourself in a
very dark and difficult place?
You know we’re reading a story now that’s 3,000 years ago and maybe for the
History Channel, but no, this is God’s Word, this is God’s infallible, inerrant
Word, that as Brad has just reminded the little children tonight, is able to
make us wise unto salvation, is profitable for doctrine and reproof and
correction and instruction in the way of righteousness that the man of God, that
you and me, might be furnished for every good work. Well, as we turn to 2 Samuel
chapter 17, let’s pray together.
Father, we thank You again for the Scriptures. Thank You that this Word is
quick and alive and sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing asunder the
joints of the marrow, the soul of the spirit. Have Your way with us tonight
again. Holy Spirit, come and show us again what it means to trust in the Lord
God Omnipotent, who rules and reigns. Help us in our individual struggles of
faith to lay hold upon You and Your Word. Now bless us, we pray. And bless us as
we read the Scripture together. We ask it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Hear the Word of God:
“Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, ‘Let me choose twelve
thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him
while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people
who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, and I will bring
all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the
life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.’ And the advice
seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.
Then Absalom said, ‘Call Hushai the Archite also,
and let us hear what he has to say.’ And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom
said to him, ‘Thus has Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he says? If not, you
speak.’ Then Hushai said to Absalom, ‘This time the counsel that Ahithophel has
given is not good.’ Hushai said, ‘You know that your father and his men are
mighty men, and that they are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the
field. Besides, your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with
the people. Behold, even now he has hidden himself in one of the pits or in some
other place. And as soon as some of the people fall at the first attack, whoever
hears it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the people who follow
Absalom.’ Then even the valiant man, whose heart is like the heart of a lion,
will utterly melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty
man, and that those who are with him are valiant men. But my counsel is that all
Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, as the sand by the sea for
multitude, and that you go to battle in person. So we shall come upon him in
some place where he is to be found, and we shall light upon him as the dew falls
on the ground, and of him and all the men with him not one will be left. If he
withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we
shall drag it into the valley, until not even a pebble is to be found there.’
And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, ‘The counsel of Hushai the Archite
is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.’ For the LORD had ordained to defeat
the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom.
Then Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests,
‘Thus and so did Ahithophel counsel Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus
and so have I counseled. Now therefore send quickly and tell David, ‘Do not stay
tonight at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means pass over, lest the
king and all the people who are with him be swallowed up.’’ Now Jonathan and
Ahimaaz were waiting at En-rogel. A female servant was to go and tell them, and
they were to go and tell King David, for they were not to be seen entering the
city. But a young man saw them and told Absalom. So both of them went away
quickly and came to the house of a man at Bahurim, who had a well in his
courtyard. And they went down into it. And the woman took and spread a covering
over the well’s mouth and scattered grain on it, and nothing was known of it.
When Absalom’s servants came to the woman at the house, they said, ‘Where are
Ahimaaz and Jonathan?’ And the woman said to them, ‘They have gone over the
brook of water.’ And when they had sought and could not find them, they returned
After they had gone, the men came up out of the
well, and went and told King David. They said to David, ‘Arise, and go quickly
over the water, for thus and so has Ahithophel counseled against you.’ Then
David arose, and all the people who were with him, and they crossed the Jordan.
By daybreak not one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.
When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not
followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his
house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his
Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed
the Jordan with all the men of Israel. Now Absalom had set Amasa over the army
instead of Joab. Amasa was the son of a man named Ithra the Ishmaelite, who had
married Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab’s mother. And
Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead.
When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of
Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar,
and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds, basins, and earthen
vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds
and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat,
for they said, ‘The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.’”
Amen. May God bless the reading of His holy and inerrant Word.
Well, God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants His
footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm. We read in Daniel 2:44, “The God
of heaven will set up a kingdom and it will stand forever.” That is God’s
purpose. That’s God’s aim — to set up a kingdom that will stand forever. But if
you were with David right now on the west side of the river Jordan, down by the
Dead Sea, having fled the day before, the night before, from Jerusalem, your son
has proclaimed himself king and for all you know they are coming down upon him
in their thousands and it all may be over by the morning — how is God going to
work out His plan? How is God going to fulfill His purpose? Watch God at work
here. There are some extraordinary characters in this chapter and we’ll talk
about some of them for a few minutes tonight, but I want you to keep your eyes
on what God is doing in this chapter because He is the same God, yesterday,
today, and forever. This may be 3,000 years ago, this may be old covenant as
opposed to new covenant, this may be in the land of Israel rather than
Mississippi, but our God hasn’t changed one wit and His purpose is the same.
Now the first thing I want us to see, you see it in the first fourteen
verses, you see it in the counsel of Ahithophel. And what you see is that the
providence of God, the providence of God, is sovereign. It’s a sovereign
thing. It rules. It governs. Now Ahithophel, Ahithophel was a legend in his own
time. Look at the closing verse of the previous chapter. “So was all the counsel
of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom.” And how was it esteemed?
In those days, the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the Word
of God. When Ahithophel spoke it was as though God was speaking. So what does he
say? He says to Absalom, “You’ve got to move quickly. You’ve got to come by a
surprise attack with overwhelming force and with a focused objective. You must
gather twelve thousand men tonight and pursue him and kick him when he’s down.”
That was good advice. That was militarily strategic and opportune advice. David
was disorganized. He has no army. He has no food. Insufficient food,
insufficient means of supplying his ramshackle bands that have left the city in
a hurry. He hasn’t even got pots and pans. That’s what we see at the end of this
chapter. Somebody comes and brings pots and pans and food. Ahithophel’s advice
was good advice. It was sound advice. It was militarily strategic advice, to go
after David and to go after him hard and to kill him, and to do it in such a way
that only David would be killed and all of the men with David would come back to
Absalom and yield themselves once again to his rule and his reign. And Absalom
and the elders like that advice. It was good advice.
And then, in verse 5, why does he do this? Absalom calls in Hushai. Hushai is
David’s spy. He’s a double agent in Absalom’s court. And Hushai now must give
his advice. He’s bold. He criticizes in the very opening line. “This time the
counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” That’s a brave thing to say
about a man whose counsel was like that of a consultation with God. And Hushai
says, “You know, Absalom, what you need to do is not stay in the city and let
twelve thousand men go and just kill David, because it will never work, because
where David has gone, down by the Dead Sea, it’s just full of caves and if you
go there tonight you’ll never find him. You’ll never find where David is. And
what’s going to happen is that they’ll hear you coming and pillage and war and
death will take place and there will be a slaughter of your men. It’s better by
far to wait awhile and gather a vast army from Dan in the north to Beersheba in
the south.” I think Hushai is appealing to Absalom’s vanity, that he would lead
this largest army that Israel has ever seen. And I think for a moment Absalom
can see himself marching in triumph before these, not just ten thousand or
twelve thousand, but hundreds of thousands of men.
And then the writer, the writer in verse 14 — you see, Hushai’s advice is
taken. Absalom and the elders, they believe Hushai’s advice is better. It’s not
better. Militarily it was a poor strategy. You were losing the significance and
the advantage of a surprise attack when a man is down. If you wait awhile, David
will get organized, people will go over from Absalom to David. It’s a much more
difficult strategy, but for some reason Absalom buys it because he buys into the
vanity of it.
But look at verse 14. Why did Absalom believe Hushai and not Ahithophel?
“Because the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel so that
the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom.” God is in this. This is the providence
of God. This is God at work. Now you understand, David didn’t know that. David
is unaware of that. The writer is saying after the fact here. He’s inserting it
for us to understand. Do you understand what’s going on here? Keep your eyes
focused upon the Lord. Watch Him. Watch Him work. Watch Him work in the court of
Absalom, watch Him work in the counsel of Ahithophel, watch Him work in the
counsel of Hushai, watch Him work as Absalom yields to vanity and God is in it,
because God is sovereign, because God is determined to fulfill His promise. God
is determined to bring in His kingdom. He is determined to fulfill every promise
that He has made. “The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord like rivers of
water He turns it whichever way He wants.” That’s our God. That’s our God. The
providence of God is a sovereign thing. It’s a powerful thing.
But secondly, and you see it in verses 15 through 22, you see, not only do
you see the sovereignty of providence, you see the hiddenness of providence.
Let me explain what I mean. There are all kinds of things going on here. In
order for David to know what it is that Ahithophel has said and Hushai has said,
and Hushai knows that his counsel has been accepted but he doesn’t yet know that
Absalom may change his mind in the course of the next few hours, and accept,
after all Ahithophel’s advice and pursue after David, so David needs to cross
the river Jordan. If he has any chance of success here, of surviving this, he
must cross over by night the river Jordan and news needs to get to him.
And how does that news get there? The priests — Zadok and Abiathar. Two young
men – Jonathan and Ahimaaz, runners. A woman, a woman who hides these two men
because they’ve been seen and news of it has been reported to Absalom so these
men must now be hidden in a well and she covers the well and pretends to be
doing something with grain. And when asked where the two young men are, she
lies, and says that they’re gone. “They’re nowhere near here. They’re gone.”
You’ve got priests and young men and a woman and man who owns this well, and in
the middle of it all, a moral conundrum — I mean a whopper of a moral conundrum
— because this woman tells an outright lie. There’s, you know the story of the
women giving — the midwives in Egypt. It is possible to interpret that passage
in such a way that what the women said was not a lie but it was actually true
that these women were giving birth so quickly that they gave birth before the
midwives got there. That’s a possible interpretation, but there’s no way around
this particular incident. This is not just a little porker, this is an outright,
So let’s, in the comfort of First Presbyterian Church pews, on this Spring
Break Sunday evening with all the time in the world at our hands, let’s think
about this for a minute with a measure of detachment. No, you see, we can’t do
that because the lives of these two young men are at stake. This isn’t a little
discussion in Starbucks over a cup of coffee of the moral conundrum of the lie
of necessity as it’s called. Is there such a thing as a lie of necessity? Is
there such a thing as a lie of utility or a lie of exigency? It’s been called
different things at different times. And it was Augustine, dear Augustine, that
chopped it down and said it’s wrong. The lie of necessity is wrong. It is never
right to tell a lie. And the Church has gone with him. For a thousand years the
Church went with Augustine and said there is never a case when a lie of
necessity or a lie or utility or a lie of exigency is the correct thing to do.
It’s not just the woman, you see. It’s not just the fact that she tells a lie
here. Hushai is a spy. His entire life is a lie. Everything that he does is a
lie. He’s pretending to be one thing when he’s something else. That’s what being
undercover means. It’s the same conundrum for policemen or FBI folk who go
undercover and they pretend to be something else. Can a Christian do that? Can a
Christian be a policeman and go undercover and pretend? Can you be in the FBI?
Can you be a soldier, you know, in an act of war, and deliberately do something,
not necessarily say something, but do something so as to make the impression
that this is the truth when it isn’t the truth? And who is there in here who’s
going to say that no such instance can possibly be right?
You know, when Hebrews commends Rahab for telling a lie about the spies,
Hebrews commends her faith. The only thing we know about this woman, the only
thing we know about this woman is that she told a lie. And Hebrews says she’s a
woman of faith. My dear friends, it takes extraordinary faith and courage,
extraordinary faith and courage, to tell a lie and believe that it’s the right
thing to do, in that instance. Killing is wrong. To take a life is wrong, except
in war. Or in Israel when an intruder came into the house and you beat him and
he died as a consequence. You were just in doing so in Old Testament Israel.
You’re to keep the Sabbath except when the ox has fallen into the ditch and then
it’s okay to break it. You are to obey your parents but not when your parents
tell you to do something that is contrary to what God wants and says.
And I think here, in this instance, what would you do? What would you do? Two
young men, hiding in the well, what are you going to say? This is not armchair
ethics; this is not a paper that you’ve assigned to a seminary student on
ethics. This is a matter of life or death. And in the midst of that kind of
moral conundrum – you know when we talk about providence we want it to be clean.
When God exercises His sovereignty it’s clean! No, it’s messy. It’s so messy
that it’s full of deception and lies and in the midst of all that God is working
out His purpose, a purpose that almost seems at that point to be hidden and
obscured. If you were standing next to the woman as she was telling this
boldfaced lie and you’re saying, “This is God at work here. You know, this is
God at work.” But that’s what this chapter is saying. Watch God at work in a
fallen world, in a sinful world, in a world full of hatred and malice and people
are out to get you.
But there’s a third thing here. Not only the sovereignty of providence,
and not only the hiddenness of providence. I’m not even sure what to call it —
the surprises of providence. The surprises of providence. There’s a little
vignette at the end of chapter 17 about Absalom and his enthronement in Israel.
We’ll pass over that. We’ll go back to David because David crosses over the
Jordan River by night. And three characters — Rag, Tag, and Bobtail — who are
these three characters? Shobi, who’s an Ammonite – a pagan, Machir, who is a
former Saul loyalist, and Barzillai, who’s in his eighties — no disrespect
meant. And they come with pots and pans and cheese and lentils and beans for
soup and food and utensils and equipment that David and his men need because
they’re in the wilderness and they’re hungry and they’re tired.
And you know, what sort of God do we have? A God who takes care of the big
things. You know, the overall big plan — no, a God who provides beans and
lentils and cheese and pots and pans. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that
beautiful? A God who’s concerned about, “Where am I going to get my next meal
from? Where am I going to get something to cook some soup? Even if I find
something, how am I going to cook it?” And along comes Rag, Tag, and Bobtail.
These three individuals — a pagan, a man in his eighties, and a former Saul
loyalist. Isn’t the providence of God extraordinary, that God gets involved in
the details, in the small things? He’s not just a God of the big things, He’s
the God of the little small things.
You know I wonder if this is the occasion when David began to think in his
head the words of Psalm 23 — “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence
of my enemies.” I wonder if this is the moment that that thought came into his
head in the wilderness. And there’s a table and there’s beans and lentil soup
which you’re going to have before you go to bed tonight. That’s the kind of God
we have. Let’s pray together.
Father, You are the same God yesterday, today, and
forever. The God who brings to pass Your kingdom, but a God who’s concerned
about lentils and cheese. We thank You. We thank You for the sheer wonder and
beauty of it all, that we are provided for even in the very details of our
lives. Now bless us, at the close of this day, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand. Receive the Lord’s benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with
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