And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” 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.” And the king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.” So the king went out, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house. And the king went out, and all the people after him. And they halted at the last house.
And all his servants passed by him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king. Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home. You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.” But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” And David said to Ittai, “Go then, pass on.” So Ittai the Gittite passed on with all his men and all the little ones who were with him. And all the land wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness.
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. 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. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.” The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Go back to the city in peace, with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” So Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem, and they remained there. – 2 Samuel 15:13-29 ESV
It is difficult to read this text and not wonder why David, when he heard news of Absalom’s coup, simply abandoned the city and refused to put up a fight? What would have caused the king to give up his kingdom so quickly and easily? Was he giving up or just relocating his seat of government in case Absalom attacked the capital? Many of these questions will remain unanswered because the text doesn’t tell us. When David received the report, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom” (2 Samuel 15:13 ESV), he showed no surprise. It is as if he had seen it coming. As obtuse as he could be at times, David wasn’t completely oblivious to Absalom’s plans. And just as the people of Israel had switched their allegiance from Saul to David years before, he saw it happening again. This time it was his son who had won the hearts of the people. So David abandoned the capital, perhaps to prevent it from facing destruction in the event of a war.
But there is a certain degree of resignation in David’s words recorded in this passage. It was not as if he viewed this whole affair as a bump in the road. When he spoke to Ittai, the leader of the men from Gath, David told him, “Why are you coming with us? Go on back to King Absalom, for you are a guest in Israel, a foreigner in exile. You arrived only recently, and should I force you today to wander with us? I don’t even know where we will go” (2 Samuel 15:19-20 NLT). Those don’t sound like the words of an optimistic man. He was already referring to Absalom as king. His abdication of the throne was a done deal. And he had no idea where he was going or what he was going to do. The only indication that he had hopes of one day returning are the fact that he left ten of his concubines to maintain the palace for him. But everyone else left. For the second time in his life, David found himself running for his life, but this time he was not alone. He had followers and loyal subjects. Even 600 Philistine soldiers who had followed him from Gath and pledged themselves to his service, refused to abandon him in his time of need. And as David and his retinue left the city, “Everyone cried loudly as the king and his followers passed by” (2 Samuel 15:23 NLT). He still had loyal subjects. Not everyone had turned against him, but it seems that he knew that Absalom’s smear campaign against him had been successful. He was forced to give up his kingdom without a fight.
And as David left, the Levites attempted to bring the Ark of the Covenant along. But David refused to let them do so. He allowed them to offer sacrifices, but demanded that the Ark be returned to the city. It is at this point that we get a small glimpse of David’s hope that he might one day return, but it is accompanied by a certain degree of doubt.
“If the Lord sees fit,” David said, “he will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle again. But if he is through with me, then let him do what seems best to him.” – 2 Samuel 15:25-26 NLT
David had no idea what was going to happen. He had evidently received no word from God regarding the outcome of these events. As far as David knew, his kingship could be over or this could be yet another difficult reversal of fortune that God would one day remedy. But we see reflected in David’s words his reliance upon God. His return to Jerusalem would have to be God’s will, if it was going to happen. If God had determined to replace David with Absalom, there was nothing David could do about it. If David had learned anything from his years of running from Saul, it was that all of Saul’s efforts to kill David were a waste of time, because God’s will that David be king was irrevocable and unstoppable. So, if it was God’s will to make Absalom king, David knew it would be useless to try and stand against it. David was willing to trust God. If God was through with him, so be it. If God wanted to return him to power, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it, including Absalom.
The hearts of the people could be fickle. The nation of Israel was still a loosely held together confederation of independently minded tribes. Each was out for its own best interests. David’s construction projects in his new capital did nothing to line their pockets. His moving of the Ark to Jerusalem had made some angry. His building of a fancy palace had made others jealous. His affair with Bathsheba had caused many to doubt his competence to be king. Absalom had raised serious doubts about David’s leadership capabilities and undermined his reputation as a just and caring king. The tribes of Israel were quick to change sides and seek out their own selfish agendas. But David knew he could trust God. No matter what happened, he knew God was faithful. God’s will might not be crystal clear, but His character was unquestionable. God might not be telling David what the future held, but David had no doubt that God held the future. So, he would trust God. When God’s will is unclear, it requires that we trust Him. When His plans appear uncertain, it demands that we wait patiently for Him to show us what He will do or what He would have us do. Life can be filled with dark days and moments of uncertainty, but one thing is always certain: God is in control at all times. He knows what is happening and He also knows how He is going to use what appears to be the worst days of our lives to accomplish something for our good and His glory.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.