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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:When Man Proposes and God Disposes
Text:2 Samuel 16:23-17:29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence
 
Preached:05/12/2013
Added:2014-01-09
Updated:2014-05-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray

“When Man Proposes and God Disposes…”

2 Samuel 16:23-17:29

Looking back in history one can find many instances where nations, and their destinies, were dramatically altered because they followed the wrong advice. That is, in fact, the type of scene which unfolds before us in the passage we have read this evening. The nation of Israel will be kept under the proper authority of David all because the good advice of Ahithophel wasn’t followed. And Absalom, who had usurped the power of his father’s kingship for himself, will meet his destiny of death all because the advice of Hushai was followed instead of that of Ahithophel.

Ahithophel’s Good Advice

Ahithophel would be the type of advisor that any wise king or president would want. The last verse of the previous chapter notes:  Now in those days the advice  Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Ahithophel’s  advice (2 Samuel 16:23).

And Ahithophel gives very good advice in these opening verses.  He points out that if a group of 12,000 men immediately set out after David they could attack him while he is on the run, weak and weary.  Ahithophel describes to Absalom how he would strike David with terror, so that the people with him flee.  He says “… Strike down only the king and bring all the people back to you….”  Everyone acknowledged that this was good advice. Verse 4 says, This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel. 

Hushai’s “Word Pictures”

But even though they acknowledged that Ahithophel’s advice was good, Absalom says (v. 5), “Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so we can hear what he has to say.” Hushai, you remember, was David’s spy. Back in chapter 15 Hushai was one of those who met David as he was fleeing from the palace in Jerusalem.  Hushai wanted to go with David, but David had said, “If you go with me, you will be a burden to me.  But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,’ then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice”  (2 Samuel 15:32-37).

Hushai was in a precarious position.  If it was discovered that he was a spy for David it would mean his head.  Furthermore, as we have seen in those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Ahithophel’s advice.  How would you, as a spy, go up against such an advisor? How would you  persuade the king and his elders to listen to you, instead of to the good advice that Ahithophel had offered?

First, Hushai pointed out that David was an experienced fighter. In verse 8 he uses the first of several “word pictures.”  He says,  “You know your father and his men; they are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs.”  Picture a wild bear, furious that someone has taken her cubs.  Hushai is picturing David as having that same fury, anger and strength.

Second, he appeals to Absalom’s pride.  Proverbs 16:18 points out that pride goes before a fall, - before destruction.  Absalom was the most handsome man in Israel, (2 Sam. 14:25), and he was fueled by his pride.  Hushai appeals to Absalom’s pride by painting another  “word picture” as he says,  there in verse 11, “So I advise you: Let all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba - as numerous as the sand on the seashore - be gathered to you, with you yourself leading them into battle.”

He uses several other illustrations which would appeal to Absalom as he would picture himself killing David and having the throne all to himself.  In  verse 12  Hushai says, “we will fall on him as dew settles on the grounds.”  Verse 13 - “If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we will drag it down to the valley until not even a piece of it -  literally, as the ESV points out, not even  a  pebble - can be found” (13).

From a military and strategic view this advice from Hushai, filled with colorful word pictures which exalt Absalom, is nevertheless, terrible advice.  Following that advice would give David, and the people with him, time to regroup, refresh themselves, and be in a position to oppose Absalom’s forces.  Just as Ahithophel’s advice would have brought an immediate confrontation with David, this advice of Hushai postpones that confrontation, giving David a clear advantage.

And it is that poor advice which is followed. Verse 14 explains why. It wasn’t just due to the word pictures that Hushai cleverly presented. It wasn’t due just to Absalom’s pride.  Verse 14 says:  Absalom and all the men of Israel said,  “The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than that of Ahithophel.”  For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.

This is reminiscent of what happened with King Ahab when he asked Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, to join him in attacking the Arameans.  Jehoshaphat recommended that Ahab seek advice, so Ahab called together 400 prophets, men who served as his advisors, and asked, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain....?”

They  counseled him to go to war. They assured Ahab that he would win. But as 1 Kings 22 explains, the Lord had allowed a lying spirit to mislead Ahab. Instead of being victorious he was struck by an arrow shot at random, which in God’s providence, struck Ahab between the sections of his armor. Ahab was killed in battle and his son took his place on the throne of Israel.

This passage reminds us that whether the ruler is Absalom, Ahab, or today, President Barack Obama, God is yet sovereign over the nations of the world. He may allow terrible advice to be followed, because He uses it, as we will see, for His own purposes as He ensures that His plans prevail over the plans of people, even powerful leaders of great nations.  Truly, the king’s  heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases”  (Prov. 21:1).

An Effectively Planned Chain of Events

It is worth noting that in God’s providence, Hushai was a very effective double agent. He covered all the bases, not just in his smooth speech to Absalom and  the elders of Israel, he also set all the dominoes in order so that a whole chain of events would transpire after his speech.

In verse 15  Hushai told Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, that both he and Ahithophel have given advice to Absalom.  But at this point Hushai doesn’t know whether his advice or Ahithophel’s would be followed.  Either way he wanted David as far from harm’s way as possible.  So he sets a chain of events in place: He tells Zadok and Abiathar what has happened, they in turn get the message to a servant girl who was to tell Jonathan and Ahimaaz, who, in turn, would warn David to cross the Jordan River and regroup on the other side.

However, there was a glitch, - a spoke was thrown into the wheel, so to speak. Verse 18 describes how a young man saw them and told Absalom. So the two of them left quickly and went to the house of a man in Bahurim. He had a well in his court yard, and they climbed down into it.  And verse 19 describes how his wife took a covering and spread it out over the opening of the well and scattered grain over it. No one knew anything about it.

When Absalom’s men come to this man’s house, where Jonathan and Ahimaaz are hiding in the well, and ask, “Where are Jonathan and Ahimaaz?” the woman tells an outright lie.  She says, “They crossed over the brook.”  Absalom’s men go off to look for Jonathan and Ahimaaz, but of course they cannot find them because they have been misled – lied to – and they return to Jerusalem.

I suppose at this point we could get sidetracked and ask, “Is it ever right to lie? Aren’t we always supposed to tell the truth and allow our Sovereign God to spare those who may be adversely affected?”  Scripture makes it clear that if it means someone’s life is on the line, you can  mislead those who want to end that life. The midwives described in Exodus 1, Shiphrah and Puah, were commended for disobeying the King of Egypt when he told them to take the lives of all the baby boys born to Hebrew women.

Likewise Rahab, listed in Hebrews 11 as a person of great faith, was rewarded for concealing the spies whom Joshua had sent into Jericho. When the king of Jericho told her to bring out the spies who had been seeing entering her house of ill repute, she lied, and said to him, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from.  At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch  up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) (Joshua 2:4-6).

If you lived in Europe during World War 2 and were hiding Jews in your attic and the Gestapo came and said,  “Where are Jonathan and Ahimaaz?” I would hope that you and I would say as this unnamed woman said, “They went that a-way – they crossed over the brook. There are not here.”

But that is a whole other subject for another day.  This evening we read in verse 21 how the two messengers, Jonathan and Ahimaaz, having their lives spared, climbed out of the well and went to warn David to cross the Jordan River.

God’s Provision for David

After David crossed the Jordan River he was refreshed and fed by a number of unlikely people.  They also brought bedding so that David and his men could get rest. They even brought bowls and pans for the preserving and cooking of food to strengthen David and his troops.  One of the three men that God used to provide for David was Shobi, an Ammonite, the brother of the king of Amnon.  He was a pagan, yet used by the Lord to help David at this crucial time in his life.

Makir, who formerly helped Saul and was loyal to him, also comes and supports David, perhaps because both had sheltered Mephibosheth. And with Shobi and Makir is Barzillai, from Gilead. He a very wealthy man, so he was financially able to help, but it is remarkable that he shows up here with David.  He was 80 years old, as noted in 2 Samuel 19:32, and came quite a distance, a distance of a number of miles, to help David.

A couple of commentators point out that this incident could relate to David’s expression there in the beautiful 23rd Psalm, vs 5a, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…  I don’t know for sure if that is what David had in mind when the Holy Spirit inspired him to write that beautiful Psalm, but it certainly would fit the occasion.

The Plans of the Lord Stand Firm Forever

A number of applications spring from this fascinating chapter of Scripture.  For one thing, we see that no amount of planning can foil God’s purposes. We have already seen from verse 14 that the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom. That is also what we read in our responsive reading from  Psalm 33:10-11: The LORD foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.

This should be of great comfort to you and to me. We live in a nation that has gone in a direction that deeply concerns many of us. We certainly are not the nation that our founding fathers envisioned when they came to this continent for the express purpose of having the freedom to worship the God revealed in Scripture.

But regardless of who is president, regardless of who is in Congress, God is sovereign. No amount of planning,  not even a health-care bill that would give pills to 15 year old girls in order to effectively terminate their pregnancies without the knowledge of their parents,  can thwart the purposes of God. He can still, if He so desires, raise up a Moses, one whose life by human reasoning should have ended in infancy, and use him to be His mouthpiece in this fallen world. As indeed all of us are to be: prophets, priests, and kings, influences of light and salt in a decaying culture of darkness.  Proverbs 21:30 gives us this note of encouragement: There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed  against the Lord.

God Uses Everything for His Own Ends

We also see in this passage that God uses all means to accomplish His plans. We see that not only in the persuasive speech filled with “word pictures” that Hushai gave as advice to Absalom, but we also see it in the provisions that are provided for David, there in verse 27-29.

I like what Dr. Derek Thomas says about the provision of supplies for David.  In his series on 2 Samuel he exhibits a unique sense of humor. He refers to Shobi, Makir and Barzillai as “Rag, Tag, and Bobtail.” And he points out that God not only controls the big things in life: who is going to be king, who is going to be defeated and face death, and what direction the nation will go.  But God also determines the little things: Who will provide the pots and pans? The cheese,beans and lentils?  He writes:

Isn’t that beautiful? A God who’s concerned about, “Where am I going to get my next meal from? Where am I going to get something to cook some soup? Even if I find something, how am I going to cook it?” And along comes Rag, Tag, and Bobtail. These three individuals – a pagan, a man in his eighties, and a former Saul loyalist. Isn’t the providence of God extraordinary, that God gets involved in the details, in the small things? He’s not just a God of the big things, He’s the God of the little small things.  (Dr. Derek H.W. Thomas, Walking by Faith When You Don’t Know the End, fpcjackson.org).

God’s providence is a truly great and wonderful subject.  He controls and governs all things, big and little. In the words of Proverbs 16:4, The LORD works out everything for His own ends - even the wicked for a day of disaster.

The Futility of Opposing the Lord

A third application: We can be assured that those who oppose the Lord will come to  ruin, if not in this life, then in the life to come.

We have seen previously that Ahithophel, even for all his wisdom, was exceedingly foolish when it came to whom he would support as king of Israel. David was God’s choice to be King, because through the lineage of David, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be born.  By supporting Absalom, Ahithophel was refusing to submit to God plans and purposes.

We have also seen that in some ways he foreshadows Judas Iscariot.  He betrayed the anointed one, David, just as Judas betrayed the Anointed One, Jesus.  And both took their own lives.  But even if they hadn’t, God would deal with them, if not in this life, then in the life to come. As Paul told the Thessalonians, God is just... He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed (2 Thess. 1:6-10a).

Gracious Providence

Many a nation has been mislead because they followed the wrong advisor.  But God uses both the wise decisions of world leaders and their foolish decisions to accomplish His purposes and plans.  Still today, for His own purposes He may frustrate good advice in order to bring disaster – to bring judgment on those who oppose Him.

The same is true for individuals, as we will  see in the next chapter, where Absalom comes to a horrible end, hung by his own hair in the branches of a massive oak, as Joab and his armor-bearers surround him and bring him to a gruesome death.

But by God’s grace may you and I always follow the perfect advice, - indeed, the righteous commands, - of His Word, and rejoice in His gracious providence as in mysterious ways His wonders He performs. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 05/1, Rev. Ted Gray

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