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by the Rebellion of Absalom
“And the king, and all the people that were with him, came weary, and refreshed themselves. And Absalom, and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him. “-2 SAM. xvi, 14, 15
To those who do not think much and deeply on divine things, it is not easy to conceive that lessons of heavenly wisdom, equally varied in their character and applying to the human mind, arise from the numerous particulars that are given in the sacred narratives. They could readily apprehend the spiritual meaning of a battle. They know good and evil, truth and falsehood are antagonistic, and strive against each other. But, when they go beyond the general idea, for want of deep reflection and steady observation they fail to perceive clearly the diversities of mind and life which nevertheless are in full play around them. The varieties of character and principle are innumerable.
Were the condition of human life so that on one side you saw the purely good, and on the other side the altogether bad, there would not be much difficulty in understanding the state of things, or in taking a side. But human life, and human souls are things far too varied, multiform, and complex for such easy observation and decision.
And how varied is human society! In what curious and ever changing proportions do you find human feelings, principles, and sentiments blended together. Some persons are truly conscientious and upright; but with notions so narrowed by prejudice; that in their demeanour they are exclusive and unamiable. Others are very good, but very weak. Others again are very good, but very stern. Some are rigid in precept, but in practice loose, others in doctrine less precise, but in conduct unimpeachable. Some are very imperfect indeed in their views, but their lives are resplendent with every virtue, others most correct in their sentiments, but with weaknesses over which the angels weep. Innumerable shades and grades of thought, principle, and practice meet us everywhere. Life is an immense kaleidoscope presenting change perpetually. There are not only great virtues and small faults; and great faults redeemed by some excellencies; great mental powers allied to strange follies; but there are curious inconsistencies on all sides. There are happy inconsistencies, where persons are far more liberal than their professed sentiments: and unhappy inconsistencies, where justice, charity, order, piety are constantly in the mouth and the dogma, but very little of them to be seen in the daily actions. To represent these wonderful and countless varieties of character and life, then, we need not be astonished that the Word contains narratives and incidents very numerous, and very interesting in the letter of the sacred page, and exhibiting to man, for the instruction of all ages the mirrored reflections of himself As the persons move in the history, so the principles they represent move in him.
” The proper study of mankind is man.”
We have David in the divine narrative before us, opposed and for the time driven from his capital and his throne by his own, his eldest son.
That spiritual things may be thus represented we may be convinced by the instances the apostle Paul gives of Abraham and Sarah, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, which things he said are an allegory (Gal. IV. 24). Abraham, in that case, he shews, represented the Lord. Hagar the bond-woman and her son represented the Jewish Church and her members, her children which were in the bondage of a merely external and burdensome religion. The free-woman Sarah and her son represented the Christian religion with its freedom, because of its illumination by higher, broader, more spiritual principles, which would purify the heart and mind, and thus rectify the life, and make the practice of virtue a constant joy: the glorious liberty of the children of light.
The counterpart of this is given in this history of David and Absalom, and the latter’s rebellion against his father. Again, we may say, “These things are an allegory.”
David represented the Lord, Absalom, his eldest son by a Syrian woman, the Jewish church with all its rituals, ceremonies, and ordinances, heaven directed and ordained in beautiful order; like Absalom’s beautiful person and hair, but rebelling: against Him, and driving Him out of His own Church, by making His Commandments of love of none effect by their traditions. “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider” (Isa. IV. 2, 3).
David had several wives and concubines, and several sons. And just as Abraham’s two wives represented churches, and his sons their members : so David’s wives, concubines and children were also in like manner representative of the Lord’s connections and conjunctions with His people, and the different characters thus formed.
The mother of Absalom was Maacha, the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur. The small kingdom of Geshur was in Syria (2 Sam, XV. 8). And Syria, when the Jewish Church was founded, from having been the former seat of the church, as was manifest from the names of its. cities and prominent parts, had sunk down so as to be the depository only of more knowledge of heavenly things than others had: Balaam was a son of the East, a Syrian. The wise men of the East who came to worship the infant Saviour, and brought gold and frankincense and myrrh, were also Syrians, and their journey and their offerings prove that much heavenly knowledge still existed among that people.
All these circumstances manifest the sort of character represented by Absalom, Maacha, the name of his mother, means CONSTRAINT. She was the daughter of Talmai, whose name means an OBSTRUCTOR OF WATERS. Geshur, the kingdom he ruled over, signifies THE SIGHT OF THE VALLEY.
Absalom then represents such as are born of the Lord the divine David, but in the minds of those who are very external look too much to the valley, and whose religion is one of constraint, not of affection. In such minds there is a distaste for truth: there is the influence of an obstructor of the waters there. Purifying and refreshing truths are not wanted there. The young man was very beautiful, and his hair was very abundant, and very fine. “In all Israel there-was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he polled his head, for it was at every year’s end that he polled it; because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it : he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels, after the king’s weight” (2 Sam. xiv. 25, 26).
All these characteristics manifestly indicate those who are exact in external things; faultlessly beautiful there, but who care nothing for purifying truth, and nothing for goodness within. Absalom was a traitor to his father, and sought to supplant him on his throne.
It is, possible to be quite beautiful in externals; in worship, in music, in knowledge, and in order; but at the same time, for want of an inward soul of use, our knowledge, our worship, and our loveliness may be as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.
We must derive nothing from an obstructor of the water. The father of our affection must not be Talmai. Rather must we say, .” As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so paneth my soul after thee, O God” (Ps. xlii. I). “Ho, everyone that thirsteth come ye to the waters, come buy wine and milk, without money and without. price” (Isa. lv. 1). ” With joy shall ye draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa. xii. 3). ” Whosoever shall drink of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst again; but it shall be in him a well of water springing up to everlasting life ” (John iv. 14). Where there is no love for spiritual water, purifying truth, in a man, he bas an abundance of evil in him, though he may as yet know but little of his own real character, or why he has no concern for everlasting things. Goodness loves truth, .and seeks for it, hails it when found, and rejoices over it, like the woman mentioned in the Gospel, who found her lost piece of silver (Luke xv. 9).
Not to seek the truth, to have no concern for it, no enthusiasm for it, implies that there is much evil within, and sooner or later it will break out. “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes: cease to do evil; learn to do well.” This is the eternal, indispensable law, No substitute will do. No external worship or ritual, however beautiful. No music, no prayers, no creed, no amount of observances will suffice. The Kingdom of God must be formed within us. The heart must be renewed by the divine Love, until love to the Lord and to man reign therein. ‘The spirit must be changed to yearn after and delight in the truth: to lave in it, to drink it, and to rejoice in it. Only these things will save the soul. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And whosoever will, let him come, and take of the WATER OF LIFE freely.” “What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? “
Absalom sought by specious pretences to withdraw the hearts of the men of Israel from the king his ‘father.’ , ‘He insinuated that the king took no notice of’ their affairs, and deputed no one to judge ,at the gate among them. ” And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he-put forth his hand, ‘and took him,’ and kissed him. And in this manner did Absalom to all Israel that carne to the king for judgment : so Absalom stole the hearts of “the men of Israel P (2 Sam. xv. 5, 6).
The absorbing character of external things, even of external worship, if there be no seeking after the kingdom of God and His righteousness, is shown by this insidious conduct of Absalom, He misrepresented and betrayed his father. He smiled upon and kissed and made traitors of the Israelites.
David as king represented the Lord as to Divine Truth ruling and regenerating the’ heart, restraining and, then overcoming everything wrong, Without Divine Truth nothing of this kind can be done. Truth grounded in good forms. our faith; truth grounded in good leads to the love of the Lord, to the love of our neighbour,-truth fortifies the soul in temptation, truth leads to order, to progress, truth consoles under trouble, and truth beautifies the spiritual man and forms him, into an angel. Such truth is represented by David. To draw the soul away from such truth is a deadly error.
In times of temptation it appears to a man that the Lord does not regard him or his matters, And some absorbing passion or pursuit, like Absalom, may strongly urge that the Lord Jesus, our King David, is taking no notice of us. It is altogether false. He that watcheth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. He may seem to sleep in the hinder part of the ship, but let us go and earnestly seek His salvation, and He will rise and still the storm. Absalom is altogether false and wrong. He should have supported his father’s government, instead of betraying it. Yet so it is, external things that are good in themselves need watching diligently, lest they seduce us from the’ higher principles which it should be their glory to serve.
“How vain are all things here below!
How false, and yet how fair !
Each pleasure has its poison too,
And every sweet a snare.
Our friends, with whom in social love
The path of life we’ve trod,
May steal our hearts from things above,
And. turn us back from God.”
As with friends, so with habits. We may be so engrossed by some external pursuit, as to increase its power over us until it weans us from the grand aim of life, and becomes our all in all, our idol.
Business becomes such an absorbing pursuit with some, art with others, knowledge with others, pleasure with others. All these and a thousand other things are good in their places, it is only when they engross us unduly, and prevent us from seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness as our first, our pre-eminent aim, that they become traitorous Absaloms, or evils. Absalom, David’s eldest son, like Ishmael, Abraham’s eldest son, represents religion, such as it is in the early portion of our regenerate life, excellent but external. It is strange, but it is true, that persons may make an idol of the externals of religion itself, until, beautiful and orderly and useful as they are in their due exercise and proper place, they may take the place of Him they profess to adore, and become an Absalom which will drive
David from Jerusalem.
In our worship we must always look to the end. We must be pious that we may become humble, fearing the Lord, and having no other fear. We must be humble that we may exalt the Word above our own conceits, so that it may become our wisdom, our strength, and our glory. The Word in us must become the Lord in us, the Living Word, The Lord in us must be a man of war, until our giants are slain and every foe is overcome. The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end (I Juke i. 32 , 33). The Lord in us must be a Man of War. He comes not to send peace, but a sword, Envy must be struggled with until it gnaws no more. Quarrelsomeness mus be assailed until it no more distresses or annoys. Ambition must be reduced until it has altogether taken up its cross, and follows the Lord, to minister and to serve, content to take the lowest place, if only good may be done and the glory of the Lord promoted, Whatever raises its head to prevent this sacred Work of self-conquest, this work of salvation and redemption, from being accomplished in us, is our greatest foe. And when the outer life of religion and of worship engrosses and draws us away from really being born again, and growing up to the stature of a man, an angel-man, it is a veritable Absalom.
We may pray, or at least say prayers, and we may join daily in praise, and really be no better for it. Under these solemn sounds may burrow vanity, bitterness, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness. The long drawn aisle is not always the place where angels walk. Anthems are not always the music of holy hearts. Some of the stupidest people in the world are those ‘who repeat the droning round of prayers again and again, until they have as little pleasure and perceive as little sense in them as praying parrots would.
Worship is a means, not an end. Its object is to make noble men, full of charity, wisdom, knowledge, and virtue. If this be not done, it is an Absalom to us, and will betray the Lord, and drive Him out of our Jerusalem, as David was driven out of his.
The fascination of beautiful worship, when it engrosses the whole mind, and draws the mind from internal virtues from the truth of the Word and from the Lord, is represented by Absalom’s winning manners and engaging person. His lovely and abundant half is another symbol of the overweening attention of external things, hair being the most external portion
of the body.
In the statement that Absalom did this for forty years (ver. 7) we have a remarkable Instance of the letter of the Word being made to bend to the necessity of the spiritual meaning. Forty signifies a full state of temptation. The rain of the deluge is said to have fallen forty days and forty nights: the Israelites were forty years in the wilderness, and our Lord was tempted forty days in the desert. Absalom, a young man, could not have been engaged ill his traitorous conduct forty years literally, yet as all extreme case of temptation is meant, in which the externals of worship are suffered to continue and to prevail for a season over the real regeneration of the soul it is said he did it forty years.
King David and his men retired on the east of Jerusalem over the brook Kedron to the Mount of Olives, grieving (xv. 23-30) and weary, and there in the words of our text refreshed themselves.
The Lord Jesus often withdrew from the turmoils and contradictions of the city of Jerusalem to the quiet and elevation of the Mount of Olives.
In both these instances it was representative of the retirement of the Lord in the soul into the inner man. The external of the mind is in disorder and insurrection. This has continued long, and there is a feeling that the Lord is weary and tired with us, and He is pleased so to represent Himself, because of the appearance to us.
When Jesus met the woman of Samaria at the well, He is said to have been wearied by His journey, and here David was weary, The expression is indicative of the Lord’s patience and long-suffering. He has syrnpathized with us, and continued with us, and suffered our vexations and persistence in wrong, until we have the sense of His endurance being quite exhausted, as He says, “Thou hast made Me to serve with thy sins, and wearied Me with thine iniquities.”
But David’s retirement and refreshment on the Mount of Olives signifies that in His Divine Love, which the Mount ot Olives represented, notwithstanding human follies and hindrances, there is an infinitude of affection, unwavering compassion, and persevering pity. He refreshed Himself there. In His own great and gracious tenderness, He prepares the means by which our evils can be overcome, and though disorder may prevail for a time, in His Love and in His pity He will redeem us. When He sees the right time He will come forth as one refreshed, and restore the soul to order.
“Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, carne to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him.”
The coming of Absalom and all the people to Jerusalem signifies the prevalence in the Church for a time, of the externals of worship and religion merely, over the govemment and regeneration of the soul within. For a while the rule of David was suspended. Absalom became the consort of his father’s ‘concubines. These things represent that in such a state the real work of religion is suspended, and a man becomes more ‘and more external and sensual. Low views, appearances of truth, prevail with him, and self-derived intelligence is with him. Ahithophel, the hoary counsellor, whose name signifies the BROTHER OF RUIN, was with him.
Divine Truth is a safe friend and counsellor, but self-conceit, our own wisdom, when it is set against the Lord, and against ‘His kingdom, is a veritable Ahithophel, and while it puffs us up with foolish dreams leads down to darkness, defeat, and despair.
Let us learn from this divine lesson, not to elevate the external, even of religion itself, above its internal principle, the Son above His father, the servant above his lord. But ever seek to remember in all the means we use that the aim of all religion is to make wise, good, and happy here, and so add to the number of the blessed in heaven.
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY from The The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)