Face Crises With Courage

2 Samuel

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you successfully navigate through crisis situations in your life.

Continue to Trust God:  2 Samuel 15:13-14,24-26.

[13]  And a messenger came to David, saying, "The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom." [14]  Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, "Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword." [24]  And Abiathar came up, and behold, Zadok came also with all the Levites, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God until the people had all passed out of the city. [25]  Then the king said to Zadok, "Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place.

[26]  But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him."  [ESV]

[10-12]  As well as his open public relations activities, Absalom had been setting up underground cells throughout the country. These supporters, awaiting his command to arms, were now put on red alert. Absalom also took with him to Hebron a substantial contingent of guests from the Jerusalem court. His supposed pilgrimage would no doubt include the grand feast that could accompany a fellowship offering and provided cover for him to take so many guests without arousing David’s suspicion. This group of two hundred also went with him without suspicion, in all likelihood only too glad to have been put on the guest list by the popular young prince. The plan to take two hundred courtiers with him was a brilliant one. It is always easier to gather crowds once the first group is already in place. Absalom’s campaign got off to a great start and went on from strength to strength. He was indeed proclaimed king in Hebron. Many who, perhaps like some of the Jerusalem two hundred, were not at all sure about what was going on, were either swept along with the crowd or were too afraid to speak out against what appeared to be the majority view. The importance of making decisions and taking action on the basis of thought-out principles and not just peer pressure is underlined here. Ahithophel, David’s counselor, was a wise man who, whether or not he had been directly informed of Absalom’s plans, had almost certainly grasped what was going on. Unlike the guests from Jerusalem, he responded to Absalom’s direct summons and came with eyes wide open. It is possible that Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather; both her father and Ahithophel’s son were named Eliam and the name is not used outside those two contexts. If so, then it is also possible that from the time of David’s affair with Bathsheba Ahithophel began to resent David and to question whether David really was qualified to be king. If Absalom’s implication is correct and David was increasingly neglecting his job, it is perhaps not surprising that a man of Ahithophel’s undoubted skills could be persuaded to support Absalom and maybe even to convince himself that this was God’s man for the job. David was again reaping the consequences of his own prior actions.

[13-14]  It was inevitable that as soon as Absalom’s intentions became known, the message would get through to David. There had been many people who remained loyal to Saul even at his lowest ebb and David had been far more popular throughout the nation than Saul ever had. There were still very many supporters, certainly many more than Absalom had calculated, who were not swayed by the tide of popular opinion and whose loyalty could not be bought. It is sometimes assumed that peer pressure or the influence of some new charismatic figure is impossible to resist. That assumption was as false in the time of Absalom as it is today. Followers are responsible for their actions and responses and will have to bear the consequences just as much as leaders. At this point, when faced with an imminent crisis, we see David once more coming into his own. When faced with a clear urgent task and fighting against the odds, just like the old days, David is at his best. It is fascinating that in the books of Samuel much of the material that presents David in a positive light comes from the time during Saul’s reign, before he came into power, or here when Absalom had, for the moment at least, apparently stolen his power. Again the writers’ underlying reflection on the nature of power comes into play. There is the hint of a suggestion that even if the possession of power does not always corrupt in moral terms, it can disable in other ways. However, for the next three chapters, up until the point where Absalom is killed and the threat removed, David is once more the able, active, incisive and spiritually discerning leader that he was in his youth. There is an inherent sadness in the account that David’s new lease of life apparently does not last beyond the time of the rebellion and, as we read on, we see that the indecisive, less-active David returns. But in this instance, as soon as he receives the news, David springs into action. He can see immediately that for Absalom to succeed, he will need to put David and those close to him out of the picture. Also David knew that Jerusalem, although well-protected, could be vulnerable to siege. If they were to defeat Absalom, it would not be from the city and in any case to stay there would inevitably cause large numbers of casualties on both sides. He, therefore, quickly gathers together his household and leaves. As far as the military were concerned, there was no question of the majority of the standing army who were under Joab’s command abandoning David. These forces along with six hundred troops from Gath marched out with David eastward towards the wilderness across the Jordan. To travel west would have taken them into Philistia, which although not the power it used to be was unlikely to provide secure shelter. The northern tribes were apparently where Absalom’s main support was found and in the south was Absalom himself. The eastern route over the Mount of Olives was the only option. Absalom’s strategy was well-planned in that it forced David to leave in one direction.

[24-26]  Zadok and the religious hierarchy stood alongside David as much as did Joab and the military hierarchy. With such backing it seems that the popular dissatisfaction with David’s regime must have been very high for Absalom to have stood any chance at all of rallying support. Perhaps people had forgotten what David’s capabilities were. His spiritual insight and his political acumen might not have been much in evidence in recent years, although we do see both illustrated very clearly here. The priests and Levites, by offering sacrifices and bringing the ark with them, were demonstrating their conviction that David was God’s anointed king and that God was on David’s side. But David resisted this attempt to manipulate the people by spiritual means and to seek to manipulate God. He had been there before and was not about to make that mistake again. David knew that there was a possibility that this rebellion was God’s way of punishing his failures, that Absalom might be meant to replace him just as he was called to replace Saul. He did not think that that was so, but it was a possibility and therefore he sent the ark back. If God was going to act on David’s behalf, he would do so whether or not the ark was with him. The ark was not to be seen superstitiously as a kind of invincible talisman. God is not to be treated as a personal bodyguard whose main role is to protect us from our own mistakes and who is forced to take action at the times when we think he should. He is still the sovereign ruler of the universe who is more than capable of working out His purposes. The ark was not David’s personal property and so should remain in Jerusalem. If David had somehow lost sight of the fact that God was with him at all times and in all places regardless of his role in society or his possession of sacred objects, he had certainly regained the conviction now. With the loss of power David appears at his most powerful, certainly in terms of spiritual understanding. We can learn from him the danger of thinking that God’s support for human enterprises is or can ever be controlled or demanded by his people.

Don’t Isolate Yourself from Others:  2 Samuel 15:30-37.

[30]  But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went. [31]  And it was told David, "Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom." And David said, "O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness." [32]  While David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and dirt on his head. [33]  David said to him, "If you go on with me, you will be a burden to me. [34]  But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father’s servant in time past, so now I will be your servant,’ then you will defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel.

[35]  Are not Zadok and Abiathar the priests with you there? So whatever you hear from the king’s house, tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. [36]  Behold, their two sons are with them there, Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son, and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son, and by them you shall send to me everything you hear." [37]  So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.  [ESV]

However, David’s unwillingness to use spiritual manipulation did not mean that in his attempt to defeat Absalom he was unwilling to use all means possible including subterfuge and deceit. David was convinced that God would determine the victor in this fight. However, until it was demonstrated that David’s defeat really was God’s will, David was going to do all within his power to achieve victory. Trusting God and taking appropriate action are never seen in Scripture as mutually exclusive possibilities. We can sometimes be paralyzed by the thought that because God is in control He is the only one who acts and we can just sit back and let Him do it. Scripture gives very little support to that view. David needed informers within Absalom’s camp, which he was certain would be set up in Jerusalem once he had left. Who better to act in that capacity than the priests and their sons? He also needed a fifth columnist who could infiltrate Absalom’s government and manipulate the situation to David’s benefit. At this juncture his friend and advisor Hushai comes into the picture. David’s retreat from Jerusalem caused him great distress. It was far from the triumphant beginning of a campaign where victory is confidently expected. He was weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered [30], all signs of ritual mourning. Part of the grief was undoubtedly the betrayal of Absalom, part of it was simply the sadness of leaving his beloved city, but part of it too was hearing that Ahithophel had gone over to Absalom’s side. Perhaps bound up in the sadness was an awareness of Ahithophel’s motivation, an awareness that this wise man of previously undoubted integrity had decided that David was no longer fit to be king. But also there was a conviction that Ahithophel’s advice was always good. In many instances leaders are only as good as their advisors and having Ahithophel alongside brought real credibility to Absalom’s campaign. David’s prayer that God would turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness comes in that context. The arrival of Hushai as David reached the top of the Mount of Olives must have seemed to David an obvious answer to his prayer and a great encouragement. Hushai was bright enough not only to be able to convince Absalom that like Ahithophel he had also left David behind but also to grasp how Ahithophel’s and Absalom’s minds worked and to make sure that any advice Ahithophel gave was set aside. Although so many in the nation had turned against him, the fact that he did still have faithful friends would have in itself provided him with the strength and reassurance to keep going. We must not underestimate the importance of the loyalty of friends in a situation where one feels betrayed.

Fulfill Your Responsibilities:  2 Samuel 19:7-8.

[7]  Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the LORD, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now." [8]  Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, "Behold, the king is sitting in the gate." And all the people came before the king. Now Israel had fled every man to his own home.  [ESV]

David’s general Joab saw David dressed as a mourner and heard the wailing lament over Absalom’s death. David’s highly public actions so incensed Joab that he immediately charged into the king’s presence and began to rebuke him. Laying aside all formalities, Joab informed David with strong language that through his unseemly behavior he had humiliated all the men who had just saved his life and the lives of all his family. By yearning after a dead enemy, David also made it clear that he would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of his own troops were dead. David was acting as though his loyal fighters, who had risked their lives for the deposed king, meant nothing to him and that he hated those who love him. His reactions conveyed ingratitude and contempt for the very group of people whose support he needed most. Not only was David’s behavior wrong, but it also was foolish. The king had deeply offended his troops, and if he failed to act immediately, not a man would be left with him by nightfall. In an effort to help David undo the damage he was doing to his own cause, Joab dispensed with normal courtly speech and tersely ordered the king to arise, go out and encourage his men. If he failed to do this, a situation could arise that would likely be worse for David than all the calamities he had experienced from his youth till now. Joab’s decisive actions both toward Absalom and David saved David’s kingship. The king submitted to Joab’s orders and descended from the chamber over the gate. There in the gateway area, the center of public and commercial life in any walled city, David took his seat. As he sat there in silence, all his troops came before him. This act represents a return to normality.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         In these verses, how did David show his trust in God’s sovereign control oven the current events? How did God show His protection over David?

2.         Why did David refuse to allow the priests to bring the ark of the covenant out of Jerusalem and with his escape? What does this show about David’s understanding of God? What can we learn from David concerning our own relationship with God?

3.         In 19:7-8, the interplay between Joab and David is very revealing: the general of the army comes into the king’s presence to rebuke the king. What do we learn about the character of Joab here; about David? How do you see God at work in David’s life in this incident?


1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Intervarsity Press.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts