PRIDE, INGRATITUDE, HYPOCRISY, REBELLION
--2 SAMUEL 15:1-12.--NOVEMBER 1.--
Golden Text:--"Honor thy Father and thy Mother,
that thy days may be long in the land which the
Lord thy God giveth thee."--Exod. 20:12.
LESSONS may be drawn from the lives of the ignoble, as well as from those of the noble. As the poet says:--
"Lives of great men all remind us,
We should make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time."
This being so, then surely it is true also that the footprints of the evil-doers on life's pathway have lessons for us also, indicating to us which paths should be shunned, which elements of character should be restrained, which ambitions should be curbed. Following this course of instruction the divine Word holds up before the Spiritual Israelites not only noble precepts and counsels and examples of heroic devotion to truth and righteousness, but illustrations also of the course of evil-doers. Our lesson today belongs to this latter class. It considers Absalom, the son of King David, who at the time of this lesson was presumably nearly thirty years of age. His father, the Lord's anointed king over Israel, his mother, the daughter of a king of a neighboring realm, Absalom inherited princely qualities and manners and, being very beautiful, became a center of Israelitish pride. "In all Israel there was none to be so much praised for his beauty. From the sole of his foot, even to the crown of his head, there was no blemish in him"; and the hair of his head is a proverb to this day.
It is worthy of note that those who are highly favored by nature, richly endowed in appearance or mental ability, are subject to temptations to a far greater degree than their fellows who are less talented, less handsome. Their besetting weakness is apt to be pride, self-esteem, to which ambition is apt to lend a helping hand. Thinking of Absalom and his beauty and his high position in the kingdom, reminds us of Lucifer and the glorious description given of him in the Scriptures--his high position and honor and his pride and ambition and the downfall to which they led. The very suggestion of these two characters, from this standpoint should bring a thrill of fear to the hearts of all who realize that we today of Spiritual Israel are princes, highly favored of our Father, the Great King, and greatly blessed with the beauty and perfection which come to us through our justification and greatly honored of our Father in the gracious hopes set before us in the Gospel of glory, honor and immortality, and greatly blessed also in the light of divine revelation granted to us, which gives us a wisdom superior to that of the world.
What if these blessings and mercies and favors should have their wrong effect upon us and bring us eventually to disaster, as was the case with Absalom and with Lucifer? The thought is sufficiently appalling to remind us of the Apostle's words, "Let us fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest [of becoming joint-heirs with our Redeemer], any of us should seem to come short of it"-- through a lack of loyalty, a lack of allegiance, a lack of faith, a lack of humility.
A MURDERER OF THE BRETHREN
It will be remembered that David's eldest son was Amnon, and that he had defiled his half-sister Tamar, the full sister of Absalom. King David, sorely vexed at the matter, appears to have been at a loss as to what manner of punishment he should properly meet out for the offense, so that two years passed without any being inflicted. Then Absalom took upon himself to be his sister's avenger. He made a feast, to which were invited all the King's children by his several wives. In the height of the feast, in disregard of the rules of etiquette and the claims of natural affection, Absalom slew his brother and then fled, from fear of justice, which, under their code, centered in his father, the King. What lesson is there in this experience for us? What should we copy? What avoid? In Spiritual Israel we are all princes, sons of the Great King, who is also the Judge. The lesson to us would properly be that the authority and responsibility for meeting out justice is not in our ambitions, but with the Father.
As the Scriptures declare, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." We are not to wait what seems to us a proper length of time, and then, if we see no divine punishment for what we consider to be no longer tolerable, to take the matter in our own hands--to murder one another. Nay, the command of our Great Teacher is, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you." The lesson for us to learn is expressed in the Master's words, See to the beam in thine own eye, rather than put thyself to too much inconvenience examining the mote that is in thy brother's eye. To his own Master he standeth or falleth.
The parallel would not imply that literal murder would here be accomplished amongst the Lord's children. No, thank God! The world is too far advanced in civilization to make such a course practicable; but where the Absalom spirit is-- the spirit of hatred, anger, envy, bitterness-strife is also. There is a modern method of assassination by the use of slanderous words, by insinuations, by the shrugging of the shoulders, etc. And this modern kind of murder is oftenest committed in the presence of the members of the royal family, the heavenly brotherhood. How terrible! do we say? Let us take heed that such blood-guiltiness, such "works of the flesh and the devil," be not upon us, else we shall never inherit the Kingdom.
THE UNGRATEFUL SON--TRAITOROUS
Absalom remained for three years at the court of his grandfather, Talmai, king of Geshun in Syria. By the murder of his elder brother he had put himself next to the throne of Israel, heir-apparent, and this, possibly, was considerably his inspiring motive in the crime, although he affected that the crime was committed in defense of justice and principle. Alas! how treacherous is the human heart! How frequently do we find double motives operating therein! We see the advantage of those who, as children of God, follow implicitly the Father's Word and leave all the results to him. They thus show their faith in God's power, as well as in God's justice, and thus, as the Apostle intimates, they show that they have become partakers of a holy spirit of wisdom-- "wisdom from above; first pure, then peaceable, easy of entreatment, full of mercy and good fruits," a spirit of wisdom which leaves in the Lord's hands his own matters and trusts fully to his care. This is indeed "The spirit of a sound mind." Let us, dear brethren of the Royal Spiritual Family, apply [R4276 : page 341] this principle in all of our dealings and thus receive thereby increasing blessings.
But Absalom realized that as an exiled prince his chances for acceptance as king of Israel would be comparatively small, in the event of his father's death. He therefore instituted an ingenious scheme by which his case was brought to his father's notice under most favorable conditions, and finally a respite or forgiveness or an invitation to return to his homeland was sent to him. As a continued showing of disfavor, his father, loving him the while, refused for two years to invite his wayward son to a personal visit and fellowship. Meantime the ambitious murderer skilfully managed his affairs so that, as the Scriptures declare, he "stole" the hearts of the men of Israel. He did not openly plot mischief against his father, the king, nor speak vilely respecting him, nor manifest any antagonism; he was too deep, too adroit, too wise with earthly wisdom for such a course. He stole the hearts of the people away from the king to himself by feigning extreme humility and extreme zeal for justice, and by careful attention to his personal appearance and by attention to those in influential positions. He got up early, contrary to the usage of princes, and went forth to the King's gate, where he could see the people who, some justly and some unjustly no doubt, were awaiting the king, hoping for contracts and decisions in their favor, etc. These, beholding the handsome and elegantly-dressed prince, bowed themselves to the ground after the manner of the east, only to be lifted up by the hands and kissed and told with affected modesty and love that they should not do that; that it was a king's business to serve his people and that the prince was merely sorry, so sorry, that it was not in his power to do for them all and more than they asked.
Thus for two years Absalom, the hypocrite and sycophant, endeavored (and was considerably successful in so doing) to draw to himself the love, the loyalty of the nation, which had belonged to his father David as the Lord's anointed. Evidently the young man was leaning to his own understanding and forgetting, if he ever knew, that the Lord God was the Ruler of that nation, and he alone had the power to designate who should be and who should not be his representative upon the throne.
ABSALOM'S OPEN REBELLION
Our text says, "After forty years," but scholars are agreed that this is a copyist's blunder and that it should read "four years." Some ancient authorities read this "four years"; so does Josephus. Feeling sure that his mock humility, combined with his handsome appearance, gentle manners and affected love for the people and for justice, worked successfully on the minds of the people, Absalom was ready for his next step--open rebellion against his father, the king of the nation and the appointee of divine providence. Surely he did not realize his situation in the odds of divine power against him. Continuing his practice of hypocrisy he requested of his father the privilege of visiting the neighboring city of Hebron, which had been the capital before Jerusalem was taken.
He said he desired to do sacrifice there in fulfilment of a vow. He affected to be very humble and very religious, while his heart certainly was far from the Lord. "Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?" The king granted the request, which included the privilege of taking a certain number of companions and chief people from Jerusalem, without anything amiss being thought of it. What worldly wisdom this young man had! And how ignominiously his mock humility stands out to his discredit! And how his ingratitude to his father, and his lack of every element of principle and righteousness are conspicuous! For us, dear friends, to see in ourselves anything in any degree or measure apparently approaching such a picture, or in our course anything in any degree corresponding to this, should be to horrify us, to rebuke us, to quench the kindling fire.
Into the conspiracy was drawn King David's most valued counselor, Ahithophel, whose presence with the prince as one of his friends on the occasion would mean a tower of strength to his position and the attainment of his ambition. Many of the people, deceived for years, were drawn into this conspiracy. Besides, Absalom had carefully appointed men throughout the various tribes and various parts of the land district, who were posted for his designs and in full sympathy with them, and whose business it was to create a stampede in his favor, and to help by expressing evil insinuations against the king and expressing hopes of wonderful things, if Absalom took the kingship. These were to congratulate the tribes that they now had a most worthy king in Absalom, and to explain to them that when the trumpets were heard blowing this meant not that Absalom aspired to the kingship, but that he already was king.
Alas, that history shows so many perfidious characters like Absalom! And alas, dear friends, let us remember that while we have become New Creatures in Christ, we still have to contend with the mean, perfidious dispositions that were ours according to the flesh! Let us remember, too, that "we wrestle not with flesh and blood" merely, but additionally "with principalities and powers and wicked spirits in high positions." Let us on the contrary remember the Apostle's words, "Humble yourselves, therefore, brethren, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time."-- 1 Pet. 5:6.
"My soul, be on thy guard,
Ten thousand foes arise;
The hosts of sin are pressing hard
To draw thee from the prize.
"O watch and fight and pray,
The battle ne'er give o'er;
Renew the conflict every day,
And help divine implore."
To those about to enter, or who have entered the narrow way, as well as to those who have already been on it for a time, there comes a suggestion that we must "mark well the pathway and make straight paths for our feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way." We are all lame according to the flesh; some more, some less, but all need to observe the heavenly course and to walk circumspectly, seeing that pride and ambition are the greatest of foes to humanity and faith. We are reminded here of one feature in the story of "Pilgrim's Progress": When Christian and Hopeful had escaped from the dungeon of Giant Despair and returned to the Highway leading to the Celestial City, they erected a monument near the entrance to Bypath Meadow, which had led them astray. On the monument they put the following words, "Over this stile is the way to Doubting Castle, which is kept by Giant Despair. He despises the King of the Celestial Country and seeks to destroy his holy Pilgrims."
Satan is the great giant who through these many centuries seeks to draw us away from the narrow path, away [R4276 : page 342] from full confidence in God and away from reliance on God's power and his wisdom and his Truth, by which alone we can ever become heirs of the Kingdom.
OUR GOLDEN TEXT
While fully commending the propriety of honor to earthly parents, and appreciating the Lord's promise of blessing to such as obey it, we have in mind that the Great King Eternal, the Creator, has adopted us into his family and given us the spirit of sonship whereby we cry, "Abba, Father." He has given us "exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might become partakers of the divine nature" and sharers with our heavenly brother Jesus in his Messianic Kingdom. How we should honor him! How it should be the chief endeavor of life to us to glorify our Father in heaven! How we should hearken to his words and keep them before us--"If ye love me, keep my commandments!" How we should realize that the end of his commandment is Love--out of a pure heart, fervently! How we should realize that hereby we know that we love God, if we keep his commandments --and his commandments are not grievous unto us, if we delight to do his will! Of this character are the sons who, as copies of the Redeemer, will be the heirs of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord in his Kingdom. Let us make no mistake, but remember that the "Well-done" blessing will be given only to those who attain such a character development.
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"JUST FOR TODAY"
"Just for to-day!" O depths of faith,
I need to help me say,
"Thy Will be done"--"Thou leadest me,"
Just step by step today.
I do not know tomorrow's ills
Or joys--which may befall;
But whatsoever may betide,
Thy grace will cover all.
"Just for today!" O blessed thought
That cheers my fainting heart!
I cannot wander far from thee
If I but do my part,
Which is to trust and never fear
What man may do or say,
But only "look to thee in prayer"
And trust, "Just for today!"
"Just for today!" How many saints,
Now gone to their reward,
Have trod this narrow path of faith
By "Leaning on the Lord,"
Not knowing what each day might bring
Of joys or trials severe;
Not even caring, for by faith
They knew the Lord was near!
"Just for today!" Yea, all his flock,
His "Body," these "Last days"
Rejoice to follow in his steps,
And lift their hearts in praise.
For well we know "a little while"
Is all we have to stay.
How glad we are he helps us pray,
"Dear Lord, just for today!"
"Just for today!" This "Day of Trial,"
When Satan seeks to sift;
When God permits "such polishings"
We praise him for "the Gift"
Of One who's mighty to direct
The work, till he shall say
"Enough! the Jewel shines! 'Tis mine!
I'll gather it today!"
"Just for today!" Then, brethren dear,
Be neither weak nor faint,
But "watch and pray" to be kept free
From sin's dread power and taint
That ye with Christ may "live and reign"
Till sin and death shall cease,
And Earth shall have her Jubilee
Of Everlasting Peace!
W. Homer Lee.