Stages of Growth: “Retreat to Win” – 2 Samuel 15

The Allies won WWII. Yet, not every day looked like victory. A lot of days it looked like defeat was inevitable. Gauging the war with too close a look yielded the wrong conclusion.

In today’s text, David learned that sometimes you must step back and lose a battle to win a war. His pattern of hesitance to tackle sinful behavior, his misplaced love and his guilt may have slowed his reactions to the rising challenges of a rebellious son, he was eventually forced to act. Absalom decided to attack what was rightfully Davids.

David knew that you cannot always win in the first round. It may take a retreat to evaluate the situation before you can square off with rebellion and resistance. Yet, in all this David left us a pattern for handling a crisis that strikes our hearts deeply and personally.

Key Principle: When handled Biblically, even a crisis can become a sweet time of God’s instruction to shape us to be more usable to Him.

Several years ago, a Los Angeles Times (5/23/01) article with the curious headlines of “Pests Pester Even the Poshest of Posh Spots” caught my eye. The poshest of posh spots was the famed, luxurious, 285-room, 16-floor Four Seasons Hotel nearby the upscale Rodeo Drive shopping haven, and the pests were the cannot-live-with, but hard-to-kill and never-say-die roaches that invade the main kitchen of the hotel. The pest problems surfaced when the Los Angeles health inspectors paid a surprise visit and discovered six or more egg capsules behind an industrial-strength dishwasher, five or six dead insects on the floor, five or more live adults on the wall, 12-plus live nymphs or baby roaches and two dead nymphs stuck to some tape in the dishwasher area.

The powerful Department of Health Services, which has authorization to shut down food facilities for as long as necessary for the owners to correct conditions that pose a danger to public health, cited the hotel for violation code M (vermin infestation) and N (failure to prevent entrance and harboring of vermin). A county spokesman said, “We don’t take closures lightly. We also had a suspension and revocation hearing about this happening, and that speaks to the gravity of the situation.” Two days later the county reported after a re-inspection: “We went out and found the infestation was still there. We kept it closed.” Finally, three days later, the A rating was reinstated.

David had a secret, a skeleton in his closet that was not dealt with. It would not go away and would resurface at will.

  • Absalom was the third son of David, his mother was the third wife of David and his grandfather was the king of Geshur (2 Sam 3:3).
  • The most outstanding, charismatic, and ambitious of David’s children, Absalom had the perfect looks, the perfect build, and the perfect hair (2 Sam 14:25-26), but not the right or necessary character, temperament and maturity to be king.
  • Passionate, impulsive, and headstrong, he avenged his sister Tamar’s rape by killing her half-brother, Amnon (2 Sam 13), the number one son of David (2 Sam 3:1), and fled to his ancestor’s homeland of Geshur for three years (2 Sam 13:38).
  • Absalom secured permission to return to Jerusalem, but David did not meet or see him for another two years (2 Sam 14:28).

Though not every wayward child is, Absalom was the product of a failed, ignorant and stubborn parenting method. God offered this record as a warning:

  • When son number 1, Amnon, violated his half-sister Tamar, David was furious but said and did nothing (2 Sam 13:21).
  • Absalom hated (2 Sam 13:22) and killed Amnon to avenge his sister’s dishonor and fled to Geshur for three years, but David was consumed with the absence of Absalom (2 Sam 13:39). David did not learn from the past. Like his infatuation with Bathsheba, David pined for and doted on the irrepressible, and the insubordinate Absalom. Both father and son repeated, recycled, and revived past mistakes, and Absalom became even more conniving, cruel, and cunning.
  • Three years of exile in Geshur (2 Sam 13:38) and two years of seclusion and isolation in Jerusalem (2 Sam 14:28) did not reform Absalom, partly because David failed to confront, correct, and chastise Absalom for the two years he was near, and for yet another four years (v 7) Absalom was free to wander about and wreck havoc.

No wonder David had to hear of Absalom’s coup, Israel’s discontent and the city’s unrest from a servant (v 13). Three years stretched to five years and then nine years, but still David did and said nothing and heeded and believed nobody. Like before, the king was in denial.

Absalom was a parent’s worst nightmare. He eyed his father’s throne and plotted to overthrow his father and forced him into early retirement or permanent exile. In a tragic sense, he had the best and worst of David’s genes – he was cut from his father’s cloth. He (2 Sam 14:25) and his father (1 Sam 16:12, 1 Sam 17:42) were the only two men known in the Bible for their beauty that rivaled women’s. Also, Absalom was like David at his lying, murderous, and arrogant worst in the latter’s sin with Bathsheba.

The phrase “good and right,” (v 3) in Hebrew is the usual word for “good” but the rare word for “right,” the first of four occurrences in the Bible (Prov 8:9, 24:26, Isa 57:2) with the meaning of “direct,” “plain,” and “simple.” Absalom promised down-to-earth advice, justice that works and, of course, the “one-of-a-kind” and “never seen or heard or practiced before” legal rhetoric to the people who craved for and lapped up these words. David the king did not stand a chance against Absalom the politician, who shook hands, gave hugs, and promise changes. Absalom socialized, spoke and sided with the Hebrew commoner, the average man, the town folks. He was the politically, legally, and socially correct figure and candidate of his day who promised the world, the moon, and the Jerusalem bridge to his constituents

Absalom’s public yearning was to be judge (v 4), but his hidden agenda was to be king. Absalom was not the Crown Prince of Israel, but the Pied Piper who stole the hearts of Israel (v 7), the same way he stole his father’s heart, stole into Jerusalem and stole the limelight. Divine kingship could not be bought or sought; they were anointed, conferred or inherited, but Absalom couldn’t wait for the throne even though his father was already aging. Absalom, the number three son, was the new number two son after he had killed son number 1, and the new son number one (Chileab called Daniel, 3:3) was taught well not to harbor ambition by his mother, Abigail (2 Sam 3:3), the best of David’s wives, but the king ignored and neglected him.

The Model: What to do When Crisis Comes

1. Recognize that a crisis usually comes from a long circumstance, and cannot be overturned quickly. It has been stewing a long time! (15:1-12). David may have been hesitant to deal with it:

  1. Because of the prophecy of the sword of Nathan (12:11) and guilt over the sin of Bathsheba.
  2. Because of guilt over Tamar’s rape, as David allowed Amnon to have access to her (13:7).
  3. Because of his fixation on Absalom’s attractive way, a misplaced love (13:39) of the “stolen heart”.

The pattern of Absalom is the same again:

    • He planned the things he needs to get his way (15:1),
    • He sucked in the people he would use (15:2-6),
    • He lied and deceived David (15:7-9).
    • He formed allies of the discontented (15:10-12, remember Jonadab son of Shimeah?)

2. Deal decisively with immediate danger when you finally awake to the trouble! (15:13-14).

3. Get help from those who will stand with you and those who you truly can trust (15:15).

4. Try to maintain order for the future (15:16).

5. Make note of those who are with you so that you can care for them later. (Note: don’t become so self-absorbed that you can’t see others around you! 15:17-18).

6. Don’t expect everyone to be caught up in your crisis (15:19-22).

As David leaves Jerusalem, he speaks with one of the military leaders traveling out of the city. Ittai was not Jewish but rather was a foreign mercenary under the service of King David. Both Ittai and his men befriended David during his wilderness experience in Ziklag. (1 Sam 30) and returned to Israel with David. These men served as a type of honor guard for David and did not have to leave with him. David understood that the agreement that he had made with Ittai and his men could no longer be met. Essentially he was an foreigner in foreign land now being exiled to who knows where. This was no situation for innocent people.

David tells Ittai to return to Jerusalem for several reasons:

• David wants Ittai out of harms way

• David cannot fulfill his end of their agreement any longer

• David does not know his course of action

7. You need to be able to cry (15:30) and so do those who suffer with you (15:23)!

As David leaves the Jerusalem, literally running for his life, the emotion of the situation comes pouring out. The power of the pain came to the point that he could no longer contain it.

Look at the pain points that David had to face:

• David’s own son wanted him dead
• Many of David’s friends had turned against him
• The nation was being plunged into civil war
• David was leaving the Ark of the Covenant behind
• David was headed for an unknown future on the run

As David leaves Jerusalem, he is a man in exile. A man marked for death and a man whose followers were more foreigners than his own people. David covered his head, walked barefoot and openly wept as he climbed the Mount of Olives, no doubt looking back down to see Jerusalem one more time before he headed to exile in the desert.

Too often we try to hold our emotions in when we experience the difficulties of a crisis. We rely on our own strength to get us through and we put up a brave face. The reality is that there are times when the emotions simply must come out. Like David, there will be times when the tears have to flow. Whether you let yourself cry or you go out and scream your head off. You need an outlet for your emotion. The longer you hold on to the pain, the more difficult it will be to let go and experience the needed release.

8. Remember that God is the one still in control of the results of your own self-made crisis. He is faithful WHEN WE ARE NOT! He does not give what we deserve! (15:24-29).

David gives instructions to Zadok to return to Jerusalem and to take the Ark back to the temple. This was a bold move for David because the Ark was the empowered symbol of God’s presence. The understanding was that if you had the Ark with you, God was on your side. When David sends the Ark back to Jerusalem it is an act of absolute trust and total faith. David understood that his entire situation was now in the hands of God and that the only way to live through the crisis was to place His complete trust in God. David shows also that he belongs to god because he says that he is committed to God’s will whatever it may be.

9. Pray about the situation as it unfolds! (15:31).

David teaches us a valuable lesson that we sometimes seldom learn during a crisis. God can accomplish what we cannot. The same is true of our lives today, when the situation moves beyond our ability to deal with, we must give it over to God. Prayer is one of your most valued resources during a crisis. Just as worship is a seeking of God’s presence, prayer is a seeking of God’s provision. David understood that if he was going to get through the crisis, he needed God’s provision.

10. Get more information before you respond to the crisis with what you have (15:32-37).

By fleeing the coming coup attempt David does three key things:

• Preserves the sanctity of Jerusalem

• Provides for his family

• Protects his military strength

Crises are a fact of life and we all have to deal with them. Your problems may not be to the extent that David had to deal with but the reality is that when you go through them, you don’t go through them alone. When trials face you, that is the time to seek God’s presence and provision even more earnestly. This morning maybe you are going through a crisis, take some time to seek God and find His strength and support for your life in a fresh way.




When handled Biblically, even a crisis can become a sweet time of God’s instruction to shape us to be more usable to Him.