Good Friends and Bad Friends

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2022

Last week, we studied the life of a young man named Absalom.  He was a son of King David. He was heir to the throne.  The people loved him.  He was popular.  He was good-looking, like his sister Tamar. He was good-looking, like his father David.  He was a smooth politician.  He told people what they wanted to hear.

He was also a bitter and angry man.  He had many reasons to be angry.  Some of his reasons were valid, but he expressed his anger, like a lot of kids do today, in rebellion to authority.  Absalom rebelled against his father.  He hated his dad and tried to kill him.

That makes Absalom worse than even John Wilkes Booth.  Booth killed a president but never killed his own father.  It is ironic because Absalom has “peace” (shalom) in his name.  His name in Hebrew is pronounced Av-shalom but Absalom was not thinking peace but bloodshed.  He was thinking of murder.  He gathered an army and tried to take over the throne.  He instigated a coup.

Now, we see the results of that rebellion.  Absalom ends up dead.  Absalom’s hair is caught in an oak tree.  He dangles between heaven and earth and is stabbed to death.  This section describes the judgment of a rebel. Absalom died a man under God’s curse, hanging from a tree in shame and humiliation.  It was a terrible way to die.

Absalom wasted his life, like a lot of people do today.  Absalom was a man of wasted potential.  What a terrible thing it is to have great potential to be used by God to do great things and yet completely waste your life and die in complete disgrace and shame.

Absalom could have become king.  He could have had the blessing of God on his life.  Instead, he chose to live a life of rebellion to authority, conspiring against God’s king, setting himself against the Lord’s anointed and putting himself under the judgment of God.  “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18 NIV)

Today, we want to ask this question.  What do you do when tragedy strikes?  What do you do when your world falls completely apart?  What do you do when life is turned upside down?  What do you do when you don’t know what God is doing in your life?  We will look at what happened to David?  We will look at how he responded to this crisis.

David’s Darkest Hour

David had many high points in his life.  He was anointed king as a young man and that was done right in front of his entire family.  His brothers mocked and belittled him.  The Prophet Samuel anointed him king above all of his brothers.  Talk about a boost to your self-esteem.

He killed a huge giant.  The giant was so big and so strong that no one would even fight him.  Everyone who fought him was destroyed.  David was not even a grown man.

When everyone else was afraid to fight him, David took up the challenge and killed him.  He became an instant hero.    He became famous all throughout the country, even more famous than the king himself.  Songs were sung about him.

He captured the city of Jerusalem, the city on a hill.  He brought the presence of God (the Ark of the Covenant) to the city.  After defeating an unbeatable opponent, he captured an unconquerable city.  No one before had been able to conquer it.

God also gave David a special covenant. He promised that the future Messiah would be one of his descendants and would one day sit on David’s throne.  He promised David a kingdom that was permanent and eternal, but life was not all good for David.  David had some very low points in his life.

One low point was when David spent fifteen years on the run, living in caves and hiding from a demon-possessed king who was trying to kill him.

Another low point was when David lost his best friend Jonathon in battle.  He was absolutely devastated (I Samuel 31; II Samuel 1).  They had a lot in common.  They were both godly men.  They were kindred spirits.  They were close.

Another low point was when David came home from battle one day and found everything gone.  All of the women and children were gone.  The city was on fire.  His home was destroyed.  (I Samuel 30).

A fourth low point in his life was when David committed sexual sin and tried to cover it up with an even worse crime.  David committed adultery and murder.  He does not repent for a whole year.  He had to be confronted by the Prophet Nathan.

As bad as these were, the lowest point in David’s life came later.  The darkest days of David’s life took place when David was now an old man.  He was in his sixties when tragedy struck again.

1) David had family problems

One of his sons was murdered.  One of his daughters was raped.  Another son plotted to overthrow him.  That son was also murdered, and David was completely devastated.

2) David had political problems

David has lost his popularity.  Much of the military has left him. The people love Absalom.  People who worked for him have left him, his friends, and even some of the members of his own cabinet, have abandoned him.

People mock David.  They curse him.  They throw rocks at the King of Israel and there is no consequence.

David becomes the rejected king.  He becomes the cursed king, prefiguring what would happen to the Son of David later.

He does not just face unpopularity; he faces a civil war.  In II Samuel 18, The nation went to war.  The forces of David fought the forces of Absalom.  What happened?  Twenty thousand people died.

David was the underdog.  Absalom had far more forces.  He had numerical superiority, but his side won.  God was on his side and he used a better military strategy than Absalom did.

David’s Military Strategy

1. He chose the location of the battle.

By leaving Jerusalem, he saved it from a bloodbath.  A lot of innocent people would have been slaughtered.  David left the city and went out into the wilderness.  He went to the Forest of Ephraim to fight.

2. He chose the type of warfare fought.

David used guerilla warfare to fight this war.  He used jungle warfare.

3. He divided his troops into three parts.

David did not keep all of his troops in one place.  He used the divide and conquer strategy.

4. He avoided the battle.

David wanted to go to war, but his military advisers told him to not fight, and he took their advice.

5. He had good military intelligence.

He had ground intelligence.  A spy on the inside told David what Absalom was doing.

Against overwhelming odds, David’s side wins but he faces one more tragedy.  His son dies in battle. David gave explicit orders for Absalom to be spared but Joab disobeyed those orders. Absalom is killed in the forest, thrown in a pit and is buried.  A pile of rocks was put on top of him.

You can visit something Absalom’s tomb in Israel today.  It is also called Absalom’s Pillars, but he is probably not buried there.  It is in the same area where he died, but that pillar was built a thousand years later.  We do not know where he is actually buried.

3) David had work problems

David does not just have political problems; he has work problems.  He might lose his job.  He might be taken off the throne.  He faces a coup.

There is an attempt to overthrow his government.  Absalom crowned himself king in Hebron, the same place where David was once crowned king.

4) David had safety problems

He is not just down in the polls.  He has to flee the city.  In II Samuel 13, Absalom is forced to leave Jerusalem after he killed his brother.  In II Samuel 15, David is forced to leave the city.  It is nine years later, and now David is fleeing for his own safety.

He has to run for his life.  Absalom and his troops arrive and take over the palace in Jerusalem.  David has lost his home.  He has lost his job and he is worried about losing his life.  The king is barefoot.  His head is covered, and he is weeping

David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me (II Samuel 16:11 NIV).

When Life Falls Apart

What did David do when life fell completely apart?  How did he respond?  David was in a bad situation and he did NOT know what God was going to do.  He was God’s anointed, and he did not know what God was going to do.  He says that several times.

It MAY BE that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.” (II Samuel 16:12 NIV)

25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. IF I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. 26 But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; LET HIM DO TO ME WHATEVER SEEMS GOOD TO HIM. (II Samuel 15:25-26 NIV)

David trusts God.  He waits to see what He will do.  He submits to His will.  Notice what he does not do in this situation.  He does not do many things that people do today.

1) He does not blame God for his problems

When life falls apart, many people blame God.  They are mad at God.  That is a common reaction.  “God, why did you allow this to happen to me.  It is not fair.”  David does not have that reaction.  If anything, David blamed himself.  He knew that he was under divine discipline.  This was a consequence of his own sin.

When David committed adultery and murder, the Prophet Nathan said to him, “the sword will NEVER depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own” (II Samuel 12:10 NIV).

He also told him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” (II Samuel 12:11-12 NIV)

That was fulfilled in II Samuel 16.  Nathan said that someone was going to sleep with David’s own wives like he slept with Uriah’s wife, but he did not tell him that this person would be his own son Absalom.

God did not cause David’s problems.  He brought them on himself, but God did protect and provide for David in this situation.  He protected David.  He was not killed, and his side won in the civil war, even though the other side had far more troops.  God also supernaturally provided for David.

God not only provided for him.  He provided for him in the wilderness with not only food but a bed to sleep on.  We see that in II Samuel 16 and II Samuel 17.

2) He did not try to force God to act

David was in a bad situation.  He had to flee for his life.  He did not know what God was going to do.  He did not try to force God to act, like many Christians do today.  He was helpless but he had control of the ark of the covenant.

What he did not do is to take it with him into battle as a good luck charm.  The priests in I Samuel 4 took it into battle to try to help them win.  It didn’t work.  The high priest left with David, but he sent him back into Jerusalem with the ark (II Samuel 15).

3) He does not try to hide his emotions

If you read the Psalms, you see that David does not hide his emotions to God.  He pours out his heart to God.  We need to do the same thing.  We need to pour out our heart to God in prayer.  The Son of David did not hide his emotions either.  Jesus did not hide his emotions.  He wept at Lazarus’ tomb.

David does not hide his emotions.  He does not hide how he feels.  He does not pretend that things are great and put on a front.  He weeps for his son.  He leaves Jerusalem weeping.  His robe is torn.  He has dust on his head.

But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. (II Samuel 15:30 NIV)

After Absalom is killed, we see David mourning.  He is sobbing.  The day of victory was turned into a day of mourning (II Samuel 19:1).  David was weeping, not just over a son, but over a rebellious son, a traitorous son, a murderous son.  It is one of the most moving passages in Scripture.

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” (II Samuel 18:33 NIV)

David loved his son, even though he was completely rotten.  David is weeping over a son who wanted to kill him.  David even says that he wishes that he died in his place.  The coming Messiah, the Son of David, died die for his enemies.  The Good Shepherd gave his life for the sheep.

4) He did not retaliate against his enemies

His own son was trying to kill him, but David said, “If you ever catch him, go easy on him.”

The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders. (II Samuel 18:5 NIV)

In fact, when he left Jerusalem a man came up cursing him, calling him all kinds of names and throwing dirt on him.  He said, “God is repaying you for all of the blood you shed.”

Then Abishai said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head” (II Samuel 16:9 NIV) but David refused to do that.  He said, “Maybe there is some truth to what he is saying.”  We should try that sometime.  Listen to the words of our worst critics.  Listen to our enemies to see if there is any truth to what they say.

5) He did not try to do everything himself

Some people are too proud to accept help from people.  David did not reject help from his friends.  In these chapters, we see true and false friends.  Which type of person are you? First, let’s look at David’s real friends.  Each one does something different to help David.  True friends help someone in need.

True Friends

In II Samuel 15, we see two of his friends (Ittai the Gittite and Hushai).  ITTAI was a foreigner.  We would call him an immigrant.  He was a Philistine.  He was not even Jewish.  He came from Gath, Goliath’s hometown.  He had six hundred Philistine soldiers with him.  He had only been with David for one day.  David said he could go home but he chose to stay with him and help him.  He was a faithful friend.

HUSHAI was another friend.  He was an older man.  David recruited him to be a spy. He became a double agent.  It was risky.  He went back into Jerusalem pretended to be on Absalom’s side, but he actually supported David.  It was dangerous.  He could have lost his life, but it worked.

Hushai was an inside man working for David.  He got information and told Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, who told a servant girl, who told their two sons, who relayed the information back to David.  We will come back to what Hushai did later.

In II Samuel 17, we see three more of David’s friends (Shobi, Makir and Barzilai).  They bring David and his troops some food.

We are told that they “brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, 29 honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat. For they said, “’The people have become exhausted and hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.’” (II Samuel 17:28-29 NIV).

False Friends

There are three bad friends.  We see them in II Samuel 16 & 17.  They are three types of people you might encounter in your own life.  They may claim to be friends, but they are false friends.  David’s three false friends were the flatterer, the critic and the deserter.

1. The Gossip

The flatterer is named Ziba.  Ziba was Mephibosheth’s servant.  He meets David, bows before him.  He brings him all kinds of food – break, raisins, figs and wine.  David asks about Mephibosheth and he spreads all kinds of lies about him.

Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’” (II Samuel 16:3 NIV).  Ziba was a smooth talked.  What he said was a complete lie.  David believed him and said, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.” (II Samuel 16:4 NIV).

David made a huge mistake here.  What lessons can we learn?  Don’t believe everything you hear.  Don’t believe all of the gossip you hear about people.  Get all of the facts before making a decision on something.  Allow people who are accused of something a chance to defend themselves.  It is a basic principle of justice (due process).  It is also biblical.

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13 ESV)

In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines. (Proverbs 18:17 NIV)

2. The Critic

As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. 6 He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. 7 As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! 8 The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!” (II Samuel 16:5-8 NIV)

Here was a man who hated David.  He is cursing David.  He is spewing all kinds of hate, calling him a murderer.  There are many like him today with the same type of political venom and hatred.  They are bitter critics.  Like Shimei, they will kick you while you are down and while you are hurting.

They are stone throwers.  Shimei threw actual stones at David.  This is the second type of person you may encounter.  David had the correct response to this individual.  We could learn a lot from David here.  It is not the way we normally respond to criticism.

When Jesus was reviled, He did not revile back. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (I Peter 2:23 NIV).

3. The Deserter

The deserter was Ahithophel.  All political leaders rely on advisors to help them.  They all rely on policy experts.  The President of the US has a cabinet and senior White House advisors.  A leader is only as good as the counsel he receives.

Ahithophel was King David’s chief advisor.  He left David and went to the side of Absalom and he was David’s best man.  He was his wisest counselor.

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. (II Samuel 16:23 NIV)

Ahithophel was very well respected by everyone, and he left David.  The question is, Why? Why did he desert King David in the first place?  He had been with David for twenty years.

He was very well respected, and he left David.  The question is, Why?  Why did he desert King David in the first place?  He had been with David for twenty years

He did it because of unforgiveness.  Most believe that Ahithophel was motivated by revenge.  David committed adultery with Bathsheba.  Bathsheba was said to be, according to Scripture, the daughter of Eliam (II Samuel 11:3).  Eliam, according to Scripture, was the son of Ahithophel (II Samuel 23:34).

Assuming that this was the same Eliam (as Jewish tradition says it was), it means that David raped Ahithophel’s granddaughter, and he probably never got over it.  he never forgave him.  This was his way to get back.

Unforgiveness eats people alive.  Bitterness will eventually kill you.  It is like cancer to the soul.  It eats you from the inside.  That is what happened to Ahithophel, so he went over to the side of Absalom and gave him some advice.  What advice did he give him?

First, he tells Absalom to sleep with David’s wives.  That would be one way to get back at David for what he did to Uriah’s wife, his granddaughter.  It was also his way of taking the throne.  The first thing he told him to do was to rape David’s ten concubines and he did it.

Second, he told him to attack David now.  Get him tonight.  He is weak.  He is on the run and Ahithophel told him to take quick decisive action.  It will only take twelve thousand men.  Ahithophel said that he would kill David himself but Hushai was in the room and Absalom asked him for a second opinion.

Hushai had another plan.  His plan was not to attack no but to attack later.  He said that David is a fighter.  He is a man of war.  He is a survivor.  He is used to running from Saul.  He said to wait to you can get an entire army of people fighting him with you leading the army and you will crush him, and you will get the glory.

Ahithophel’s plan was better militarily but everyone in the room like Hushai’s Plan.  They went with his plan.  Why?  It appealed to Absalom’s pride.  It was in answer to David’s prayer.  David prayed, “Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness” (II Samuel 15:31 NIV).

There’s another reason he chose Hushai’s Plan.  It was part of the providence of God.  God planned to bring disaster on Absalom.  For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom (II Samuel 17:14 NIV)

Ahithophel – The OT Judas

Ahithophel was the OT Judas.  Most don’t know this, but there are two Judas stories in the Bible.  There is one in the OT and one in the NT (Judas and Ahithophel).  What did the OT Judas and the NT Judas have in common?

1) Both held high offices

Both held important positions.  Judas was an apostle of Jesus.  He got to travel around with Jesus for three years, hear all of his teaching and see his miracles firsthand. He was in charge of money.  He was the chief financial officer for the apostles. Ahithophel was chief political advisor to King David.  He had an important political office, rather than an important religious office.

2) Both were traitors

There were many traitors in history (e.g., Benedict Arnold).  These are the two big traitors in the Bible.  Ahithophel betrayed David.  Judas betrayed the Son of David.  What Judas did was far worse than what Ahithophel did.  Judas turned the perfect innocent Son of God over to wicked men to kill him and he did it for money.

3) Both had some regrets

Both realized that they made a mistake.  The difference is that Judas felt bad about what he did and tried to give the thirty pieces of silver back.  Ahithophel did not feel bad for what he did.

Ahithophel felt bad that what he did didn’t work, and he would be caught and executed. Judas was upset because his plan worked.  Ahithophel was upset because his plan did not work, and he knew that King David would survive.

4) Both commit suicide

When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father’s tomb (II Samuel 17:23 NIV)

Ahithophel did not get depressed, find a gun and blow his brains out.  His suicide was not impulsive.  It was planned.  It was calculated.  He went home, set his house in order, wrote a will, and killed himself.

Why did he kill himself?  It was not just a case of wounded pride. He was not just mad that his advice was not taken.  He was mad because he knew that if his plan was not used, Absalom would lose.  He would never become king.

Ahithophel also knew that, if Absalom did not win, he would be executed as a traitor, so he killed himself before David could do it to him.

Ahithophel was a very smart man.  He was a wise counselor.  Smart people sometimes do some really stupid things.  They do some really dumb things.  There is a difference between being smart and being wise.

You can be highly educated, have a high IQ, and not have any spiritual wisdom.  Suicide is never the answer to your problems.  God says to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV).  The Bible says, “Do yourself no harm” (Acts 16:28 NIV)


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