Love and Loyalty

Read: 2 Samuel 15:13-37

A messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the Israelites have gone after Absalom.” Then David said to all his officials who were with him at Jerusalem, “Get up! Let us flee, or there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Hurry, or he will soon overtake us, and bring disaster down upon us, and attack the city with the edge of the sword” (2 Samuel 15:13-14, NRSV).

Why is it that when you do a photo search for “loyal friend,” you mostly end up with pictures of dogs? You can draw your own conclusions from that, but I think it may not speak well for human beings.

J. R. R. Tolkien once said, “Faithless is [the one] that says farewell when the road darkens.” In this section of our story the road is indeed dark, and some of David’s closest friends and family are saying farewell. That description is probably too kind, however, since the traitors do not wish for David to “fare well” at all. David’s son, Absalom, is about to send out the signal for a full-scale revolt. David’s reaction to the news that “the hearts of the Israelites have gone after Absalom” illustrates that the threat is real and dangerous. “Get up!” he says. “Let us flee, or there will be no escape for us from Absalom.” In other words: there will be blood.

Although David does not know it yet, one of his closest advisors has also defected. Ahithophel, who hails from a town close to where Absalom is planning to launch the insurrection, has thrown his support behind Absalom. It’s the ancient equivalent of a president being betrayed by their own chief of staff. If David doesn’t know it yet, he soon will, since Ahithophel would likely be the first person he’d call in a crisis.

The priests Abiathar and Zadok (and their sons) remain loyal to David. In fact, they grab the ark of the covenant and high tail it out of town, catching up with the king as he flees from Jerusalem. It’s a telling moment. The presence of the ark would have been perceived as a powerful weapon. But instead of accepting it as such, David tells them to carry the ark back into the city. “If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD,” he says, “he will bring me back and let me see both it and the place where it stays. But if he says, ‘I take no pleasure in you,’ here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him” (vv. 25-26). David is not sure how this will end, and more importantly, he’s not sure how God wants this to end.

Also loyal to David is Ittai the Gittite, who has only “yesterday” come into David’s camp. In fact, he is a Philistine—one of David’s former enemies. Yet, even though he is “a foreigner and an exile,” he sticks to David like glue. His loyalty says a lot, especially in contrast with the way David has been abandoned by other friends and family.

Then, just after David gets the news that Ahithophel is among the conspirators, David encounters the man who will become a key ally: Hushai the Archite. Hushai’s loyalty is displayed for all to see—first by the fact that he has joined the king’s weeping retreat, but also because he himself is in open mourning, coming to meet David with “his coat torn and earth on his head.” This time, however, David sends Hushai back to Jerusalem as a spy. The chapter closes with him arriving back at the city just as Absalom does. It’s a small but significant glimmer of hope for David’s cause.

One of the questions that runs like a subterranean river beneath this chapter is: “Why didn’t David see this coming?” Absalom had been up to no good ever since David allowed him to return from exile for murdering his brother, Amnon. Surely, David must have suspected something….

Maybe the answer to that question is that he didn’t want to see it coming. Absalom may have “stolen the hearts of the people,” but David’s heart had always been his. Now, that heart is still his, even though it’s breaking.

Ponder this quote from Eric Felten: “The only true test of loyalty is fidelity in the face of ruin and despair.”

Pray: May we prove loyal to You even in the face of ruin and despair, O God.