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2 Samuel 18:1-17
And David numbered the people that were with him.
The fatal fight
This chapter is a narrative of that fatal fight wherein Absalom the son, fought with David his father for the kingdom of Israel.
I. The antecedents of the battle.
1. David mustered all his forces, which Josephus reckons but four thousand, yet Comestor computes them to be seven thousand (2 Samuel 18:1), but ‘tis probable they were many more from these cogent reasons.
(1) David’s army must needs be greatly augmented by the two tribes and half beyond Jordan, who, living far distant from Absalom’s court at Jerusalem, had not been corrupted with that usurper’s flatteries, nor alienated in their affections to David, whom they knew to be a good king, and made now miserable only by an unnatural rebellious son, therefore out of compassion, as well as out of loyalty, they could not but flock to him in great numbers.
(2) Had they been so small a number as Josephus saith, David needed not to have been so exact in setting captains over them by hundreds, and by thousands, and in dividing them into three battalions, and committing them to the conduct of three generals, as it is expressly recorded in 2 Samuel 18:12, though the number be not, etc.
(3) That expression, “Thou art worth ten thousand of us” (2 Samuel 18:4) doth imply that this number was but the one-half of the army, beside a fourth part of it left behind to garrison Mahanaim.
(4) ‘Tis certain they were such a considerable army as therewith David durst venture to take the field, and rationally commit his righteous cause to the trial of a pitched battle.
(5) David’s prospect of his victory, whereof he was so confident, that he giveth charge to his army not to kill Absalom, but only to take him prisoner. Though victory doth not, indeed, depend upon the multitude of armies, yet David knew well he ought not to tempt the Lord, and to expect a conquest by a miracle (which God had not promised), but by the use of probable means.
2. David’s offering himself to hazard his royal person with his army in the field-battle (2 Samuel 18:2.)
3. The armies’ refusal of his royal offer (2 Samuel 18:3), which they did not out of any contempt of the king to cross his kingly power and pleasure, but out of the highest veneration to his royal person, which made them so careful and conscientious for his personal preservation, and they grounded their laudable refusal of his offer upon solid reasons:
(1) Thou art the main mark the rebels aim at, and should they know that thou art in the field they would bend all their forces against thee, as (1 Kings 22:31) the Syrians did.
(2) The slaughter of thee (whom only the rebels resolve to ruin) would rejoice them more than the slaughter of ten thousand of us thy subjects, for then have they their end, to set up Absalom in thy throne (2 Samuel 17:2.)
(3) The dignity of thy person exalts thee above ten thousand of us, and therefore thy ruin by the rebels would do ten thousand times more damage to the state of Israel.
(4) But if thou be kept alive, though the rebels rout us, yet mayst thou recruit a new and another army, and so disappoint them still from accomplishing their design.
4. David’s prudence to the people, and his indulgence to his rebellious son (2 Samuel 18:4-5.)
(1) From his natural, affectionate disposition, always a fond father to his children, full of clemency, insomuch that be spared Saul his enemy when in his power once and again (1Sa 24:1-22; 1 Samuel 26:1-25.) No wonder, then, if he were for sparing his eldest son.
(2) He doth not call him my son, because that would have aggravated his crime, but Hebr. the boy, or young man, imputing his heinous rebellion to the heat of his youth, which makes men heady, high-minded, and inclinable to evil counsels and practices; but if he might be spared and live till he were older, age and experience would make him wiser.
(3) David was conscious to himself that he was the meritorious and procuring cause of this rebellion, and that Absalom was given up of God to punish David’s sins (2 Samuel 12:11-12), and therefore pitied him.
(4) This pious father would not have his impious son to die in his sin, without repentance, for then soul and body perish for ever.
(5) Peter Martyr makes David a type of Christ,, who prayed for his crucifiers, as David did here, for a rebel son against his father.
II. Now come we to The concomitants of this fatal fight.
1. The place where the battle was fought, ‘tis called the wood of Ephraim (verse 6), though it was certainly beyond Jordan, so not in that tribe, but called so either because it was over against Ephraim, or because of forty thousand Ephramites lost their lives there (Judges 12:5-6).
2. David’s victory: (verse 7) The battle was soon determined. Absalom’s army (consisting of raw, inexperienced men in martial matters) stood not the first shock of David’s old soldiers.
3. “The wood devoured more than the sword” (verse 8.):Behold, here David’s policy and Absalom’s infatuation to fight in so fatal a place as the wood of Ephraim which had been so fatal to Oreb and Zeeb in Gideon’s time (Judges 7:25; Judges 8:3), and to the Ephramites also (Judges 12:5-6.) The routed rabble, running from death, ran to it while they ran into the wood to hide themselves; some fell upon stubs that did beat the breath out of their bodies when they had spent the most of it by their hasty running away; some for haste plunged themselves into pits and ditches which were in the wood (verse 17), and which either they saw not (being covered with the rubbish of the wood), and so their violent flight hurried them in at unawares. So dreadful a thing it is to provoke the Lord of Hosts, who call arm all things to destroy us, etc.
4. Absalom was hanged by the neck upon the forked bough of an oak in this same wood (verse 9).
(1) Absalom met David’s soldiers, and they, according to David’s command, spared him, and gave him an opportunity to escape, but Divine vengeance would not spare him.
(2) The great God directed the branch of the oak, as he rode under it, to catch hold of his long hair that was loosely dishevelled upon his shoulders, and there hangs him up by the neck betwixt heaven, and earth, as one rejected of both, and not fit to live in either of them.
(3) Some do wonder how Absalom came here among the thickets of the wood, where there was no way, especially for riders? Sanctius wittily observes that seeing it is said, “Absalom met David’s servants by chance,” it seems he rather peeped upon them (fighting in the battle) out of some safe and secret place than fought against them in the front of the fight; this was a chief leader and general likely to conquer. However, this is beyond doubt that when he saw his rabble were routed, a dreadful fright fell upon him, and fleeing, left the common road and rode among the thickets, till caught by his long locks (such as Samson had, Judges 16:13) in a crotch of the oak.
(4) He being held fast there by the hair of his head, “his mule that was under him went away,” which might easily happen, because, being in flight, the mule passed along very swiftly. As this mule lurched, his master, so will worldly wealth lurch worldlings at their death, however: and so will false grounded hopes lurch hypocrites (Job 8:13; Job 11:20), whereas a lively hope (1 Peter 1:3), a daughter of the faith of God’s elect (Titus 1:1) rightly grounded on God’s promises will not lurch us, no, not at death (Proverbs 14:32), but will do to us what Bucephalus, Alexander’s great horse, did to him, which (as Aulus Gellius reporteth), though deeply wounded in both neck and sides in a battle, yet carried his master with great speed out of danger of the enemy, and when he had set his master down in safety then himself fell down and died: So true hope lands us in glory, then expectation dies into fruition, etc. This unnatural wretch was unworthy to be slain by the sword, but he must be hanged on a tree, and so die that cursed death (Deuteronomy 21:23, Galatians 3:13.) His haughty mind resolved to be on high, right or wrong, though he made his own too affectionate father’s carcase a stepping-stone whereon to step up to the highest throne; and now is he hanged up on high, anti his ambitious head is in its proper exaltation. He is hanged by that very head wherewith he had been plotting the worst sort of high treason, against so good a father. His hair, wherein he had so much prided himself, God made an halter to hang him with: The instrument of his vainglory became the instrument of his death and ignominy. So perilous it is to pride ourselves in any habiliments either of nature or of fortune, seeing the matter of our pride may be the means of our ruin.
5. The dialogue between General Joab and the soldier that first saw Absalom hanged in an oak (verse 10, 11, 12, 13.)
(1) It seems Absalom did hang some time before he was seen, being in a by-path and blind place, this long and lasting colour was far more intolerable than had he been hanged outright m a halter.
(2) This soldier that first saw him durst not dispatch him, though Absalom might desire him to do it, to put him out of his pain, as Saul had desired his armour-bearer on the like account (1 Samuel 31:4.)
(3) Joab, when he told him what he had seen, chides him for not doing it, and if he would still go back and do it he would give him a rich reward (verse 11). Though Joab was desirous that such a public pest were slain, yet would he rather have it to be done by another hand than by his own, for fear of David’s displeasure. Politicians, like the ape, pull nuts out of the fire with the paw of a eat.
(4) The soldier answers (verse 12) I dare not do it for a thousand shekels, for the king commanded to the contrary (verse 5), it would be as much as my life is worth, which is of more value to me than all thy thousand shekels, and belts and badges of valour. What mad men are many, that for a few paltry shillings play away their precious souls, which this soldier durst not do.
(5) Should I have done it, saith he, I should have been false to myself (verse 13) in betraying myself to David’s revenge, or should I do it now, and then deny it to save my life by a lie, the king is so wise he would soon discover it, and then inflict a double punishment upon me not only for my foul fact in doing it, but also for my falsehood in denying it.
(6) And thou thyself (saith he) wouldst set thyself against me, that is, thou wouldst become my adversary, or satan, and wouldst be the first that would accuse me to the king’s court, for doing that which thou now wouldst, draw me to do against the king’s command. Thus the devil deals with tempted souls, as Joab would have dealt with this soldier, first he tempts them to sin, and then he accuses them for sin, as he is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10, Job 1:9.)
6. Joab’s slaughter of Absalom (verses 14, 15.)
(1) Daring Joab, saith, as his vale or farewell to the soldier.
(2) Behold here the just judgment of God upon this vilely vicious, ambitious Absalom: He will needs be a new king before his time, and now hath here this oak for his throne, his twisted hair about the bough for his crown, three darts in his heart for his sceptre, his proud heart is darted through, and Joab’s ten armour-bearers for his royal guard, for defiling David’s ten concubines. Thus God writ his sin upon his punishment, that little breath still left in him these ten did beat out of his body (verse 15). So here’s ten to ten in both cases.
(3) Joab’s killing of Absalom contrary to the king’s command some condemn, but others justify and commend it; Peter Martyr and Grotius do canvas this controversy pro and con, etc. (C. Ness.)
The battle and its issue
1. Before the battle, David does not bear prosperity well. He shines best in trial. He is greater when fleeing from Saul than when in the palace. His flight without his crown reveals his real kingliness. Surely David is in much communion with God. He is pressed with sorrow, but then his character like as myrrh is most fragrant. He is most restful. Fear has gone. He pillowed his head on the truth, that ever drives fear away. Such a calm restfulness would be sure to give indications of God’s nearness, and we find many signs of Divine guidance. How discreet he is! How they are blundering at Jerusalem! How wise to make Mahanaim his headquarters, though most probably his choice was made all unconscious of its splendid adaptability to the necessities of the hour. He was led by a “Hand Divine.” Did David pray for wisdom? Surely such quiet restfulness in God’s guidance is ever accompanied by prayerful fellowship! The Father of light gives to those who ask: how far wiser should we be if we asked! Was it this hallowed experience at Mahanaim which evoked his impressive charge to Solomon? (1Ch 22:12; 1 Kings 3:9.) So passed the week before the battle.
2. Concerning the battle itself, as to details of conflict, we know little. Probably Absalom has been three months king. According to the counsel of Hushai, he heads the army. The first shock decided the fortunes of the day, as indeed is still common in Eastern warfare, and Absalom’s army flees in confusion. David’s army is victorious, and ere the evening came all Israel and Judah knew that David had conquered.
3. After the battle. David is sitting between the two gates (2 Samuel 18:24) waiting for the news. The watchmen upon the wall are gazing anxiously, and yet more anxious is the expectation of the king. All is so graphically told. His hope when he hears the bearer is Ahimaaz, the parent-heart asking for his son amid the news of victory, the falsity of the messenger when face to face with the agitated king (2 Samuel 18:29), the quickened hope so bluntly quenched by the less cautious Cushi, and then the wail, that has been echoed from so many hearts since: “O my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
(1) An entire absence of resignation to God’s will. Strange, is it not, that which is so prominent in all his other times of trial is prominent by its absence here! He abandons himself uncontrolledly to his feelings. Unless those in public places of honour sink their private feelings in public duty, why are they there? David’s heart is lacerated now. His own sins make his grief the heavier. We note too--
(2) His petulant wish and foolish complaint. Had he died in place of Absalom, what would have become of Israel with such a king, and where the promise of God to him? On public grounds David’s utterance can find no justification, and Joab is right when he arouses him from his selfish grief. Better for David had he sought, in the early days of his son’s life, by prayer and holy conduct, to have lived for his children than wished to die for them. We need to learn it is better to live for our children than wail a wish to die over characters we have helped to form. Still, we can but admire him as a father! Does love first ruin and then pray? We can, however, understand the wail of David if he was thinking of the eternal interests. This was agony time might mitigate and soften but never obliterate. Before the mysterious in the dealings of God with him, he bowed in an agony Joab could not understand. That surely is one of the sad penalties of declension from the ways of God. Grief was borne by him and not carried to God. Hence for a while David’s character is clouded again. (H. E. Stone.)
David and Absalom
1. The first thing that strikes us in chap. 18, is the “reward of faithfulness” in the appointment of the three captains. (Luke 22:28-30.)
2. The charge concerning Absalom (v. 5; Romans 12:19; Galatians 6:1)--a lesson for us in our treatment of others. The Lord is ever saying, “Deal gently with my rebels.” “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” We are too like Joab, so indignant against the sinner that we forget our own weakness, and yet he followed Adonijah! And we too generally find when we are very indignant against soma one else, we are pretty sure to go away and commit the same sin.
3. The fate of Absalom. Two things are said to have contributed to his fate--his ostentation in going into battle on a mule instead of on foot, as David and all warriors did, and his vanity in wearing his hair long (though it does not follow that this caused his death, as we are only told that he was caught by his head, probably his helmet). The heap of stones--disgrace. (Joshua 7:26.)
4. The king’s grief. (Luke 19:41; Romans 5:7.) A beautiful contrast between type and antitype “Would God I had died.” “I lay down my life for the sheep.” (R. E. Faulkner.)
Absalom: a character study
I. The first suggested point in this Old Testament character study is, that of a royal father and son in deadly antagonism. The ground of this antagonism was Absalom’s attempt to usurp the throne. He sought by intrigue to dethrone his father, and to seize the kingdom and crown for himself. There is another antagonism of a more momentous character raging to-day between the Royal Father in heaven and the rebel Absaloms in our midst. An antagonism spiritual in its nature, gigantic in its proportions, fearful in its tendencies, tremendous in its issues. It is hostility between the creature and his Creator, the subject and his Sovereign, the recreant son and his loving, all-compassionate Father. Wonder, O heavens, and be astonished, O earth! Can the finite contend with the Infinite? Can the worm: strive with his Maker? Can man fight with God? “Woe unto him,” says the prophet, “that striveth with his Maker.” “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel but not of Me, and that cover with a covering but not of My spirit, that they may add sin to sin.” “The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man. He shall stir up jealousy like a man of war. He shall cry yea, roar. He shall prevail against His enemies.”
II. The second practical suggestion of this Old Testament character study is, that the means used to escape from the king’s servants brought defeat and death. Absalom depended on the fleetness of his mule for safe and speedy flight, which, had it been on the unobstructed highway instead of the untrodden, perilous forest path, might in all human probability have been accomplished. As it was, the fleeter the animal, the greater the danger of becoming entangled among the trees of the wood. So it is to-day with the modern Absaloms who have formed conspiracies against goodness, purity, justice, right; who are subtly or openly assailing the kingdom of truth, the throne of God, the kinghood of the Nazarene, doing their utmost to wrench the sceptre of authority from His grasp, and to dash the diadem of divinity from His kingly head, they are getting the worst of the contest. Absalom-like, they are trying to evade the King’s army, to escape the King’s pursuing servants, but ere long they will find the giant oak of Divine retribution in the way, which will grasp them between its mighty arms, while their fleet-footed “mules” will go suddenly from under them.
1. Some have mounted the “mule” of intellectual pride, and are posting off into the wood of scepticism, rationalism, deism, agnosticism, secularism, atheism. Much learning is generally conceit, and conceit is turning men intellectually and morally insane. “Advanced thought” is but the synonym for advanced alienation of the heart from the living God, and “advanced thought” is only the modern form of unbelief. Pseudo-philosophy is weaving a shroud for the burial of truth. Men to-day glory in what they do not rather than in what they do know. Ignorance seems bliss. Doubting is emphasised and glorified. Believing and knowing are childish. Thus the advocates of doubt, the spastics of unbelief, the boastful know-nothings, have exiled from their little world the Creator, and enthroned blind chance or arrogant-reason. They have struck out from their sky the blazing sun of truth, and are groping their way amid the shadows and uncertainties of a scholarly scepticism or an ignorant know-nothingism! In a word, they have mounted the mule of intellectual vanity, imagining thereby to escape God, who pursues them on the line of their intuitions, moral instincts, inner consciousness, and crushed but not extinguished spiritual nature, not knowing that there is a mystic tree of judgment, whose giant branches shall seize their haughty heads and swing their spirits back to the God who gave them.
2. Again, there are others who are trying to escape from their convictions of right, duty, and personal responsibility to humanity and God on the “mule” of alcohol. Such foolish Absaloms I have known. Some of them men of broad intellect, wide reading, and splendid parts, but weak on one side of their nature in more senses than one. For years there has been hostility to God, the will running counter to the Divine Will, the actions contrary to the Divine Commands, the heart opposite to the Divine Spirit. They have defied the Divine Almightiness, trampled in the dust the Divine Law, and flung insult and injury on the Divine Heart of Love. Thus have they tried to get away from conscience, remorse, God! But what folly. True, they may drown conviction for a time, but only for it to come back with tenfold force. I can conceive of no infatuation greater than that of a man resorting to drink in order to drown trouble, quell fear, or quiet conscience. As well attempt to extinguish debt by burning the creditor’s bills, or to ease pain by plunging the hand into the fire, as to evade trouble, remorse, God, by fleeing to the gin palace or the beershop. In reality this method is only adding fuel to the fires of conscience, poignancy to the stings of remorse, terror to the recurring thought of God and eternity. It is heaping up wrath against the day of wrath. Absalom never intended riding rote the jaws of death, but he got there. Once seized by the iron grip of the drink appetite, and it clutches a man most insidiously but surely; there is little or no chance of release from its fatal consequences.
3. Once more, others in society to-day are making the effort to escape from their convictions of right, duty, God, on the “mule” of absorbing worldliness. They have plunged into business, and are, driving bargains and speculations furiously. They have invested all their capital, their energies, talents, attention, interests, being, with its wealth of possibilities, in pushing trade to a golden success. Principle has to do homage to policy, morality to bow to fraud or the ordinary so-called “tricks of trade” in order to pile up a pyramid of gold and to rank as merchant princes. It is business, nothing but business; bargains, nothing but bargains; the muck-rake of mammon and nothing else, until they become walking icebergs of materialism. But conscience lifts up its thunderous voice and pours forth a whole valley of warnings, threatenings, alarms. Its voice is unpleasant. Its constant speakings are distracting and offensive. To get beyond its condemnatory voice they spur on their “mule” into the denser wood, the more perilous forest of worldliness, oblivious of the Nemesis of retribution which will seize their sordid soul, and swing them into eternal poverty with a Dives and a rich fool.
4. Another, as the representative of a large class, has saddled the “mule” of worldly pleasure. He rides in search of carnal amusement, delight of the senses, spurning religion which holds the true secret of abiding happiness by fixing itself within the man. He hurries hither and thither, seeking job: from without, rootless joy, and all he gets proves false, precarious, brief. Like gathered flowers, though fair and fragrant for awhile, it speedily withers and becomes offensive. Whereas joy from within, rooted in God, is akin to drinking in aroma from the rose on the tree; it becomes more sweet and beautiful; it is enduring; it is immortal. To live in the realm of sense is to die in the realm of sorrow I Believe me, there is no pleasurist of this world without his Eve, no Eve without her serpent, and no serpent without its sting. “The wages of sin is death.” “The sting of death is sin.” I tell you, you cannot get away from all God’s servants. If you escape pinching poverty, blasting pestilence, drivelling insanity, torturing affliction, painful bereavement, there is one servant that will overtake you, “the pale horse and his rider.” That horse of untiring strength and unpausing celerity is teeter of foot than your “mule.” (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
This district appears to have resembled the bush of Australia and the jungle of India. It was not a dense forest, but consisted of rocky ground covered with prickly shrubs and tangled underwood, having stout oaks and other trees as well as precipitous glens to increase its terrors and perils. Such a place of thickets and thorns was called in Bible times “yaar,” and now is known as “waar.” It would give a certain advantage to a smaller force of experienced warriors like David’s in resisting the onset of a larger but less disciplined array such as followed Absalom. Probably, too, many of the latter were more accustomed to the bare wadies (or valleys) and limestone rocks of Western Palestine, while the loyalists were not unfamiliar with bush warfare, British troops have often had to encounter difficulties and dangers similar to those which aided to defeat Absalom on this occasion. During the war of 1755, several of King George’s best regiments were nearly annihilated in a thick wood near Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania. Embarrassed by the brushwood and irregular trees, they could not perceive their Indian foes, who, keeping out of sight, discharged their muskets, with horrible yells more disconcerting than the weapons. (Sunday Companion.)
2 Samuel 18:3
Thou art worth ton thousand of us.
What are you worth
King David was loved doubtless as much for the amiability and manliness of his character as for the throne on which he sat.
I. True worth should be reckoned by character and not by money. In the civilised world, money is an idol served by many people. If a man possess plenty of gold, he carries a key which unlocks doors that are closed against one that is poorer but more worthy. The world, of course, respects honour and genius, bug it loves money. When you ask, “What is that man worth?” people do not say that he possesses an amiable yet manly character, or a vain and cowardly nature; they tell you he is worth so much a year, or that he is somebody’s son. A man is valued from what he has, rather than for what he is. An Atheist one day said to me, “You talk of Christian people being true friends! Why, the best friend anybody can have is a five-pound note; and my aim is not to get religion, but to get money; for if a man can always have a few of these handy, he will find friends on whom he can rely in every time of need!” Money, in itself, is a gift of God; for it is not money that is the root of evil, but the love of it that harms men and ruins women.
II. Do not be too anxious to possess that wealth which is not your true worth. Our trade is suffering from the madness of people who, in their eagerness for money, have speculated recklessly, and brought themselves and others to ruin. Some people try to get money at all hazards. Have any of you obtained money in a wrong way? If so, I am sure your experience has been that such ill-gotten gains never blesses you. It is “easy come, easy go.” An angler employs many kinds of bait and fishing tackle. The trout is a sharp, suspicious, and dainty fish, and to catch it the angler uses a very fine silk line which cannot be seen in the water, and chooses his sharpest hook, baiting it with the greatest care; and the trout, seeing the bait only, swallows it and the hidden hook. So, when you grab at money wrongfully, the devil is angling for you skilfully with the rod and line of covetousness, baited with “great wealth,” “sudden riches,” “worldly honour,” and other tempting flies to catch gudgeons.
III. Seer the true riches of contentment and manhood. Do you say you are poor and in trouble? Well, you can exhibit the highest qualities in your poverty. When trees are planted they are often protected with a prop; but when each tree has grown a little, the prop is taken away, and it stands firmly amidst the storms. So God would have you who are trees of His planting to stand firmly in your simple manhood. Why do you need the prop of gold, or the fence of possessions? Stand firmly grounded in Gospel righteousness. Men and women, what are you worth? Be possessed of Jesus Christ and His Spirit; be possessed of pardon, holiness, and heaven. May God give us these true riches. Amen. (W. Birch.)
2 Samuel 18:5
Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom.
Grace for the graceless
Bishop Hall thus descants on this--What means this ill-placed love? This unjust mercy. Deal gently with a traitor. Of all traitors, with a son? Of all sons with an Absalom? that graceless darling of so good a father? And all this, for thy sake, whose crown, whose blood, he hunts after? For whose sake must he be pursued, if forborne for thine? Must the cause of the quarrel be the motive of the mercy? Even in the holiest parents nature may be guilty of an injurious tenderness, of a bloody indulgence. But was not this done in type of that immeasurable mercy of the true King and Redeemer of Israel, who prayed for his persecutors. “Father, forgive them. Deal gently with them for my sake.” When God sends an affliction to correct his children it is with this charge, “Deal gently with them for my sake”; for He knows our frame.
2 Samuel 18:10
I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.
Glory: Human and Divine
I. A man’s glory is his doom. For although in a strict sense the custom does not fit with the fashion of the age, there are men to-day who, figuratively speaking, cannot cut their hair without weighing it. In plain language, there are men whose whole attention is directed to the contemplation of their endowments and the worship of their powers. And, just as with Absalom, these very endowment may lead to their destruction; they may be “in at the death.”
1. New, in the first place, let the proposition be accepted that man must glory. By his very nature he attaches himself to something either external or personal to himself, in which he takes a lively interest and manifests a palpable pride. Every man is, more or less, what is vulgarly called a “Faddist.” He takes hold of something, and makes it the centre of his existence, the object of his aims and desires. Or else that something lays hold of him, and keeps him a bondman to its service. It may be personal, or social, or municipal, or political, or religious, but there it is, embedded in the soul, or laying its grasp upon the mind. It comes out on any and every occasion. It is made manifest in the thought and in the life and in the work. And seldom indeed is its power found either to diminish or to die. Or, to vary the figure, each life has its Sun. And here, of course, the moral, the spiritual law, diverges from the natural, which knows of only one centre. Round this sun the life-planet circles, kept in place by its influence, partaking of its light, and reflecting its radiancy with more or less brilliance, according to what may be called the atmospheric conditions which prevail. Without that sun, the life falls from its place and loses its power. The sun’s light may have a greater or a less intensity, its attraction have a greater or a less force. It may range from the lowest to the highest extreme. It may glimmer as a fad, or it may shine brightly as an ideal: but still it is there, necessary to all existence, indispensable to all true life. For we are all of us in a sense mirrors; very often, God knows, scored and imperfect and dull, but in some measure reflecting a borrowed glory, catching rays from the unknown and the infinite, and throwing them at very different angles upon the world. In short, the rays of one life--of various colours as they must ofttimes be--when gathered together will generally be found to have one common source. That is its glory, that is its sun.
II. Death lies in human glory. To reason from the particular to the general directly is not consistent with the canons of logic and the forms of thought. Because a thing happens in one case there are no grounds for declaring that it must happen in all. But if it can be shown by the evidence of illustration and instances that there are few, if any, exceptions, then we may, with some show of reason, claim recognition for the rule. What was said a little ago of the unit of humanity, man, supplies with equal truth to men in the mass. A living organisation, an aggregate of thinking men, is also a reflection of a glory. Here is a country whose glory has a human source. Two thousand years ago, looking from her seven hills across the subjugated lands Rome stood, the proud and pompous mistress of the world. Along her ringing thoroughfares there rolled the chariot of war. By Tibet’s bank the sentry trod his everlasting round. President of the council of her gods sat Jupiter, the king of heaven, to whom the war-shout of the conqueror and the sacrifice of the sword ascended as a sweet savour. Tribe by tribe the inhabitants of the known world passed beneath the yoke, and power became the one object in the national outlook. Raising it to the place of deity, they tendered it the honour and the praise. “Triumph! triumph!” was the cry that rent the Roman air. “Number the captives and measure their land! Ours is the brave heart, ours the mighty arm, and great indeed is our glory!” Ay! two thousand years ago. But the day of downfall was at hand. The oak caught Absalom by the hair. Into collision with the eternal oak of God’s will and purpose came the blind and boastful glory of the Empire. “Thus far and no further” was the stern decree. And on swept the steed of History, leaving its Rome behind.
2. Here is a church whose glory, too, has a human source. Its Bible is the morality, the etiquette, the fashion of the age. Its teaching is laid on the basis of what is proper rather than what is right. Its creed runs thus--“I believe in well-cushioned pews, wealthy communicants, and a respectable record of missionary zeal, so long as that calls for no work of mine.” Through the pillars and arches of its buildings there floats the breath of sweetest music, and the silver tones of “the snowy-banded, dilettante, delicate-handed priest.” And from an aesthetic point all is sweet to hear and fair to see. But where is God in that church? Where is the “glory due unto His name?” Left out of account! It glories in its exclusiveness; in what it calls its culture, its high tone. But high tone and culture of that kind fall foul of the hard judgment of a stern world. The entanglement comes; and on goes religion heedless of its loss while enemies arrive with their darts of disestablishment and popular clamour to thrust into the useless body. In its glory there lies its death.
3. Here is an individual whose glory too, has a human source. He believes in himself to the exclusion of all else. He takes some attribute or characteristic of his own, and says, “This is what I am by the grace of my own endeavours.” He owns allegiance to human nature, to the tendencies of the age, until, like Wolsey, he is forced to the bitter cry, “Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, He would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies!” And not infrequently I should say this: “Show me that in which a man prides himself, and I shall know one thing at least that he is not.” Let me take you back to the survey of that image of the sun; and let me ask you to observe one such as I have mentioned, whose sun has nothing but an earthly effulgence and a human light; who circles, for example, about pride, or riches, or merely worldly wisdom; who is content to live in the light of these, and to take the glory of his life from them. And there you have the most terrible of all spectacles, the most ghastly of all weird pictures--a heart without God. A world without its sun! A heart without God! A heart with nothing but its own cherished glory! And that very pride, these very riches, that very worldly wisdom brings him at last under the power of God. On goes eternity, and the wretched man is left behind to realise the truth of these awful words, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
III. Life lies in divine glory. It is a far cry from the Jewish prince to the Gentile preacher, but pass with me to St. Paul. A man “of like passions with you,” he, too, must glory in something; nor, humanly speaking, had he far to seek for a cause. “If I must glory,” he says, “if I must have my one life-support, if I must look somewhere for a spiritual dynamic--then God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ah! there he finds the proper source, the real centre, the bright sun. From over Calvary’s hill there steal the roseate rays of the Sun of Righteousness--and these he seeks to reflect. To glory in a cross--a cross! the badge of infamy--the stamp of shame! Now I see that St. Paul is in the right, that he knows whom he has believed. For in that cross I find the earnest of life eternal and undying love; through that cross I feel the power of God and the wisdom of God; from that cross I see a light that streams across the desert of life. Think of what it typifies and teaches; think of all which led up to it, and all to which it leads, and say, has it not glory sufficient for us to-day? It speaks of a self-renunciation; of a sacrifice solemn and significant, which, while it can never in itself be repeated, may still, thank God, be copied; and what though there be many a shortcoming and many a fault? Lay yourself down before it in heroic martyrdom: cast away the old, dull self: giving is getting with Jesus; and getting with Him is glory. Make it the centre of your spiritual existence; make your life a reflection of. Him who gives it at once its value and its power; and you can say to the worldling, in full assurance of faith--“Death worketh in you; but life in us.” (R. Barclay, M. A.)
The fallen prince
I. Absalom was the beloved child of his parents. Exactly why he was the favourite son cannot, perhaps, be decided. All David’s children were beautiful in person, though Absalom seems to have excelled them all in personal grace. It has been suggested that his mother was a queen, and so he seemed more royal than the rest of the princes.
II. Absalom was the hope of a party in the nation. The country, in his day, was unsettled. Judah had lost the supremacy it had gained during David’s reign in Hebron, and was restless and jealous. David’s neglects were telling on the country, producing discontent. And one great party was looking to Absalom, the affable and kingly son. By his blandishment he stole the hearts of the people, and, on the first favourable opportunity, the people bore him, with a sudden impulse, to the royal throne.
III. Absalom bore some of the penalty of his father’s sins. For the Divine penalties on transgressions come in part by consequences, which are sure to reach beyond the transgressor, and he is punished and wounded in the sufferings of others, often of those nearest and dearest to him. Absalom bore some of the penalty of David’s sin by his wrong-doing.
IV. And Absalom met with a tragic end, A hasty ride through the woods; an overhanging bough; three smitings of the darts; rude hackings of the young men’s swords; and a grave in a pit. (R;. Tuck, B. A.)
The circumstances of Absalom’s death
As the ruined gambler for a crown rode recklessly on in his fear, he was swept out of the saddle by being caught by the low, spreading branches of a great terebinth tree, and the startled mule galloping away, was left hanging there, unable to lift his arms so as to haul himself up. It is from Josephus that we get the statement that Absalom was caught by his hair, which is probable enough, but the lesson does not describe how he was entangled. Perhaps his head was jammed between the forks of some great branch. At all events, there he dangled, half throttled, and utterly incapable of releasing himself. There is something of horror and ghastliness in so strange a fate, as if this criminal was too bad to die by a common death. But there is a deeper lesson in that figure swinging there, with his gay clothing all disordered. God has plenty of instruments to punish evil-doers. “Thousands at his bidding wait.” There is no need for a miracle. He works through the natural operations of his creation. So all things are against the man who is against God, even as all work together for good to those who love Him, and, when He wills, the leafy beauty of the great tree shall be the gallows for the rebel Absalom. “The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” A frightened mule and an unconscious tree bring Absalom to his death. There are no accidents in the great scheme of things. God’s foes have foes in every bush and every beast. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Caught in the maelstrom of vanity and pride
The “Road to Ruin,” taken by Absalom, may be illustrated by what is known of the Maelstrom, a famous whirlpool off the coast of Norway. The immense body of water forming it extends, in a circle, about thirteen miles in circumference. A great rock stands in the midst thereof, against which the tide, when ebbing, beats with inconceivable fury, instantly swallowing up all things coming within the sphere of its violence. No dexterity of steering or strength of rowing on the mariner’s part can accomplish his escape. The most experienced sailor at the helm finds his ship beginning to move in a direction opposite to his efforts and intentions; the motion at first is slow and nearly imperceptible, but becomes every moment more rapid; the vessel goes round in circles, narrowing each time, until, dashed against the central rock, it is lost with all on board. Thus was Absalom borne onward in the ever-narrowing circle of vanity, self-indulgence, and cruel treachery, until he perished in the Maelstrom of Divine Retribution.
2 Samuel 18:18
Now Absalom in his life-time had taken and reared up for himself a pillar.
An infidel at the grave of Absalom
Dr. Eremete Pierrotti, a French scientist, architect, and engineer, when an infidel, journeyed through Palestine with the avowed intention of disproving the truth of the Bible. Visiting the heap of stones over Absalom’s grave, an Arab woman came by with her little child, which she held by the hand. In passing, she threw a stone upon the heap marking the tomb of Absalom, and bade the child do the same. “What do you do that for?” “Because it was the grave of a wicked son who disobeyed his father.” “And who was he?” “The son of David,” she replied. The professor started as if a blow had struck him. Here was an Arab woman, a Mahommedan, who probably had never seen a copy of the Scriptures, and could not read a word of them; yet she held these ancient facts, and was teaching her child to fling a stone at the monument called by the name of a son who rebelled against his father. Dr. Pierrotti, Bible in hand, turned to the story of Absalom, and as he read it a new light shone on him. This was the first of many convictions which so wrought upon him that at length he embraced the faith he once attempted to destroy, and devoted his life to the proof and illustration of the sacred Scriptures.
“The man who deserves a monument never needs one, and the man who needs one never deserves it.”
2 Samuel 18:29
Is the young man Absalom safe?
When a young man is insecure
Beginning from the outside circle, and finding our way to the centre, I am going to recount some of the dangers of young men.
1. “Is the young man safe?” No, certainly not; if he drinks. The cold, stingy, selfish being, it leaves untouched; but, if there is a youth more ardent, warm-hearted, high-spirited than the rest it marks him out for its prey. The young man, we shall suppose, has everything to recommend him. Good talents; pleasing address; excellent penmanship; comes from a good home; brings capital testimonials; but it is whispered, “he drinks!” That is enough. He is not “safe.” All his other advantages will not secure him.
2. “Is the young man safe?” No; if he gambles. It was only lately that a well-known magistrate said: “I wish that the clerks in mercantile houses of London would come to this court, and see what I see, and hear what I hear. This is only one of a multitude of eases where prisoners in your position have confessed that their robberies are entirely clue to betting. I regard it as a curse to the country; because I see how young men are lured until they fall into a state of misery and wretchedness.”
3. “Is the young man safe?” No; if he keeps bad company. Solomon wrote many true things, but he never wrote a truer than this: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but the companion of fools shall be destroyed.” I have seen it again and again. I have seen as fine a fellow as I would ever wish to grasp by the hand, by some evil chance thrown into acquaintanceship with a loose, unprincipled character; and, from the day the intimacy began, there has been a steady and sure degeneracy.
4. “Is the young man safe?” No! if he is idle. I am thankful to say, there are not many of you exposed to that danger. What a sight, to be sure, the great inlets to the City present any week-day morning about ten o’clock! What with the rattling of wheels on the Causeway, the shuffling of feet on the pavement, and the humming of innumerable voices, the hive seems as busy as it can be. But, haven’t you noticed, just once in s while, a man slouching along carelessly about, his hands in his pockets and, vacancy in his eyes? That’s the man the devil thinks he will have an easy job with.
5. “Is the young man safe?” No; if there is anything in his business inconsistent with the strictest integrity. Don’t talk of being “safe,” if you have every day to make a compromise with conscience, and smooth things over the best way you can. I am grieved to say, the mercantile conscience at the present day is not very sensitive. Are there not many houses of business where some of the clerks or assistants might say, “I could tell some things if I would, but I won’t. It’s not all straight and aboveboard. Customers don’t get all for their money they think they are getting.” Are there not things you have to wink at, if you would keep your situation, and get a rise by-and-by? Well, let me assure you of this--that, in the six thousand years of past human history, there has never been so much as one occasion when it was either a man’s duty, Or his real interest to sin against God. It can never be right to do wrong.
6. “Is the young man safe?” No; if he does not make conscience of keeping the Sabbath-day. Apart from our spiritual or highest nature, man needs, his system demands, the rest of the Sabbath. He is not “safe” without it. A celebrated merchant declared, “I should have been a maniac long ago, but for the Sabbath. Really, you are not “safe” without it. The brain is not safe; the intellect is not safe; the nerves--the muscles--the banes--the moral nature--the immortal soul.
7. “Is the young man safe?” No; if he neglects his private devotions, What is that that Christ says? “Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father, which is in secret.” The man who knows nothing of the closed door, and the bended knee, and the earnest breathing up to heaven, is no Christian; put that down for certain. Ah! you may have a nice room, pleasant look-out, clean-curtained windows, cheerful picture or two on the walls; tidy bookshelf, with just a select dozen or two instructive volumes; photographic album, which you often look at, with the faces of those you love most on earth; soft and comfortable pillow to lay your head upon; but--if that is all--O, there is a terrible want there. Can you not point me to the Bible which you nightly study, to the chair at which you daily bend, as you pour out your heart to God? If you can’t, let me tell you, you are not, “safe.” No man can fight life’s battle successfully, and reach heaven in the end, who doesn’t endeavour to spend a little while every day alone with God. Make conscience-work of it. Make a point (as McCheyne used to say) of seeing God’s face the first in the morning and the last at night. (Thain Davidson, D. D.)
A young man’s safety
I. The question of the text is a most suggestive one.
1. Is the young man safe physically. Is his health safe?
2. Is the young man safe intellectually? What is the state of his mind? Have his powers of thought been developed, or dwarfed and stunted? Is he well informed? Is he capable of coming to a correct conclusion concerning any ordinary matter which may be brought before him? Is his mind growing? without which there can be no mental life.
3. Is the young man safe socially? Is his position a good one? Is it likely to lead to a competency, or to sustain him respectably and supply his various wants. Is he safe as regards his knowledge of his trade. Is he a skilful, intelligent mechanic- or a judicious and successful mad of business? These are inquiries which should not be despised. Then, are his companions welt chosen? Are they likely to do him good? Are they on the Lord’s side? What about that nearest of all relations, that dearest of all friends? Has he selected his future wife? If so, has he made a safe venture? Will she prove a true helpmeet to him? Will she sustain him in all his struggles, rejoice with him in his success, weep with him in his trials? Will she make his home, however humble or however splendid it may be, the dearest, sweetest spot in all the earth to him? Will she help him in the path to heaven, or sink him down to hell?
4. Is the young man safe spiritually? In a word, is his soul safe? If he were now to sink in death, what would be his eternal destiny? Has he been accepted and forgiven through the Beloved One? Is his soul the temple of the Holy Spirit? Is life to him Christ? Is his daily experience meetening him for the brighter and better world? Has he determined to give up all things (if necessary) that he may live in Christ and be found in Him? Is he striving to live a divine life among sinful men? Is he endeavouring to put down sin in his body, and to make all his members the servants of righteousness? If not, he is not safe.
II. The question of the text is a very practical one.
1. The first professes large things. He says he is fond of investigating truth, but he will not subscribe to any creed. He will not join any sect, lest his powers of thought should be weakened by contact with men of narrow minds. He will think for himself, and doubtless all will be well at last. Not that he is prepared to accept the dogmas (this is his favourite term) of revealed religion. These may do for the very aged and for children, but not for him. He must have something more reasonable, and more intellectual--something that will expand and exalt his soul. This poor young man may soon be dismissed. He is filled with pride, the condemnation of the devil. He has not yet learnt that before he can enter the kingdom of heaven he must become as a little child. He has no true conception of sin. The idea of the atonement never enters his brain. He either assumes that he is perfectly holy, or God is all merciful, and, therefore, will not bring his venial faults in the judgment against him. Ah, what a mistake is all this!
2. The second is a young man of a totally different order. He is the son of pious parents. He has not a word to say against the gospel, he admits the vast importance of personal religion. He has often been under the influence of the truth, but, alas, he makes no progress heavenward. He grants all you demand, but he does not act upon his concessions. And why? It is his fond hope that after his youthful days are past he will have a more favourable opportunity for doing so than he now possesses. He thinks that the claims of religion and of business would not, in his case, work harmoniously. He, therefore, waits, although persuaded. He postpones the great work of seeking the Lord, although convinced of its last importance. He hopes to die the death of the righteous, but he is not prepared to live his life. He trusts he will reach heaven, but he cannot as yet give up earth. Is this young man safe? Alas, no! He is turned aside by a deceived heart. The devil is leading him captive at his will.
3. The third young man resembles in some points both the second and the first. He is intelligent and studious. He has also been brought under the power of the world to come. He does not, however, satisfy his conscience by saying, “Go thy way for this time, and when I have a convenient season I will send for thee.” On the other hand, he endeavours to obtain peace by a diligent observance of the precepts of the law. As far as outward deportment goes, he is moral, amiable, loving, and kind. His friends unite in pronouncing him a most unexceptionable personage. His praises frequently form the burden of their conversation. They cannot understand why one go very young should be so very scrupulous. He must be right. He must be safe. Let us, however, test him by the Word of God. Have you not read of a young man who came to Jesus saying, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? Here we have a type of the class, one of which I have brought before you. And can we pronounce him safe? Far from it. His morality will not bear the Divine scrutiny. His works, performed as they are in a self-righteous spirit, are an abomination before God.
4. The fourth young man stands before us. Is he safe? Listen. Three years ago he had a dangerous illness. For some time his life trembled in the balance. Brought face to face with death, he felt that he was not prepared for its stroke. Though very young the thought of eternity filled him with terror. The sins of his youth weighed him down. Should he die he would be lost for ever. At this juncture a pious and judicious friend visited him and spoke of the great truths of salvation. The young man listened with eagerness to his description of the death of Jesus. Not that what he now beam was wholly new to him. He had heard it from his mother, as in early childhood he sat upon her knee. He had heard it from his Sabbath school teacher, he had heard it also from his father, as he knelt by his dying bed, to receive his last benediction; but now, it came to him with new and peculiar power. Thoughts and feelings were awakened which had before found no place in his bosom. Was there mercy for him? Would Jesus receive, forgive, and bless him? He would read the Gospel and see for himself. He did so, and before many days had gone by, he cried to Him who is able to save to the very uttermost, “Lord, save me, or I perish.” His earnest supplication was not in vain. The Saviour was exceedingly gracious to him at the voice of his cry. The burden of his sin was taken away. The peace of God filled his soul. He felt that from henceforth he was the Lord’s. Through the good providence of God his life was spared, and since his recovery he has carried out the resolutions which he made upon his sick bed. Resting upon Jesus himself, he has endeavoured to induce others to do the same, and not a few of his former companions can testify that his efforts have not been made in vain. Need I say that this young man is safe. No fears can be enter-rained on his account. He is safe because he is in Christ.
III. The question of the text is a very urgent one. There are some inquiries which we may postpone for a season without loss. It is not essential to our well-being that we should answer them at once. The one before us is, however, of a very different character. “Is the young man safe?” This is the most important question to which your attention can be directed; it demands and deserves your instant consideration-let me therefore press it upon you--young men, are you safe? Are the Saviour’s arms around and beneath you? Are you in the enjoyment of his love?
1. Your danger makes this question a very urgent one.
2. The greatness of the interest at stake makes this an urgent question. It may be that you have not realized your capacity. You do not know your value. Think what you may become even on earth. You may be a useful member of society--the delight, the joy, the blessing of your social circle. It is also in your power to do much for Jesus. You can so labour that many will rise up to call you blessed.
3. The necessities of the world make this an urgent question. Young men are wanted in every department of Christian agency. The cry is, everywhere, “Give us men; give us young men.” They are wanted in the Sabbath school. They are wanted in the mission field abroad. Young men, you live in important times. You are wanted. The church wants you. Christ wants you. Bending from his throne he says, “Who will go for us?” Will you not reply, “Here am I, send me.” Finally, whether we are old or young, let us gather around the cross; let us bow at the feet of Jesus. That is the most blessed spot in the universe. There is safety there! (H. B. Ingram.)
An anxious enquiry for a beloved son
How many there are at this present moment who have, no doubt, other very weighty businesses, but whose one only thought just now is, “Is the young man safe? Is my son safe? Is my father safe? Is my wife safe?” A vessel has gone down in the river with hundreds on board, and weeping friends are going hither and thither from place to place, hoping and yet fearing to identify the corpse of some beloved one; longing to find one who has not been heard of since the fatal hour, and trembling all the while lest they should find him or her among the bodies which have been drawn from the cold stream. The one thought uppermost with scores to-night is this one--“Is my beloved one safe?” Do you blame them? They are neglecting business, and forsaking their daily toil, but do you blame them? A hundred weighty things are forgotten in the one eager enquiry: do you, can you, blame them? Assuredly not. It is natural, and it is, therefore, I think, but right.
I. This question of anxiety--“Is the young man Absalom safe?”
1. And the first remark is, it is a question asked by a father concerning his son. “Is he safe?”
2. This was a question asked about a son who had left his father’s house. “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
3. It is the question of a father about his rebellious son.
4. The question of a parent concerning a son who, if he were not safe, but dead, was certainly in a very dreadful plight. “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
5. This was a question, alas! which was asked by a father about a son who was really dead at the time when the question was asked. It was late in the day to enquire for Absalom’s safety; for it was all over with that rebellious son.
II. You have had the question; we are now to speak upon some occasions when that question would very naturally be used. “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
1. The question would be used, of course, in times, like the present, in reference to this mortal life. When a fearful calamity has swept away hundreds at a stroke such an enquiry is on every lip.
2. Times of disease, also, raise such enquiries. Well do I recollect some four-and-twenty years ago, when first I came to London, it was my painful duty to go, not only by day, but by night, from house to house where the cholera was raging; and almost every time I met the beloved friends at Park Street it was my sorrow to hear it said, “Mr. So-and-so is dead. Mistress A. or B. is gone,” till I sickened myself from very grief. It was then most natural that each one should say concerning, his relative at a little distance, “Is he still alive? Is he still safe?”
3. But sometimes we have to ask this question about friends and children, with regard to their eternal life. They are dead, and we are fearful that they did not die in Christ, and therefore we enquire, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
4. “Is the young man Absalom safe?” is a more practical question when we put it about young people and old people, when they are still alive, and we are anxious about their spiritual condition. “Is the young man Absalom safe?” That is to say, is he really safe for the future--for this world and for the world to come?
III. The third point is to be the answers which we have to give to this question--“IS the young man Absalom safe?” This question has often bean sent up by friends from the country about their lads who have come to London--“Is my boy Harry safe? Is my son John safe?” Answer, sometimes: “No, no. He is not safe. We are sorry to say that he is in great danger.” I will tell you when we know he is not safe.
1. He is not safe if, like Absalom, he is at enmity with his father. Oh, no.
2. “Is the young man safe?” Well, no. We have seen him lately in bad company. He has associated with other young men who are of loose morals.
3. And he is not safe, because he has taken to indulge in expensive habits. “Absalom prepared him,” it is said, “chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.” This extravagance was a sign of evil. A youth who lavishes money upon needless luxuries is not safe.
4. Another thing. The young man Absalom is not safe, as you may see, if you look at his personal appearance. We read, “But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty.” Let young men and women dress according to their stations; we are not condemning them for that. I recollect Mr. Jay saying, “If you ladies will tell me your income to a penny, I will tell you how many ribbons you may wear to a yard;” and I think that I might venture to say the same.
5. And we are sure the young man Absalom is not safe, when he has begun to be vicious. You recollect what Absalom did.
6. “Is the young man Absalom safe?” No, David, he is not, for the last time we saw him he was in a battle, and the people were dying all around him, and therefore he is not safe. How can he be safe where others fail? Yes, and I saw the young man come out of a low place of amusement late one night, and I thought, “No, the young man Absalom is not safe there, for many perish there.” I heard of his betting at the races, and I thought, “The young man Absalom is not safe, for multitudes are ruined there.” I saw him in loose company one evening, and I said, “No, the young man Absalom is not safe: he is surrounded by those who hunt for the precious life.” It is never safe for us to be where other people fall; because if they perish, why should not we?
7. Now, the young man is here to-night who will answer to the next description. He is a very nice young fellow. He is a great hearer and lover of the gospel word, but he is not decided. He has never taken his stand with God’s people, confessing Christ as his Lord. Is the young man safe? Oh, no. He is very hopeful, God bless him! We will pray him into safety if we can; but he is not safe yet. Those people who were almost saved from the wreck of the Princess Alice were drowned; and those persons who are almost saved from sin are still lost. If you are almost alive you are dead.
8. A pleasant task remains, I will now answer that question with a happy, “Yes.” Yes, the young man Absalom is safe. Why?
(1) Well, first, because he is a believer in Christ.
(2) The young man is saved, for he loves the gospel. He will not go to hear anything but the gospel.
(3) I know he in safe, for he is very humble, He is not perfect yet: he does not say that he is, nor boast of his attainments. He does not want to be the forehorse of the team, he is willing to he placed anywhere so that he can be useful. Moreover, he is very diffident of himself. He is afraid sometimes to put one foot before another for fear he should take a wrong step. He is always going on his knees to ask for direction; he waits upon God for guidance, and does not dare to do anything without the direction of the word and the Spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Absalom: Spiritual insecurity
Absalom, like every man in to-day’s battle, was in danger. He was not merely running risk in battle, but he had other risks. Of the chances of battle only his father thought, but the young man was in danger from other things. His own vanity was a danger. See how proud he was of those locks of his. See how he yielded to the vanity of thinking himself fit to sway a sceptre; and yet he was more fitted to handle brazen mirrors. See how to vanity was added another danger, ambition--the sin by which the angels fell. This formed the base of his character. Through this he even flattered those whom he wished to win to his purposes. If any were drunken he could quaff wine with them; if profane he could swear with them; if lustful he could match the worst in sensual suggestions. See further, how he took bad advice from evil associates. See, too, how a fancied inviolability endangered him. He had his greatest foes within, His danger was in proportion to the badness of his character--and we shall hardly find a worse in the whole Bible. And these risks are for all in the battle of life. It is a hand to hand struggle. We know not all the risks, for We cannot tell to what this life leads. We know not what consequences may follow on neglect or defeat, and what on triumph. We know we have to resist sin. It is sufficient for us to know that it must be conquered, or that it will ruin us. Sin will assume various forms, will assault now in solid phalanx, now single-handed and alone from behind some shelter. It does not use the same weapons with all With one it tries vanity, with another ambition, with another indolence, or lying, or greed, and with another sensuality, or inebriety. Some it allures into vicious company, others it destroys by leading to the indulgence of a selfish isolation, a spirit that will let none know their plans, share their pleasures or possessions--a spirit that nourishes a self-complacency and self-righteousness--a spirit that perhaps laughs at spiritual struggles, and seeks to dissipate the most sacred and treasured truths by a bitter sneer. Sin is a treacherous foe. A man must beware of thinking that because he has no temptation to steal, to swear, to waste money, to rejoice in lewd company, to frequent places of bad repute,, and to imbibe strong liquors with the revellers, that, therefore, he is free from danger. He may be in danger, from his thoughts when he sits alone, or when he wanders alone m the streets; for as a young man said, “There is no place of danger equal to the streets of a great city after dark” This witness is true.
2. The anxiety of David for that young man Absalom was as keen as his love was unquenchable. It is remarkable that the king did not cast off all care for one who was so unworthy. Though a king, he was a father. Absalom’s guilt was deep, but his father’s love was deeper.
(1) David loved Absalom because he was his son. The ties of blood are strong.
(2) The king not only loved but made every excuse possible for his erring son. He tried to believe that Absalom was only the tool of one more skilful and bitter, Ahithophel. His son was a willing tool. Still it was like David to admit every possible extenuation of Absalom’s guilt. And was he better than our Father? Does not God make every excuse for us? The cry of Jesus on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” is a revelation of the heart of God.
(3) David was anxious for his son because he knew something of the danger of being cut off in iniquity. The revelation to him was meagre, but enough. He knew that in the death of the sinner there was no hope. To the Cross, then. There the stain of ingratitude can be removed, there the look of Christ can melt the heart, there the peace of Christ can free the soul, there the power of Christ can sustain the soul, there can be given strength to resist in life’s battle, there the mystery of life can be solved, and the fret of life broken. There we, shall learn to avoid tampering with all sin. (F. Hastings.)
The four great passes
I propose to speak about the safety of young men.
I. The first great pass in a young man’s life when he needs Divine help is when he chooses his occupation or profession. It is a serious moment when a young man gets through with his schooling, and perhaps leaves his father’s house, and says: “Now, what shall I be?” Mechanism opens before him a score of trades, and professional life opens before him seven or eight callings. He must choose between these, and must choose aright, for if he make a mistake here he is gone. I have a friend who started life in merchandise. Then he went into the medical profession. After awhile he crossed over into specific surgery. Then he entered the ministry. Then he became a soldier in the army. After that he entered the ministry again, and is now a surgeon. O! if he had only had God at the start to tell him what to do.
II. The second great pass in life when a young man wants Divine direction is when he establishes his own household. When a man builds his earthly home, he decides his eternity. I know that affiancing is usually looked upon as something to be merry over, instead of something to be prayed about; but what step is there fraught with such weal or woe? Is it not strange that an affair charged with such temporal and eternal import should depend on a whim or a glance? I do not think I put the ease too strongly when I say that when a young man marries he marries for heaven or hell! If he brings into his household the right kind of influences, the home will be elevated and upward in its impulsions. If he bring the wrong kind of influences into his house he will go down--he must go down. A minister of the Gospel came into a home where there was great poverty and destitution, and it was generally supposed that the poverty came from the fact that these people had married too early; and after the minister had looked around upon the utter want and destitution, and had rehearsed the misfortunes that had come upon the household, he turned to the poor man and said: “Don’t you now regret your early marriage? Don’t you think it was your great mistake in life?” And the man halted for a moment, and his eyes filled up with tears, and he looked up at his poorly-clad wife and said: “No, sir; she has been the same to ms all through!”
III. The third great pass in life in which a young man wants religion is in the time of his first success. You say: “Here I have money now of my own. What shall I do with it? What investments shall I make? What house shall I buy? What wardrobe shall I create? What shall I get? What charities, what philanthropies, shall I favour?” That is the crisis where thousands of men upset. Some of them rush into dissipations. A man wants the grace of Christ at that crisis to keep him rightly balanced.
IV. The fourth great pass in a young man’s life when he needs the grace of God is when he comes to his first sorrow. It is preposterous for us to launch young men on life with the idea that they are going to have it smooth all the way. There will be storms. You want extra cordage. I know when our last war was over, some people came back without a scratch or a scar, but that is not so in the great battle of life: we get wounded in the hands, and wounded in the feet, and wounded in the head, and wounded in the heart. No man escapes. But now, what are you going to do with your first sorrow? The way you get through your first sorrow will decide whether you can endure the other sorrows of life. (T. De Witt Talmaqe, D. D.)
The death of Absalom
Let us gather up some of the lessons of this narrative:--
I. God’s restraining and over-ruling hand amid the plans of wicked men. Absalom was free to act upon the sagacious (albeit cruelly unfilial) advice of Ahithophel; but he rejected it. He was free to reject the plausible advice of Hushai; but he chose to act upon it. “For the Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel to the intent that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom.” But the Lord’s appointment worked not counter to, but through, the free choice of Absalom. Human freedom is a fact of individual consciousness. We know we are free, and vet we also know, from the Scriptures of truth and the teachings of history, that, in spite of all opposition, “the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” Through the very folly and sin of men God is working out His own great, pure purpose, and yet man is none the less guilty.
II. Women’s work is David’s preservation. A female servant--a woman can go unsuspected to En-rogel, the Fuller’s well--“went and told them.” She was a faithful messenger; quickly, silently went and returned, and kept to herself the matter. Presently the young men were seen, suspected, and pursued by Absalom’s servants: tracked to the man’s house in Bahurim,” where in a dry well they were hiding, and where, but for the woman of the house, they had doubtless been detected. She “took and spread a covering over the well’s mouth, and spread ground corn thereon; and the thing was not known.” And with evasive answer she baffled and sent away the pursuers. Had it been otherwise in the conduct of these women, it had been doubtless greatly otherwise with David’s safety. Women have played no unimportant part in the needed revolutions of nations; and, more valuable still, in the extension of Christ’s kingdom. They ministered to the Lord of their substance during His life on earth. When men were faithless they were faithful to Him. In all time since they, loyal to His throne, have been hastening His kingdom. How many are doing it to-day! Women, of whom the world knows little if anything; mothers among their children; servants at their lowly toil; within the narrow walls of home or but a little way beyond them, found faithful, and so by every pure true word every kindly deed, speeding the universal answer to their daily prayer, “Thy Kingdom come!”
III. The end of wounded pride. That Ahithophel was a sagacious man is clear. That he was a proud man is equally clear. But when preference was given to Hushai’s advice his pride was cut to the quick. So home went the angry, bitter man. He “put his household in order,” and then, the first of recorded suicides, “hanged himself.” Stupendous folly to think more of the “order” of his household--leaving all his affairs carefully arranged--than of the safety of his soul. Unbidden, his sins upon him, he rushed into the presence of his Maker. “Pride goeth before destruction”--in his case self-destruction. It must be destroyed if the soul is to live.
IV. The doom of un-filial ingratitude and rebellion. Sudden, irresistible, as bolt from clear skies, came his doom. Such a doom l What thoughts must have thronged him in his last awful moments! Alas for the young man Absalom! Let young men and women remember that punishment for disobedience to parents is inevitable. Many today axe bearing it in silent, unutterable remorse. Would that they could recall the dead! Would that in some little way, by present love and tenderness, they could show repentance for the unfilial past! But the dead come no more!
V. How parental love appears in parental anxiety and sorrow! The heart of David is made bare to us in this narrative. It is all tenderness towards Absalom. He sees him in the light of many a beautiful memory. The child Absalom! The youth! The faultless loveliness of form! The luxuriant and splendid locks that crowned him! The fond words when the young prince had nestled in his arms! It all lives to David. His one anxiety is for Absalom’s safety. Victory will be blurred into defeat if he should perish. All day long waits the king for the battle-news; all the news shrunken to this, “What, what of Absalom?” And when the news is known, the king creeps out of sight of men, weeping, weeping as he goes, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Oh! the sad, sad cry! Heard, alas! to-day, where homes mourn over the lost, and parents’ hearts break.
There is no far nor near,
There is neither there nor here,
There is neither soon nor late,
In that Chamber over the Gate,
Nor any long ago
To that cry of human woe,
O Absalom, my son!
From the ages that are past
The voice comes like a blast,
Over seas that wreck and drown,
Over tumult of traffic and town;
And from ages yet to be
Come the echoes back to me,
O Absalom, my son!
Somewhere at every hour,
The watchman on the tower
Looks forth, and sees the fleet
Approach of the hurrying feet
Of messengers, that bear
The tidings of despair.
O Absalom, my son!
But David’s voice dies into silence. We hear another--a greater--the greatest of all. “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.” (G. J. Coster.)
Is the young man safe?
There may be very much put together in a small space. We have in this Book a library in a volume; and we have in this one sentence s world of meaning. Let us endeavour to realise this. “Safe!” This is a very short word, soon spoken; but how much solemn meaning is there in that one word! When is the young man safe?
1. Not while he is in sin; not, while, like the unhappy Absalom, any sin has dominion over him; not while the corruption of nature is unsubdued and unconquered; not while religion is an appearance, and if not, as with Absalom, an actor’s mask, yet only an empty name, and a dead formality
(1) Do generous feelings make him safe? The lost Absalom had those feelings.
(2) Do ability and talent make the young man safe? Absalom clearly had these! He climbed to power by the exercise of the very same talents which have placed many in our own times and many in all times in the high places of the State; for the language of the aspirant to power is often Absalom’s very words--“Oh! that I were made judge; see what I would do if I were in power.” Do religious education end training make the young man safe? David’s son had doubtless these. He who himself so “loved the habitation of God’s house and the place where His honour dwelt,” would not fail to take his children there, and try to make them also love it.
(3) Do power, riches, high rank, make the young man safe? Absalom had all these; yet power only created the thirst for more power; the prince’s coronet made him long for the king’s crown; the rank he had raised him so near to what he wished to have, that he grasped at it, and fell off the stage into hopeless ruin.
(4) Do health, strength, or beauty make the young man safe? They were instruments to win admiration, to conciliate favour; but because their unhappy possessor was himself wrong, all these were only instruments of evil, and the beautiful mass of his curling ringlets only furnished a hangman’s rope to execute their condemned possessor.
2. What does make the young man safe? Is it to be never tempted? If this be safety, then who is safe? We may flee from the gay and busy world, we may hide ourselves in the secluded cave, we may shut ourselves in the lonely cloister. Will there be no temptation there? Does memory cease there? Does busy fancy leave off painting her airy pictures there? Does the corrupt heart not go with us into that seclusion? “I have been dancing at Rome,” said one of old, “when I was shut up in my cave in the wilderness.” Do barred doors shut out the spirit that tempts man? or can man leave behind him that nature which the prince of this world, when he comes, finds as tinder to catch his sparks, as rotten wood for his fiery darts to lodge in? If that man only is “safe” who is out of the reach of temptation, then none is safe at all, for all are tempted. Is any one “safe,” then? Yes. Look at this young man. He is young; life is bursting upon him; and who knows not the peculiar freshness of opening life? The bright flowers of the early spring, the warm fresh breeze loaded with the sweetness of the hawthorn, the fresh green grass, like a springing carpet under his elastic tread, the glorious sea of blue above, with its floating isles of cloud, give sensations of joy as intense, and pleasure as keen to him as to any others. But he sees more than some in these sights, and he hears more than others in these sounds. He sees the Maker in His works; he reads something of the skill that planned, the Power that executed, the perpetual Presence that works in all the things around. And he sees more. He sees a Father’s love at every turn, strewing His children’s path with love and blessing. Thus, then, we can answer the questions--What it is to be safe? and, when alone can we say that the young man is safe? The Scripture answers, by telling us that then and then only is the young or the old safe, when God has made the heart of man His own habitation by the Spirit, and when Satan, and the world, and the flesh have not to contend with poor weak, frail man, but with man aided, and assisted, and governed by the eternal God. (W. W. Champneys, M. A.)
To young man
This is the question of the home. Like David, every parent should be on the watch-tower of solicitude, to see whether it is “well with the child.” Parents ought to watch how their children fight life’s battle, for they have many foes and a hard conflict. This question of parental love asked in due season will help and may save them: “Is the young man safe?” It is also the question of the Church. Upon her battlements must be the watchtower, from which words of warning should be uttered. The paths of youth are slippery. A young man safe at thirty is, as a rule, safe for ever. All young men need the grace of God and the wise counsel of their elders. Paul says, “Young men exhort to be soberminded.”
I. Is he safe as to his training? A question for home and school. Parents are the world’s rulers. Children are imitators, living phonographs. What they see and hear they reproduce. They will live the home life over again in the habits and characters formed there. As to character, in a life of eighty years, the first twenty form the bigger half. The first colours in the mind of a child are eternal. What means the proverb, “Once a man, twice a child?” Not the weakness of old age only, but that as the outward man perishes we return to the scenes of childhood.
II. Is he safe as to his calling? Is he suited to his calling? If not, he cannot be safe. He is where he ought not to be; and if so, what chance has he for happiness or success? What irreparable wrong is wrought when parents insist on their son following trades or professions wholly distasteful to them! Nature’s providence gives most men a genius for doing certain things easily and well. We should follow those lines of least resistance. A gifted youth was tied to a trade he loathed. He had to follow life on these lines of greatest resistance, and with a sad result. That life was wrecked through harsh and unwise treatment at the outset. Assistants like young Adam Clarke have been asked to become partakers of their masters’ sins and to put their hands to evil. If all practised the golden rule, trade and commerce would soon pass out of the region of questionable methods. John Wesley used to tell his helpers, “Be ashamed of nothing but sin; no, not of cleaning your own shoes, when necessary.”
III. Is he safe as to his companions? Absalom was not. He mixed with a set of vain and worthless flatterers, who made him as bad as themselves. He listened to them until they fed his ambition and puffed him up. A youth is known by the company he keeps. Woe be to the unwary who are beguiled by evil companions! Their steps lead to the gates of hell. Dr. Stalker says there are two methods of meeting temptation: one the method of restraint, the other that of counter-attraction. And, like Ulysses, who was tied to the mast of his ship and saved himself from the sirens, so there is many a cord by which young men may secure themselves. Love of home, of church, of school, and of Christian work, is a silver cord to keep them safe in willing bonds, bound yet free. And as Orpheus destroyed the charm of the inferior music by his superior strains, so there are counter-attractions by seeking which young men may be safe. Instead of evil companions, seek good ones.
IV. Is he safe as to his pleasures? He must have them. The bow cannot be always strung. Hobbies and habits make life. It is true, as Mr. Gladstone says, that “change of labour is to a great extent the best form of recreation”; but it must not be always conscious labour That duty must be lost in the joy. To be always on duty, to be ever hearing the wheels of life’s machinery, is to make life a treadmill. Such a youth will lack imagination, enthusiasm, and faith. But do our pleasures recreate? Do they give muscle to body, and force to mind? Do they send us back to our task strong and glad? If so, they are true pleasures.
V. Is he safe in his success? Some men can endure sorrow, but cannot stand success. In its slippery paths they become giddy and fall. Sorrow and adversity brace them, and they are brave and patient, and play the man; but prosperity--wealth, popularity, influence--enervates, and their strength becomes weakness. When the world smiles, “pride compasseth them about,” and soon they fall. Men sometimes fail at the strongest point; like Edinburgh Castle, which was once taken on the rocky side, supposed to be impregnable.
VI. Is he safe in the hour of death? Alas! Absalom was not. Here was the pathos of David’s lament. “My son, would God I had died for thee!” The shafts of death strike young and old. He who can face the grim monster is a man every inch of him. We are only safe in the arms of Jesus. (Joseph Johns.)
The safety of the young
I. That the young are exposed to special dangers.
1. Youth is a time of special susceptibility. While the grown tree will sooner break than bend, the sapling may be trained any way.
2. It is a time of ingenuous trustfulness. Much of the folly of young people may be attributed to their ignorance of the world. They see the flower, and have no suspicion of the serpent that lies concealed under it. No guilt can be greater, no sin more diabolical, than that of him who trades upon the unsuspiciousness of innocence.
3. It is a time of special impulsiveness. The young have fresh blood coursing in their veins; and the freshness of their physical being is but a type of that which characterises their whole moral and spiritual nature.
4. It is a time when new thoughts and opinions are most readily received. In a certain sense men naturally grow more conservative as they grow older. The very changableness of youth betokens the readiness with which their minds can be guided into fresh and ennobling trains of thought. The great want of youth is guidance: not restraint, but direction; not stern and repellant commands, so much as counsel.
5. It is the time when life habits are definitely formed. It is then the metal is poured into the mould, and the image stands forth through life with shape of unsightly deformity or graceful beauty. The wax is soft; but will soon harden under the impression of a Divine likeness or of one debased.
II. That the safety of the young is a question for special inquiry. “Is the young man safe?” A question for--
1. Parents. What is the character of the home-influence? Parents must take” their choice. They must either make the life and lessons--the love and the pleasures--of home more attractive and winning than those of the street; or they must pass through bitter experiences in the midst of which they need not Wonder at the ruin of their sons and daughters.
2. Employers. What is the example in trade life? What are the associations of the workshop and the warehouse? Are not assistants and apprentices too often left as isolated atoms on the surging sea of life? “What care they for the world that cares not for them?”
3. The Church. What is the Church doing? Are not Young Men’s Christian Associations in some sense so many testimonies against the Church on account of neglected duty.
4. Young men themselves. Humanly speaking, there is no help like self-help. Dare to be men--to stand alone. Yet not alone; since Christ waits to take you under His protection. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” (F. Wagstaff.)
The dangers of young men
When a youth has left his father’s house, and gums to mingle with the world, to be exposed to its storms, its temptations, its deceitful fascinations, it is just thus that his anxious parents question every one who has come from the place of his abode, “Is the young man safe?”
I. The dangers to which young men are exposed. There are, first, dangers incidental to their time of life. Every one knows that there are certain stages of life fraught with more importance, and consequently more perilous, than others. This is true physically; for medical men will tell you, that when the child passes into the boy, when the boy merges into the young man, when the young man bursts into the full bloom of manhood, and again when the man, at what is called his grand climacteric, crosses the boundary of old age--these are all critical times; and that diseases which at any other period would be thrown of[ with ease, become then dangerous, and often fatal. Now the same thing holds of the moral and spiritual development of a man; arid there are stages of his soul-history which are just as critical and momentous for his eternal interests, as those which I have specified are for his physical.
1. There is great peril springing out of the inexperience by which a youth is characterised. Everything is new and strange to him; and when, for the first time, he embarks upon the troubled sea of commercial life, not Columbus himself, as in fear and trembling he pushed on and on over the wide waste of waters, and
“Was the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea,”
was more: inexperienced in navigation than is he. He is out of sight of his old landmarks; he knows neither the dangers that encircle him, nor the currents in the midst of which his course is to be pursued. He has everything to learn, and everything to know.
2. But added to this inexperience, and, indeed, intensifying the danger that results from it, is that self-conceit, or self-confidence, by which every youth is pre-eminently distinguished. Though he knows so little, he imagines he knows everything; indeed, just because he knows so little, he fancies he is exceedingly intelligent; for the law is an invariable one, that the more a man knows the more he knows his ignorance; while, on the other hand, the greater a man’s ignorance, the greater, too, is his ignorance of his ignorance.
3. But a third danger, incidental to the time of life at which a young man has arrived, rises out of that impatience of control which marks the time of transition between youth and manhood. Love of liberty is a good thing, but it Is apt to become, love of licence; and this is the danger of which we speak. Now, this ordinarily makes its appearance first in breaking through parental restraint.
II. A second class of dangers to young men spring from the place where their life is spent. Every locality has its own peculiar moral atmosphere, which is laden with its own poisons to the soul. The rural life has its peculiar tendencies, which you may see any day fully developed in the agricultural labourers of England, many of whom are, in almost every respect, very little above the level of the brutes they drive. Quiet provincial towns have also their own perils; and many a man who would have done well, if only kept hard at work, under a pushing master in a city, is lost for this life, and frequently also lost for eternity, from the dawdling, idling, tippling habits which in such places have so powerful sway. The ruin of many men, in such half-dead localities, is that they have not nearly enough to do, and Satan finds abundance of employment for their leisure hours.
III. Young men are exposed to danger also from the tendencies of the age in which their lot is cast. Whatever these tendencies may be, they are most powerfully felt by youth; because, from the position they occupy--being, in fact, the population of the future--they are all brought to bear upon them. I will simply mention two.
1. There is intellectualism. No one, who is at all conversant with the literature of the day, will deny that the tendency of the greater part of it is to place the intellect on the throne of the soul, and indeed also of the world. Religion is nothing; intellect is everything. The Bible is far behind the advanced thinkers of the age. It is antiquated, obsolete, effete. Its day is gone; and now intellect, not faith, must rule supreme. Now, intellect is good, very excellent good, but yet it is not God; and its province is to sit meek and believing at the feet of Jesus. I want intellect. I want the young men of our times to be sturdy thinkers, men of mind; men who can take a subject and resolve it into its elements, and reason it out to its remotest consequences. But I want them also to know and understand that the Bible is the most intellectual book in the world. Was Paul not intellectual? Is not his little finger thicker than the loins even of the stoutest champions of intellect in modern times? And if you look at the history of the world, man for man, I will bring you a more intellectual Christian, over against your most powerful and profound infidels. There is the erudite Leibnitz over against the pantheistic Spinoza; against the flippant Voltaire, we have the thoughtful Pascal, in any of whose suggestive fragments there is more mind than in all Voltaire’s books put together. Over against the sentimental Rousseau, we can put the mild, loving, John-like Fenelon. And where among the would-be pretentious intellectualists of to-day will you find the equal of Jonathan Edwards, John Foster, or Robert Hall? Be not blinded, my young friends, with the dust which these men would raise around you; depend upon it, the highest intellect will be found in meekest humility, sitting at Jesus’ feet.
2. But another danger assailing young men, from the tendencies of the age, is Mammonism. Every one must see that, especially in commercial centres like this, the prevailing idolatry is the worship of the golden calf. The maxim of the day is that held up to scorn by the old Roman satirist, “Get riches, honestly if you can; but by all means, get riches;” and the prevailing heresy is, the determination at all hazards to be wealthy. Young man, ask thyself this, “What shall it profit me if I should gain the whole world and lose my own soul?” (W. M. Taylor, M. A.)
Safety for young men
The fact is that this life is full of peril. He who undertakes it without the grace of God and a proper understanding of the conflict into which he is going, must certainly be defeated. Just look off upon society to-day. Look at the shipwreck of men for whom fair things were promised, and who started life with every advantage. Look at those who have dropped from high social position, and from great fortune, disgraced for time, disgraced for eternity. All who sacrifice their integrity come to overthrow. Take a dishonest dollar and bury it in the centre of the earth, and keep all the rocks of the mountain on top of it; then cover these rocks with all the diamonds of Golconda, and all the silver of Nevada, and all the gold of California and Australia, and put on the top of these all banking and moneyed institutions, and they cannot keep down that one dishonest dollar. That one dishonest dollar in the centre of the earth will begin to heave and rock and upturn itself until it comes to the resurrection of damnation.
I. The first safeguard of which i want to speak is a love of home.
II. Another safeguard for young men is industrious habit. Young man, you must have industry of head, or hand, or foot, or perish! Do not have the idea that you can get along in the world by genius. The curse of this country to-day is geniuses--men with large self-conceit and nothing else.
III. Another safeguard that i want to present to young men is a high ideal of life. Sometimes soldiers going into battle shoot into the ground instead of into the hearts of their enemies. They are apt to take aim too low, and it is very often that the captain, going into conflict with his men, will cry out, “Now, men, aim high!” The fact is that in life a great many men take no aim at all. The artist plans out his entire thought before he puts it upon canvas, before he takes up the crayon or the chisel. An architect thinks out the entire building before the workmen begin. Although everything may seem to be unorganised, that architect has in his mind every Corinthian column, every Gothic arch, every Byzantine capital. A poet thinks out the entire plot of his poem before he begins to chime the cantos of tinkling rhythms. And yet there are a great many men who start the important structure of life without knowing whether it is going to be a rude Tartar’s hut or a St. Mark’s Cathedral, and begin to write out the intricate poem of their life without knowing whether it is to be a Homer’s “Odyssey” or a rhymester’s botch. Out of one thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine have no life-plot. Booted and spurred and caparisoned, they hasten along, and I run out and say: “Hallo, man! Whither away?” “Nowhere!” they say.
IV. Another safeguard is a respect for the Sabbath. Tell me how a young man spends his Sabbath, and I will tell you what are his prospects in business, and I will tell you what are his prospects for the eternal world. God has thrust into our busy life a sacred day when we are to look after our souls. Is it exorbitant, after giving six days to the feeding and clothing of these perishable bodies, that God should demand one day for the feeding and clothing of the immortal soul?
V. The great safeguard for every young man is the Christian religion. Nothing can take the place of it. You may have gracefulness enough to put to the blush Lord Chesterfield; you may have foreign languages dropping from your tongue; you may discuss laws and literature; you may have a pen of unequalled polish and power; you may have so much business tact that you can get the largest salary in a banking house; you may be as sharp as Herod and as strong as Samson, and with as long locks as those which hung Absalom, and yet you have no safety against temptation. Your great want is a new heart, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I tell you so to-day, and the blessed Spirit presses through the solemnities of this hour to put the cup of life to your thirsty lips. Oh, thrust it not back r Mercy presents it--bleeding mercy, long-suffering mercy. Despite all other friendships, prove recreant to all other bargains, but despise God’s love for your dying soul--do not do that. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Self-indulgence does not get the most out of life
One of the most frequent pleas for self-indulgence is that life was given us that we might get the most out of it. We were born with so many capacities of enjoyment; would it not be foolish, not to say ungrateful, to leave them unsatisfied? The general principle to which appeal is here made is absolutely sound. God means us to get the most out f every gift of His providence. The question turns entirely upon the comparative merits of different means of attempting this. We do not get the most out of a two-hundred-pound piano if we use it for strumming dance music. We do not get the most out of a surgical instrument of finely tempered steel if we cut the leaves of a new magazine with it. We do not get the most out of a rapid newspaper-printing press if we set it to print post cards. In the same way, we should not get the most out of Mr. Edison by engaging him to repair motor cars, or out of Principal Fairbairn by placing him in charge of a class in a kindergarten. The only way to utilise either an instrument or a man to the full is to occupy that instrument or that man in the highest and most difficult service--a service limited only by the extent of capacity. From a merely business point of view, it is stupid policy to allow a high-grade apparatus to do a low-grade work. Such is the waste and such the degradation whenever a being, created in the image of God, surrenders himself to the temptation of the senses. He appraises himself at the minimum rate, not at the maximum. It is getting the least, not the most, out of life, to acquire only those things that “perish with the using.” (H. W. Horwill.)
I saw a great tumult, but I know not what it was.
Garbling the truth
The most delicate question in morals that people in general have to solve is, how far kindness justifies falsehood? How far may you veil or colour the truth in order to spare people’s feelings? In the short run, taking the one case by itself, tenderness seems better than truth. It seems more right to save your friend from pain than to tell him how things really stand. But in the long run, I fancy, pure truthfulness would give the most pleasure and save the most pain. Not, of course, that you need go about telling uncalled for truths; but all you do say shored be unswervingly straightforward. What comfort there is in a man or woman in whom you know there is no guile, in whose words you can wholly trust, without having to take off an unknown quantity that may have been put on to please you. On the other hand, people like the Irish, who are so kindly that they will be always garbling the truth into an agreeable shape--how they vex your soul--how you long for rough, homely truthfulness, instead of such “making things pleasant.” (Charles Buxton, M. P.)
2 Samuel 18:32
The enemies of my lord the king . . . be as that young man is.
I. a prophetical prayer.
1. Prayer is of two sorts: for or against. As
(1) for good; so,
(2) against the evil; both, things and persons. This is against a kind of prayer; indeed, an imprecation. Two things give forth themselves in the prayer. The parties are first the king’s enemies; then those that rise up against him (that is) the king’s rebels. Two diverse kinds: neither superfluous. For there be no tautologies in Scripture: no doubling the point there, but with some advantage, ever. The wish is that they may be as Absalom. And two things are in that wish: Be as he; that is, not perish only (that is, not all), but perish, and so perish as he did. How was that? Hanging yet alive, thrust through with three darts. As he, in his end; as he, in the manner of his end. That the heads that contrive may hang as high as his: and the hearts that affect be thrust through as was his: thrice through, though once would serve.
II. A prophecy. That so he wished: and that, as he wished, so he foretold: and as he foretold, so it came to pass. All that rose after, fell as fast as they rose.
III. Last of all that this prayer or prophecy is not pent or shut up in David’s days: not to end with him. It reacheth unto these of ours; hath his force and vigour still; hath and shall have, unto the world’s end. God heard him praying, and inspired him prophesying. As it came to pass in Absalom, so did it in those that rode after him: that rose against David, that rose against many others since David, and namely against ours. So it hath been hitherto: and so ever may it be. Cushi, not only a priest, to pray that so they be; but a prophet, to foretell, that so they shall be. (Bishop Lancelot Andrewes.)
2 Samuel 18:33
And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept.
The wail of a broken heart
1. The first picture shows a glimpse of the battlefield, and brings before us three men, each in different ways exhibiting how small a thing Absalom’s death was to all but the heart-broken father, and each going his own road, heedless of what lay below the heap of stones. The world goes on all the same, though death is busy, and some heart-strings be cracked. The three men, Ahimaaz, Joab, and the Cushite (Ethiopian), are types of different kinds of self-engrossment, which is little touched by other’s sorrows. The first, Ahimaaz, the young priest who had already done good service to David as a spy, is full of the joyous excitement of victory, and eager to run with what he thinks such good tidings. The word in 2 Samuel 18:19, “bear tidings,” always implies good news; and the youthful warrior-priest cannot conceive that the death of the head of the revolt can darken the joy of victory to the king. He is truly loyal, but, in his youthful impetuosity and excitement, cannot sympathise with the desolate father, who sits expectant at Mahanaim. Joab is a very different type of indifference. He is too much accustomed to battle to be much flushed with victory, and has killed too many men to care much at killing another. He is cool enough to measure the full effect of the news on David; and though he clearly discerns the sorrow, has not one grain of participation in it. The Cushite gets his orders; and he, too, is, in another fashion, careless of their contents and effect. Without a word, he bows himself to Joab, and runs, as unconcerned as the paper of a letter that may break a heart. Ahimaaz still pleads to go, and, gaining leave, takes the road across the Jordan valley, which was probably easier, though longer; while the other messenger went by the hills, which was a shorter and rougher road.
2. The scene shifts to Mahanaim, where David had found refuge. He can scarcely have failed to take an omen from the name, which commemorated how another anxious heart had camped there, and been comforted, when it saw the vision of the encamping angels above its own feeble, undefended tents, and Jacob “called the name of that place Mahanaim” (that is, “Two camps.”) How chilling to Ahimaaz, all flushed with eagerness, and proud of victory, and panting with running, and hungry for some word of praise, it must have been, to get for sole answer the question about Absalom! He shrinks from telling the whole truth, which, indeed, the Cushite was officially despatched to tell; but his enigmatic story of a great tumult as he left the field, of which he did not know the meaning, was told to prepare for the bitter news. The Cushite with some tenderness veils the fate of Absalom in the wish that all the king’s enemies may be “as that young man is.” But the veil was thin, and the attempt to console by reminding of the fact that the dead man was an enemy as well as a son, was swept away like a straw before the father’s torrent of grief.
3. The sobs of a broken heart cannot be analysed; and this wail of almost inarticulate grief, with its infinitely pathetic reiteration, is too sacred for many words. “Grief, even if passionate, is not forbidden by religion; and David’s sensitive poet-nature felt all emotions keenly. We are meant to weep; else wherefore is there calamity?’ But there were elements in David’s agony which were not good. It blinded him to blessings and to duties. His son was dead; but his rebellion was dead with him, and that should have been more present to his mind. His soldiers had fought well, and his first task should have been to honour and to thank them. He had no right to sink the king in the father, and Joab’s unfeeling remonstrance, which followed, was wise and true in substance, though rough almost to brutality in tone. Sorrow which hides all the blue because of one cloud, however heavy and thunderous, is sinful. Sorrow which sits with folded hands, like the sisters of Lazarus, and lets duties drift, that it may indulge in the luxury of unrestrained tears, is sinful. There is no tone of “It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good,” in this passionate plaint; and so there is no soothing for the grief. The one consolation lies in submission. Submissive tears wash the heart clean; rebellious ones blister it. David’s grief was the bitter fruit of his own sin. He had weakly indulged Absalom, and had spared the rod, probably, in the boy’s youth, as he certainly spared the sword when Absalom had murdered his brother. But there is another side to this grief. It witnesses to the depth and self-sacrificing energy of a father’s love. The dead son’s faults are all forgotten and obliterated by “death’s effacing fingers.” The headstrong, thankless rebel is, in David’s mind, a child again, and the happy old days of his innocence and love are all that remain in memory. The prodigal is still a son. The father’s love is immortal, and cannot be turned away by any faults. The father is willing to die for the disobedient child. Such purity and depth of affection lives in human hearts. So self-forgetting and incapable of being provoked is an earthly father’s love. May we not read in this disclosure of David’s paternal love, stripping it of its faults and excesses, some dim shadow of the greater love of God for his prodigals--a love which cannot be dammed back or turned away by any sin, and which has found a way to fulfil David’s impossible wish, in that it has given Jesus Christ to die for his rebellious children, and so made them sharers of his own kingdom? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Anguish of parents at the perverseness of children
1. I would call to this subject the attention of every sinner, who has a pious parent, or parents, still living. I wish to show such persons how much anguish they occasion their parents by neglecting to prepare for death. Every Christian parent in David’s situation would feel, in some measure, as David felt. Every Christian parent feels a similar concern for the souls, the eternal interests of his children.
(1) In the first place, they are distressed by apprehensions that you may be led astray by vicious companions, or become the slaves of some vicious habit, or embrace false and destructive sentiments respecting religion. They have cause to entertain such apprehensions. They have often seen the children of even pious parents fall a prey to these evils.
(2) But, in the second place, they are much more distressed by fears that you will perish forever. They believe what God has said respecting the future state of those, who die in their sins. They know the terrors of the Lord. They know that unless you repent you will perish. They know that unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God. How must they feel when such reflections as these crowd into their minds: Perhaps this child, whom I have so often caressed and nourished, over whom I have so often wept, and for whom I have cared and laboured so much, will continue an enemy of the God who made him. In short, could you know all the sorrows which your parents have suffered since your birth you would find that a great part of them have been occasioned by anxiety for you, for your immortal interests; and that to the same cause is to be ascribed a great part of their daily sorrows. The distress which you thus occasion them is further aggravated by the reflection that if you perish your doom will be peculiarly terrible. You have enjoyed peculiar privileges. You have been dedicated to God, you were early taught to know His will, you have often been entreated, admonished, and warned, you have enjoyed the benefits of religious example, and have been preserved from many temptations to which the children of irreligious parents are exposed.
(3) In the third place, if you persist in neglecting religion, the distress which your parents now feel may be raised to the highest pitch, by seeing you die without hope. Then they will feel as David felt, and wish like him that they could have died for you. But to return to those whose parents are still living. You have heard a little, and words can toll but little, of the distress which you occasion your parents by neglecting religion. And now permit me to ask, will you continue to occasion them this distress? And O that the God at whose feet those prayers have been poured out may render these considerations efficacious to your salvation.
2. I proceed now to press the subject upon the attention of pious parents.
(1) In the first place, you may learn from it that no parents, whose children are not all pious can be certain that they will ever become so, or certain that he shall not be called to weep over some of them, wishing that he had died in their stead.
(2) From this subject, Christian parents may learn, in the second place, the fatal consequences of neglecting their duty to their children. David, though a great man, was guilty of this neglect. It is said of Adonijah, another of his sons, that his father had not at any time displeased him, saying, why hast thou done so? and there seems to be abundant reason to believe that he indulged his other children in the same injudicious and sinful manner. (E. Payson, D. D.)
A loud cry always arrests attention. All understand the language of sorrow in any age or race. The sobs of a little child, or of a strong man, affect mightily those that chance to hear. The roughest and most hardened can rarely resist the appeal of tears, and often turn to brush away their own. The Esaus and Rachels and Davids and Marys are kin to the multitudes, for whom
“Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.”
Grief is a leveller, even as death is. It ignores distinctions, and makes great and small bold to ask of the other its cause, and proffer such aid as may be. So this pathetic lament from the chamber over the gate of Mahanaim impels us to inquire who the mourner is, and for whom or what does he weep. After the Ruler, the Father issues his orders. He would slay the treachery, but spare the traitor. While every retainer might be put to the sword or flight, and every weapon be struck from his hand, the king gives all the captains charge to “deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom.” It were to him no victory if the dead body of his son be brought back in triumph; it were utter defeat. Such commission always hampers. A faint stroke, the world has seen, prolongs the struggle, and imperils the end sought. Rebellion must be stamped out of hand and heart, or, like the hydra’s heads, its shoots forth again as often as cut off. “You say you are praying,” writes Abraham Lincoln, “for the war to end. So am I, but I want it to end right. God only knows how anxious I am to see these rivers of blood cease to flow; but they must flow until treason hides its head.” While the opposing forces have met in the woody, tangled mountain passes, the eager king and father takes his seat between the city gates to wait for tidings. The hours drag wearily away. His fortunes are perhaps already determined, or may be at the moment wavering in the balance. One word from him, one swing of his sword, one leap from the crag, might decide them, were he only at hand. How ready are we to say, “there was a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.” The blow must not fall in all its stunning power at once. Let the victim, at least, have time to kneel to receive it. And so as he stood aside, the blunt and careless Ethiopian comes up and confirms the first announcement, and exults over the slaughter of the foe and son alike. It is the one dreaded word, converting the brief joy into a volume of sorrow. Thus it ever is. What the friend is studying to soften, and by hints prepare the bereft to imagine, the telegraph, the paper, some stranger or little child declares, in its plain and overwhelming measure. There is no averting of facts nor any defence against their meaning. What we have loved and trusted, when taken away, can neither be made to appear as though it still is ours, nor the loss be breathed in modified degree. No generous nature can interpose to break the shock. When it comes, it is with full force, as the cyclone bursts upon the town. We may be given grace and patience, but not exemption from grief. To such trial every life is subject. From such distress none can always escape. Some day it must be told David, “Absalom is dead.” And who can bear to look upon that stricken father, or listen to his agonising cries, or hear that convulsive utterance, “O Absalom, my son, my son!” Around the wall, and near the gateway at Mahanaim, the people clustered, gazing up at the window whence the sounds of anguish came. With low voices they talked together of the singular conduct of the king. Would he rather have had his armies routed and at this moment be preparing for a siege? Would he have chosen that the infidel son should madly and successfully assault himself and blot out what remained of his realm? Was not the issue the very best possible for the nation? Ought they not all to sing psalms of thanksgiving unto the Most High, “whose right hand had found out all his enemies and swallowed them up in His wrath.” Yes! but there is a secret which these observers have not discovered, and it is buried deep m that father’s heart. Now and then he had almost disclosed it in these days of adversity. Zadok might have divined it, when he answered, “If He thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him.” Aishai, burning with indignation at the imprecations upon his master, might have suspected it, when David replied: “Let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him.” And these friends might have found that their ruler was under just condemnation of heaven. He was but paying, in some form, the heavy penalty for his sins. (Monday Club Sermons.)
David’s grief for Absalom
“Next to the calamity of losing a battle,” a great general used to say, “is that of gaining a victory.” The battle in the wood of Ephraim left twenty thousand of King David’s subjects dead or dying on the field. It is remarkable how little is made of this dismal fact. Men’s lives count for little in time of war, and death, even with, its worst horrors, is just the common fate of warriors. Yet surely David and his friends could not think lightly of a calamity that cut down more of the sons of Israel than any battle since the fatal day of Mount Gilboa. Nor could they form a light estimate of the guilt of the man whose inordinate vanity and ambition had cost the nation such a fearful loss. But all thoughts of this kind were for the moment brushed aside by the crowning fact that Absalom himself was dead. The elements of David’s intense agony, when he heard of Absalom’s death, were mainly three.
I. There was the loss of his son, of whom he could say that, with all his faults, he loved him still. A dear object had been plucked from his heart, and left it sick, vacant, desolate. A face he had often gazed on with delight lay cold in death. An infinite pathos, in a father’s experience, surrounds a young man’s death. The regret, the longing, the conflict with the inevitable, seem to drain him of all energy, and leave him helpless in his sorrow.
II. Absalom had died in rebellion, without expressing one word of regret, without one request for forgiveness, without one act or word that it would be pleasant to recall in time to come, as a foil to the bitterness caused by his unnatural rebellion.
III. In this rebellious condition he had passed to the judgment of God. What hope could there be for such a man, living and dying as he had done?
IV. Two remarks.
(1) With reference to grief from bereavements in general, it is to be observed that they will prove either a blessing or an evil according to the use to which they are turned. All grief in itself is a weakening thing--weakening both to the body and the mind, and it were a great error to suppose that it must do good in the end. Not only does it depress the mourner himself, and unfit him for his duties to the living, but it depresses those that come in contact with him, and makes them think of him with a measure of impatience. It is not right to obtrude our grief overmuch on others, especially if we are in a public position. Let us take example in this respect from our blessed Lord. Was any sorrow like unto His sorrow? Yet how little did He obtrude it even on the notice of His disciples! And how many things are there to a Christian mind fitted to abate the first sharpness even of a great bereavement. Is it not the doing of a Father, infinitely kind? Is it not the doing of Him “who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all?” Hear Him saying, “What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”
(2) Grief that may arise to Christians in connection with the spiritual condition of departed, children. When the parent is either in doubt as to the happiness of a beloved one, or has cause to apprehend that the portion of that child, is with the unbelievers, the pang which he experiences is one of the most acute which the human heart can know. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
A father’s remorse and a father’s forgiveness
The story of Absalom’s rebellion is the most exciting drama in the Bible, and one of the guiltiest and saddest tragedies in human history. It is given to us in some of the most powerful word-pictures which have ever been painted. Clear, strong, and lifelike do the leading figures stand out.
I. In this cry of anguish there was the torture of self-accusation. The sting of death is sin. The sting of that death to David was Absalom’s sin, and alas! his own sin too. We never know What the end of a sin may be. We never know how far the consequences will reach, or whom they will affect. We cannot whitewash the black pages by repenting of the deeds. David had repented in sackcloth and ashes. He had been forgiven. But there in his children were the deadly fruits, and he would rather have laid down his life than brought this evil upon them. There are things which God forgives us, but which we can never forgive ourselves. There is no misfortune that is crushing unless some memory of guilt is behind it. The poet says, “A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.” Nothing of the kind. A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is the feeling that we have brought it on ourselves.
II. We may take it as a type of the divine fatherhood and of its unlimited forgiveness. David is called the man after God’s own heart, and that word staggers us when we remember some of his doings. But the word does not come amiss here. We feel that it is true in such scenes as this. Kneeling in his chamber and uttering that impassioned cry of pity, burning love, and forgiveness, we can see indeed something of God’s own heart. In this great tribulation he is as one washed and made white, and his face is like the tearful Christ’s, Godlike. His love for this guilty, iron-hearted son was passing strange; it was almost more than human. It was a love which gave a kiss for every blow, turned a forgiving face to every insult and stripe, and prayed for the criminal who was crucifying it. All this is what we rightly call Divine. It is a broken light of God. It is the image of His Fatherhood. And through Jesus we preach to everyone a fatherly God, a tearful God, a cross-bearing God, a God whose pity is beyond all our measurement, whoso forgiveness is greater than man’s greatest sin. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
I. That god’s dearest children are exercised with near and piercing crosses in this life. It may seem to be no good congruity to say that David wept, that King David mourned. For Christians to mourn being poor, or princes being wicked, it is no strange matter: but when a man hath God for his friend in heaven, and a kingdom on earth too, what should trouble him? Yet for such a one the Lord hath crosses, and those sharp, those near, those cutting. Here are griefs, in his familiars shall I say? nay, in his kinsfolks, his father, his wives, at Ziklag, his children, his Absalom. What might be the cause that God’s best children are so sped? Is it their religion? Is it their profession? Not no, it is because they are set with corruption, and therefore must be purged: for God’s best children will sometimes venture on noisome meats, and hurtful poisons, they will feed on the grosser sins, they will drink in every puddle, I mean iniquity, and when the child hath so done, what should the father do? If David will lie and commit adultery, and fall to murder innocents, what can God do less for David than scourge him thoroughly? Is it not better he should lose his sin than God his child? So, then, one cause why the Lord doth thus lay load on his children here is, because they defile themselves with gross sins, and therefore must have much washing. As God lays many crosses on us, so we may thank ourselves for many too: not only in that we do deserve them, but in that we work them out of our own bowels: for many we draw upon ourselves by riot, idleness, unthriftiness, rage, etc., and the most we make more heavy (that are heavy enough already) through our own folly, and that is whilst we rake into our wounds, looking no higher, and what with unbelief and impatience, do double the cross on ourselves.
(1) Is this so, that God’s dearest children have and must have such great piercing crosses in this life? Then must all who would be known by that name make account of such, and prepare for them. Such is our folly when the sun shines, we never think of a dark night, and when the morning is fair we never fear a storm, and therefore are sometimes taken without our cloak, as it were. Such, also, is our conceit of ourselves, and confidence in worldly helps, that we hope they will not see us want, or ii they fail, yet we think to shift better than others can, and to live by our wits. Hence it is that we are almost grown to Babel’s conclusion.
(2) Is this so, that the dearest of God’s children have great and near afflictions in this life? Then this must teach the wicked to leave judging abroad, and to look homeward: they are on horseback, they, when God’s children are underfoot; it is their joy to see the faithful grieve, they cannot hold but roll it out; these be the fellows these preachers so much magnify, these the happy ones, these go away with all the comforts, they cannot do amiss, they; but, by your leave, such a judgment hath befallen one, such a plague another, and which of them escapes better? And this they get by running to sermons; and thus they triumph. But stay a while, and pause better on the matter: Are God’s children thus wounded? What shall become of His enemies? Are the righteous thus paid? How much more the sinner?
(3) Is this the estate of the most godly and best beloved in this life? Then, as this must teach us to think never the worse of ourselves or others for outward crosses (which, like hail and snow, do light upon the best gardens, as well as on the wild waste; and like blustering winds will spare no more prince’s children than the poorest beggar’s) sith thus we cannot conclude unless we will either challenge God’s love, or the best Christian’s truth.
II. That God’s best children are apt to grieve too much and to exceed in passion for outward things: as in mirth, when once we are in, we are apt to forget ourselves; so in sorrow, when once we yield unto it, we are in danger of surfeting upon it.
1. Now, this being so, that the best of us all are subject to immoderate sorrow for outward things, we must not only learn to bear with one another in this our common frailty, but further, every one for himself must fence and mound his heart against, these absurd passions and excessive griefs.
2. Do God’s best children exceed sometimes in sorrow for outward things? Then must we not be altogether discouraged, though we find our worldly grief more than our spiritual sorrow; for this is a thing that may befall the best; they may be immoderate in the one, when they are boo short in the other: the best have many tears to bestow upon some outward things, when they cannot without much travail weep for their many sins.
III. That God’s children, who bear some crosses with great wisdom and moderation, are sometimes foiled in other some, and fail in health. Who could behave himself better than David in the matter of Shimei? Who worse, in the case of Nabal? How sweet his carriage in many passages between Saul and him? How admirable his behaviour in one child’s death? How absurd in others? Nay, how diversely affected with the cause of one and the same Absalom? What gracious speeches did he once utter when he fled from Absalom? What a bead-roll have we here at his death? Who could more forget himself than here he doth, thus to take on at such a time, in such a place, on such an occasion? How far was this from policy? How far unlike his carriage in other places?
1. What might be the cause that these so worthy champions are thus sometimes foiled. First, it pleaseth God sometimes to set on a cross, and make it stick by a man, either because the same party would look besides former crosses, or kick them off too lightly; or else because he would let him see himself, and know what he is of himself.
2. Sometimes we have not denied ourselves in some particular last, and then if a cross light there it soon enters and hats deep, because we ourselves do give a sting unto it.
1. Let us not suffer it to pass without some use, though we be briefer. Learn hence at least a double point of wisdom: the first respects our brethren; them we must too lightly censure for their weakness and tenderness in some crosses, though light; sith that cannot be light, which God will make heavy; such that may be light to one which is a mountain to another; sith those our brethren may manfully bear far sorer crosses than ourselves, though humbled in some particular.
IV. What though Absalom can forget David, yet David cannot forget him. What though he be a very ungracious imp? Yet he is my child.
1. Do kind and godly parents so love their children that you may sooner find too much carnal than too little natural affection in them? Then shall they never make it good to their own or other’s souls, that there is any goodness in them who bear no affection to their own children.
2. Here is somewhat for children also. Is the affection of godly parents such that they cannot chose but love their children; and out of their love grieve at their unkindness, weep for their impiety, mourn for their sorrows, and take to heart their follies?
3. Here is a word of instruction and consolation for all sorts, both parents and children, high and low: Is the love of an earthly father (if godly) so great? Does he take so much to heart the unkindness of his children? Is he so sensible of their griefs? So wounded with their sorrows? What, then, is the affection of our heavenly Father towards us? How tenderly doth he take disobedience at our hands? and therefore how great should our mourning be for our great and many contempts? How ought we to pour forth ourselves in tears, and to lament with a great lamentation. (R. Harris, D. D.)
Mourning for Absalom
I. For even a fond parent, it is very weak to grieve more for a loss than foe the crime which brought it on. This wild outcry of David is essentially mistaken in its sentiment. That lie was patient was evident enough; but that he saw God’s hand avenging wrongs done against God, and launching the retributions of the Divine law upon an offender who had defied God, nowhere appears. The utterance of grief he makes assumes only soreness and pain. Absalom was his favourite; this downfall had come suddenly; the catastrophe was remediless. His boy had died in the act of rebellion against his father and his king. But not even a word of sorrow or shame or humiliation passes his lips. Sometimes mourning reaches so supreme a height of personal grief as that it is mere egotism and tends towards sheer selfishness.
II. It is better to live honestly for one’s children than just to wish to die for them when their retribution comes. The fact is, we miss the proper feelings of the occasion here in David’s form of expression. His language is extravagant; it was very rough to tell those soldiers, who had imperilled their lives again and again that clay to sustain his kingdom, that he wished a gracious providence had taken his life instead of that of the chief rebel they had fought. Think how almost brutal it was to say that he would have died happy if only Absalom were alive again! With that creature for a king, what would have become of the kingdom? A mere sense of personal bereavement moved him. He became unmanly, unknightly, and inconsiderate. But our main trouble must be found with the absence of every sort and measure of self-examination in David; he sends not one glance of his eye backwards over those vast mistakes of the past which he had committed in rearing that child. He makes no allusion to an offended God, except to point his reckless asseveration with the mention of his name. One would think that the king must have had, even in these successes, some misgiving now and then; something like those thoughtful acknowledgments which history records in the dying utterance of William the Conqueror: “Although human ambition rejoices in such triumphs, I am nevertheless seized with an unquiet terror when I think that, in all these actions of mine, cruelty marched with boldness.” We wish David had lived always for Absalom’s instruction and mourned a little less for his defeat.
III. Public duties should check the indulgence of noisy personal griefs. We all admit that the human feeling of the king in an instance so severe is pathetic and poetic. But at that time an awful field of blood was wild with cries of desperate pain from the dying and around the dead. Twenty thousand of Israel’s loyal soldiers lay on the plain of battle; and all that David seemed to care about it was that his boy Absalom was killed likewise. Once we saw in the palace at Amsterdam a bas-relief representing the sternness of the ancient Brutus. Everybody recalls the classic story of the Roman ruler whose two sons, Titus and Tiberius, were among the conspirators that planned the overturning of the government. He sat in judgment upon the enemies that had threatened the realm; or did he hesitate to do the justice they deserved upon all alike. He caused those two sons “to be scourged with rods, in accordance with the law, and then beheaded by the lictors in the forum, and he neither turned aside his eyes nor shed any tears over them, for they had been false unto their country and had offended against the law.” And then the well-known dictum of his was pronounced, which these patriotic Dutchmen have perpetuated in their king’s judgment hall: “A man may have many more children, but never can have but one country, even that which gave him birth.” David certainly had very little of that firm justice which made Lucius Junius Brutus historic.
IV. The death of an infant child may quite possibly become a greater comfort to its parents than the rebellious life of another child who grows up to be a pain and a shame for ever. The counsel was long ago given to bereaved Christians by one who understood what it was to be in mourning: “Do not ask that the enveloping cloud be ever entirely taken up from your home; it never will be; but it may become so luminously transparent that you can see bright stars through it.” When David’s little child in earlier times was stricken with death, he fell down heavily sorrowing over the affliction before the Lord; but he said, in wise and strong confidence of a submissive faith, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” But now he could only pour out hopeless wails of grief; for Absalom appeared to have no future in which he could expect or in which he wished to share. Many of us have seen in Westminster Abbey a beautiful alabaster cradle, with an infant’s face just showing itself from beneath a coverlet wrought in delicate stone apparently spread over the figure. It is the tomb, as the inscription relates, of Sophia, daughter of James I., who died when only three days old, in 1607, and to that brief record is added this verse for an epitaph:
“When the archangel’s trump shall blow, and souls to bodies join,
Millions will wish their lives below had been as short as thine.”
V. There is a sad meaning in the words “too late.” Most of us wish we could live parts of our lives over again, to make some corrections. Especially we think of the example we set or the words we speak or the deeds we do in the presence of our intimates, perhaps even of our children. David does not help the case much with any behaviour of his in this story. But we begin to feel, I am sure, that his wrong-doing had something to do in the formation of Absalom’s character and in the fixing of Absalom’s doom. For we carry in mind the truth of the old couplet:
“Who saws thro’ a trunk, tho’ he leaves the tree up in the forest.
When the wind casts it down, is not his the hand that smote it?”
But there comes a moment in which one feels that all regrets arrive too late for any good to come forth from them: no hope now! (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
David’s lament over Absalom; or, the tears of parental love
I. The force of parental love. Whatever could have induced David to have mourned the death of such a son as this? All might have expected, that day, that the news would have fallen like music on his ears. There are two circumstances which might have induced men to have expected this.
1. The corrupt character of Absalom. In the short, strange life of Absalom, we discover several most depraved and morally repulsive attributes of character. There is revenge (see 2 Samuel 13:28-29); there is vanity (2 Samuel 15:1); there is ambition (2 Samuel 15:4); there is meanness (2 Samuel 15:5); hypocrisy (2 Samuel 15:7-8). There is a tendency in such attributes as these to destroy all love for their possessor. Depravity in a wife is adapted to quench the love of a husband; depravity in a monarch is adapted to quench the love of his people; depravity in a son is adapted to destroy the love of the father. Yet David’s love was too strong for this--it clung to the monster.
2. The filial rebellion of Absalom. He was not only corrupt in his character, but he was a malignant opponent to his father, the man whom he ought to have loved and obeyed. He had pledged himself to his father’s ruin. His last purpose was n purpose to deprive his sire of his throne, his happiness, his life. David had no greater enemy in Israel than Absalom. This force of parental love indicates two things:--
(1) That there is still something Divine in man. Love is from God; and man, amidst all his depravities, still retains some small portion of this sacred thing. This strength of parental love indicates
(2) the love of the Infinite Father towards sinners.
II. The bitterness of parental love. What bitterness is in this cry, “O Absalom, my son!” etc. Two things would give bitterness to David’s feelings now.
1. The memory of his own domestic sins. The carnality, the favouritism, the false tenderness, the want of thorough discipline, which he displayed in his own family, were in themselves heinous vices, and prolific sources of domestic misery.
2. His fear as to his future state. Of where is my son Absalom. Can it be that my son is added to the number of the accursed? From this subject we learn:
(1) That good men may have most wicked children. Goodness is not hereditary.
(2) These good may, nevertheless, be responsible for the wickedness of their children. Home may be neglected, etc.
(3) That good men who neglect their children will one day, most likely, have to repent their conduct, etc. (Homilist.)
A remorseful lament
It is a terrible cry that comes out of the chamber over the gate of Mahanaim that makes the name of Absalom so well known and so full of the most terrible lessons to us. “O, my son Absalom, my son, my son, Absalo! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Yes, that is love, no doubt. That is the love of a broken-hearted father, no doubt. But the pang of the cry, the innermost agony of the cry, the poisoned point of the dagger in that cry is remorse. I have slain my son! I have murdered my son with my own hands! I neglected my son Absalom from a child! With my own lusts I laid his very worst temptation right in his way. It had been better Absalom had never been born! If he rebelled, who shall blame him? I, David, drove Absalom to rebellion. It was his father’s hand that stabbed Absalom through the heart. O, Absalom, my murdered son I Would God thy murderer had been in thy place this day. And the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son! (Alex. Whyte, D. D.)
A lather’s grief over rebellious son
About 1189 Richard, son of the great Henry II., joined the French king, Philip II., against his father. Three other sons were also rebels against their father, and only his youngest son, John, remained at his court. Philip and Richard took his castles, while Henry remained in a condition of unusual supineness. He was now broken in spirit He yielded almost without a struggle to the demands that were made upon him . . . Throughout these unnatural conflicts he had rested his hopes upon his beloved John, to whom he had required his seneschal to deliver his castles in the event of his death . . . He asked for the names of those barons who had joined the French king. The first name he saw was John. He read no more. The world and all its troubles and hopes faded from his view. He turned his face to the wall, and exclaimed, “Let everything go as it will.” . . . His great heart was broken. On the 6th of July, 1189, Henry II. was no more. (Knight’s Eng.)
David the afflicted man
It is not uncommon to read in the preface to works which good men have left as legacies to the church, that their lives, passed amid quiet scenes and in the routine of useful but common duties, furnished few materials for biography. Such tranquillity and monotony were not features of David’s life.
I. David’s afflictions. In the ills of poverty, the loss of children, the death of old friends, the numerous infirmities of age, troubles often gather around the prosperous in the decline of life, like clouds about a setting sun. Happy for them if these are sanctified. Alas for David! his home was the scene of his most painful trials. Who can fancy David’s feelings when he looked on Tamar’s tears, and listened, with grief and consternation on his countenance, to a story that filled the whole land with horror? But hardly has that earthquake-shock passed away when another follows. Tragedy on tragedy! The crime a father allowed to go unpunished her brother avenges. Biding his time, and when suspicion is lulled, drawing Amnon, the perpetrator of that monstrous wickedness, into his toils, Absalom gives the signal, and, smitten by his servants, his brother dies. He has to drink still deeper “of the wine of astonishment.” Hardly has time, the great healer, closed that wound, when Absalom, his favourite son, whom he had forgiven, inflicts a deeper one; commits a crime of yet darker dye. In reading how the Pope’s soldiers, to obtain speedy possession of their jewels, were wont to sever the fingers of Huguenot ladies from their bleeding hands, I have wondered at the savage cruelty; but what cruelty, or crime, to be compared with his who, to possess himself the sooner of his father’s crown, sought to sweep off his father’s head? We have seen many a sad sight; but none to be compared to this aged monarch, full of honours and of years, worthy of all filial love and public veneration, who had no subject but should have fought, nor child but should have died for him, flying with a few followers, under the cloud of night, to escape the sword of his own son. And when tidings came of Absalom’s death, how terrible his grief!
II. The cause of his afflictions. It may seem a great mystery to some how so good a man should have been so sorely tried. But it is no mystery. He reaped as he had sowed. This retribution was still more painfully, and not less plainly exemplified in the unnatural and monstrous rebellion of Absalom. It may be traced to his sin in the matter of Bathsheba: It appears from one genealogy that Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam, and from another that her father Eliam was the son of Ahithophel, the Gilonite, David’s counsellor. This near relationship between Bathsheba and Ahithophel throws a flood of light on Absalom’s rebellion; for what more likely than that through means of that, Ahithophel sought vengeance for the wrongs which, in the double crime of adultery and murder, the king had committed against him and his house? Revenge is a strong passion in all, but especially in the bosom of eastern nations. If, like David, we are compelled to trace our sufferings to our sins, what a weight does that add to the load l Let us pray God that, while He forgives their iniquity for Christ’s sake, and takes away their guilt through his blood, he would not visit us for our sins. If we are to suffer, may it not be for sins, but for righteousness’ sake! A light load that--a fortune we should neither greatly dread nor deprecate.
III. The use and profit of his afflictions. When Queen Mary, by her marriage, was about to plunge herself and the kingdom of Scotland into dark and bloody troubles, Knox publicly condemned the step. For this she summoned the bold Reformer to her presence, complained bitterly of his conduct, and saying, “I vow to God I shall be revenged,” burst into a flood of tears. Waiting till she had composed herself, he proceeded calmly to make his defence: It was triumphant; but produced no other effect on Mary than to exasperate her passions. Again she began to sob, and weep with great bitterness. While Erskine, the friend of both, and a man of mild and gentle spirit, tried to mitigate her grief and resentment by praising her beauty and accomplishments, Knox continued silent--waiting with unaltered countenance till the queen had given vent to her feelings. Then explaining how he was constrained to sustain her tears rather than hurt his conscience, and by his silence betray the commonwealth, he protested that he never took delight in the distress of any creature; and that so far from rejoicing in her majesty’s tears, it was with great difficulty he could see his own boys weep when he corrected them for their faults. In this beautiful expression we see the feelings of every father; and in these a faithful, though feeble, reflection of the kind heart of God. In no case does He afflict His people willingly; and always for their good. And how His gracious purpose was accomplished in the Psalmist’s afflictions may be seen, for instance, in the sorrow, and even horror, with which he regarded his saddest fall. His bitterest enemies could not have exposed, nor his dearest friends lamented, it more than he did himself. Cast me not sway from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation!” The greatest of all afflictions is an unblessed affliction. On the other hand, let the Holy Spirit, in answer to prayer, turn them into the means of our sanctification, and there are no greater mercies. How many, when they became poor in this world, have grown rich toward God! How many have found life in the death of dear ones! How many, by being brought to weep over a broken cistern, have turned their trembling steps to the fountain of living water! and when God sent storms to wreck their earthly happiness, how many “on the broken pieces of the ship” have reached the shore in safety! (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 18". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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