2 Samuel 16 – David Flees as Absalom Asserts His Reign
A. Ziba’s deception.
1. (1-2) Ziba meets David with supplies.
When David was a little past the top of the mountain, there was Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth, who met him with a couple of saddled donkeys, and on them two hundred loaves of bread, one hundred clusters of raisins, one hundred summer fruits, and a skin of wine. And the king said to Ziba, “What do you mean to do with these?” So Ziba said, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who are faint in the wilderness to drink.”
a. Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth: This Ziba was the servant of Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan to whom David showed great kindness to (2 Samuel 9).
b. Who met him with a couple of saddled donkeys: At a time of great need, Ziba met David with essential supplies. This was a generous and helpful gift from Ziba.
2. (3-4) Ziba speaks against Mephibosheth.
Then the king said, “And where is your master’s son?” And Ziba said to the king, “Indeed he is staying in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me.’” So the king said to Ziba, “Here, all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours.” And Ziba said, “I humbly bow before you, that I may find favor in your sight, my lord, O king!”
a. He is staying in Jerusalem: Ziba told David that Mephibosheth was in Jerusalem, waiting to come to power after David and Absalom ruined each other. Ziba told David that Mephibosheth longed to restore the family of Saul to power. (Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me.)
i. These were lies that Ziba told David and this will be revealed in 2 Samuel 19:24-30. Actually, Ziba left Mephibosheth behind to make it look as if Mephibosheth did not support David.
ii. This report from Ziba hurt David because in this time of crisis the last thing he needed to hear was that another friend had turned against him. Ziba “was utterly despicable, and the more so because at the moment the sorrow he brought to the heart of David was his feeling that his kindness toward Mephibosheth was ill requited.” (Morgan)
iii. This was a “shameless and senseless slander, uttered by a false and faithless sycophant.” (Trapp)
b. All that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours: David – acting on the only information he had – assumed that Ziba told the truth. Therefore, he rewarded Ziba’s loyalty and punished Mephibosheth’s reported disloyalty.
i. This was exactly the response Ziba wanted. Ziba is an example of someone who wickedly uses a crisis for his own benefit.
B. Shimei curses David.
1. (5-8) Shimei curses a deposed king.
Now when King David came to Bahurim, there was a man from the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei the son of Gera, coming from there. He came out, cursing continuously as he came. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David. And all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. Also Shimei said thus when he cursed: “Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!”
a. A man from the family of the house of Saul: Shimei was a distant relative of the former King Saul, and he still resented David for replacing the dynasty of Saul.
b. Cursing continuously…. threw stones…. “You bloodthirsty man, you rogue”: Shimei was about as offensive as a person could be. He wanted to destroy any shred of dignity or confidence that David had left.
i. There are always people ready to rejoice when a leader falls. Shimei had this heart against David for a long time, but he could only show it when David was down and out.
ii. “It is very hard to bear a cowardly attack. One is very apt to reply and use hard words to one who takes advantage of your position and deals you the coward’s blow. Only the coward strikes a man when he is down.” (Spurgeon)
c. The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul…. you are caught in your own evil: A quick look at the outward appearance of things seemed to confirm Shimei’s analysis, but Shimei was wrong. None of this came upon David because of what he did to Saul or Saul’s family.
i. Shimei was wrong because David actually treated Saul and his family with great love and graciousness.
ii. Shimei was wrong because David was not a bloodthirsty man. It is true that he was a man of war, but not a bloodthirsty man.
iii. Shimei was wrong because David did not bring Saul and his family to ruin – Saul himself brought the family to ruin.
iv. Shimei was right that the LORD had brought this upon David, but not for any of the reasons Shimei thought.
2. (9-14) David receives adversity with humility.
Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David.’ Who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” And David said to Abishai and all his servants, “See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite? Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day.” And as David and his men went along the road, Shimei went along the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, threw stones at him and kicked up dust. Now the king and all the people who were with him became weary; so they refreshed themselves there.
a. Let me go over and take off his head: Abishai didn’t want to listen to Shimei curse or to dodge his stones anymore. The mighty men surrounding David were more than ready to kill Shimei in an instant.
b. So let him curse: David didn’t try to shut up Shimei. He didn’t close his ears to unpleasant or critical words. David was willing to hear what God might say to him through a cursing critic.
i. David let Shimei speak because he was not a bloodthirsty man (what have I to do with you). Ironically, if David were the kind of man Shimei said he was, Shimei would have been killed.
ii. David let Shimei speak because he saw the hand of God in every circumstance (the LORD has said to him). He knew that God was more than able to shut Shimei up; David didn’t need to give the order.
iii. David let Shimei speak because he put the “Shimei problem” in perspective. (See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite?) David knew that his real problem was Absalom, not Shimei, and he did not lose this perspective.
iv. David let Shimei speak because he knew that God’s hand was on the future as well as the present. (It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day) David knew that if he did what was right in the present moment, God would take care of the future.
v. Let him alone, and let him curse: “David could take this fellow’s head off and that in a moment, and yet he said, ‘Let him alone. Let him curse.’ And this makes a splendid example. If you can revenge yourself, DON’T. If you could do it as easily as open your hand, keep it shut. If one bitter word could end the argument, ask for grace to spare that bitter word.” (Spurgeon)
c. So they refreshed themselves there: David was not without hope or comfort. God allowed comfort to find him, even if it was in the small things. David was able to receive comfort because he was at peace and he knew that God was in control of Israel.
i. In refusing to cling to the throne, David was like Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:6-8). “As we thus follow David through these days of humiliation and shame…we nevertheless understand more perfectly that he was indeed a man after God’s own heart.” (Morgan)
ii. In his book A Tale of Three Kings, Gene Edwards put these words into the mouth of David: “The throne is not mine. Not to have, not to take, not to protect, and not to keep. The throne is the LORD’s.” It was that kind of heart that kept David on-track through such a difficult time and enabled him to even be refreshed.
iii. “This is a radiant illustration of the deep and inward peace given to any man who is living in fellowship with God in motive and desire.” (Morgan)
C. Absalom’s counselors.
1. (15-19) Absalom receives Hushai as an advisor.
Meanwhile Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem; and Ahithophel was with him. And so it was, when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came to Absalom, that Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” So Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” And Hushai said to Absalom, “No, but whom the LORD and this people and all the men of Israel choose, his I will be, and with him I will remain. Furthermore, whom should I serve? Should I not serve in the presence of his son? As I have served in your father’s presence, so will I be in your presence.”
a. When Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came to Absalom: Hushai wanted to leave with David and support him (2 Samuel 15:32-34). David thought it was better to send Hushai back to Absalom, to both spy on Absalom and to give him bad advice.
i. The bad advice from Hushai was thought necessary because Ahithophel was with Absalom. Ahithophel was famous for his wise counsel, and David wanted someone on the inside of Absalom’s leadership who might frustrate Ahithophel’s counsel.
b. As I have served in your father’s presence, so will I be in your presence: Hushai lied to Absalom, concealing his motives – like any good spy hides his or her true intentions.
2. (20-23) Absalom follows Ahithophel’s advice.
Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give advice as to what we should do.” And Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; and all Israel will hear that you are abhorred by your father. Then the hands of all who are with you will be strong.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the top of the house, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. Now the advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one had inquired at the oracle of God. So was all the advice of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom.
a. Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go into your father’s concubines”: Ahithophel told Absalom to do something so offensive that it would eliminate any possibility of reconciliation with David. Ahithophel felt this strong statement would give courage to Absalom’s followers.
i. In the ancient world, taking the king’s concubines was not only an act of immorality; but also, an act of treason. This was a way for Absalom to not only replace David but also to completely repudiate his father.
ii. Why did Ahithophel give such radical advice? Because it made sense from his own self-interest. Ahithophel had the most to lose if Absalom failed to keep the throne or if David and Absalom reconciled. He would be revealed and rejected as a traitor.
iii. The Puritan commentator John Trapp wrote this of Ahithophel’s tongue, which gave this wicked advice: “O tongue worthy to have been cut out, shred in gobbets and driven down the throat of him that thus misused him, to the engaging of Absalom in such an unpardonable villainy, beside hazard of his immortal soul!”
b. So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the top of the house, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines: This disgraceful act said a lot about Absalom, who actually did it. It also said a lot about Ahithophel, who must have had a strange sense of satisfaction in seeing David’s women violated in a similar way to his granddaughter Bathsheba.
i. 2 Samuel 11:3 tells us that Bathsheba’s father was Eliam, one of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:34). This also means that her grandfather was Ahithophel (according to 2 Samuel 23:34).
ii. This shows the power of bitterness. Ahithophel was willing to see these women abused, Absalom grievously sin, and the kingdom of Israel suffer greatly – all simply to satisfy his bitter longing for revenge.
iii. This disgraceful incident also shows that God kept His promise to David: I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of the sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun (2 Samuel 12:11-12).
iv. “Every part of the conduct of Absalom shows him to have been a most profligate young man; he was proud, vindictive, adulterous, incestuous, a parricide, and in fine, reprobate to every good word and work.” (Clarke)
c. Now the advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one had inquired at the oracle of God: Ahithophel had a well-deserved reputation for giving counsel almost as good as God. But in this case, his counsel was foolish and destructive.
i. It was foolish and destructive because it was motivated by bitterness. Bitterness has the power to turn our best qualities sour.
ii. It was foolish and destructive because God answered David’s prayer (2 Samuel 15:31) by prompting Ahithophel to give this foolish counsel, and in prompting Absalom to take the foolish counsel.
iii. Strangely, Absalom thought he could establish his kingdom through immorality. He was a clever and skilled politician but ignorant about the ways of God.