The noise of the wind moving across the tent momentarily disturbed his concentration. He quickly glanced in all directions. All was secure. In the dim light he refocused his attention to the place of the ark. His eyes could not take in enough. He knew Israel’s God ruled the nation from this place. Although hidden behind a veil, the ark’s presence could be felt. Zadok had experienced a very personal God in direct and powerful contact with His people through the ark. The reality was overwhelming. What an incredible position of honor he held as a priest of the living God! In the surging silence, Zadok thought back over his event-filled life.
Uzzah’s death had been traumatic for all who witnessed it. Even though it took place decades ago, the scene was still shockingly vivid in his mind. Unfortunately for Uzzah, a tough lesson had to be learned. Only a Levite could carry or touch the ark as the great God had declared to Moses (Numbers 4; Deuteronomy 10:8), and God had to be obeyed. Yet, it was that tragic event that brought Abiathar and himself even closer to God and the king. After Uzzah’s death, David gave the two of them the responsibility to oversee the operations of moving the ark from Obed-edom’s home and to its safekeeping in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:11-12). He and Abiathar took their job very seriously.
Because of David, they could serve God fearlessly in peace and safety. Both had been with David during his years of struggle with Saul. Abiathar had escaped the tragedy at Nob and joined David on the run. David promised him, “Abide thou with me, fear not: for he that seeketh my life seeketh thy life: but with me thou shalt be in safeguard” (1 Samuel 22:23). The king had kept his word to the young priest.
In the stillness, Zadok remembered his younger, military days. David knew him to be a strong and valiant warrior (1 Chronicles 12:28). He had led the captains of the priests into the battles against Saul’s rebels. He recalled the men marching. Arrows flying. Swords slashing. Saul’s house crumbled before God’s anointed. Zadok saw God establish David king over Israel. While Saul’s tragic life and violent death put Israel in darkness, David’s rule breathed new life into the nation.
Strengthened by Overcoming Weakness
Once the ark was housed in Jerusalem, David arranged for Zadok to assist Abiathar as high priest, placing them very close to both the ark and the royal hierarchy. Even though Zadok’s main priestly duties were conducted at the tabernacle in Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:39), he still had ample opportunity to study David in action. The king deeply loved and served his people. David worked directly with prince, priest and prophet. When attending official functions, Zadok experienced firsthand the pulse of the nation throbbing at Jerusalem.
Over the years Zadok was aware of problems in the palace. He saw the failures, trials and triumphs. David had many successes, but was plagued by several serious sins. Yet, Zadok saw God work directly with David through His prophet Nathan. David always responded well. The king was a deeply repentant man. He witnessed David growing ever stronger when he overcame his weaknesses. Zadok set his mind to never forget that David was God’s anointed.
Zadok saw firsthand and deeply appreciated David’s desire to serve God. He was a king with flaws, but his spiritual dedication was his great strength. Zadok could see clearly that God was with David. Although David was growing old, his heart still burned with a young, white-hot love for God. This fact was truly inspiring. With all of his shortcomings, David was constant in his desire to serve God. An excitement and deep respect for David welled up inside the priest.
All the priests were aware that David wanted most to build a house for God. Not just any house, but a palace—far better than this tent. This was awe-inspiring! The king wanted to give back to God. Zadok’s mind drifted to the king’s storehouse. In his old age, the king was consumed with amassing the finest materials, highly prized woods, silver and gold for a temple—all in honor of Israel’s God (1 Chronicles 22:2-5). What a heart! What generosity! A flutter of sadness disturbed his thoughts. It was too bad David could not oversee the building of God’s house. Yet, there was hope—a beloved son of his would!
Refreshed spiritually, Zadok slowly walked out of the tent. In the evening light he saw smoke in the distance. He recognized that a fire was burning in the royal fields. This was not good. The barley grain was not yet harvested. An uncomfortable feeling came over Zadok. Someone was suffering terrible loss. Damaging fires wrecking bountiful harvests often carried an ominous warning from God. Zadok wondered, Was new trouble brewing in the nation?
Absalom Sees David
Absalom sat waiting. He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. It was Joab who got him back to Jerusalem. It would be Joab who would get him back into his father’s presence. He had been waiting for two years to see his father. Hadn’t he been punished enough? Fury like an out-of-control fire raged inside him. He had sent a message to Joab to get him an audience with the king. Joab would not even come see him. He sent him a second message. Joab would not respond. So he devised a new plan.
Absalom instructed his servants, “See, Joab’s field is near mine, and he hath barley there; go and set it on fire” (2 Samuel 14:30). The arrogant prince was sure the fire would get Joab’s attention.
The unfortunate news came quickly to Joab. His prized barley field was on fire. There would be no joyous Feast of Weeks this year. Joab’s men witnessed Absalom’s servants throwing flaming torches into the verdant field. Joab was immediately angered and rushed off to Absalom’s house. He shouted at Absalom, “Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?” (verse 31). With a grin and a sarcastic tone Absalom answered, “Behold, I sent unto thee, saying, Come hither, that I may send thee to the king, to say, Wherefore am I come from Geshur? it had been good for me to have been there still: now therefore let me see the king’s face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me” (verse 32). Joab was exasperated with the young man. Yet he was a prince. Since David was aging, who knew how things would end? Joab went immediately to David.
Hearing Joab’s report, David’s heart was moved toward his son. He sent an invitation for Absalom to come to the palace. When Absalom received the news his nostrils flared. Finally! He thought to himself. His eyes darkened as he thought on his own future. He dressed in his best and went to the king. As he entered his father’s quarters he bowed very low. David rushed and kissed him. At that moment, Absalom kept his eyes wide open.
Outbreak of Revolt
Zadok was cautiously positive when he first learned that Absalom was readmitted to the court. He knew it would be good if some of the rifts in David’s family could be healed. But he soon recognized that Absalom was making a great spectacle of himself. Reports back to Gibeon revealed that Absalom was not only racing fancy chariots through the streets of Jerusalem, he had 50 men run before him (2 Samuel 15:1).The haughty prince grew rapidly full of himself after being reunited with his father. Zadok and others sensed something dark brewing.
Many observed Absalom work the crowds at the gates of Jerusalem. He showed great compassion, warmth and emotion. He had many of his father’s abilities. But how was he using them? Like his father, he could draw people to himself. Rumors ran rampant that Absalom planned a revolt, but the facts were weak. Zadok knew it was told that the prince had approached key advisers close to the king to join him. David turned a deaf ear to such talk. Yet, Absalom was working tirelessly to persuade Israel’s people and nobles to reject their king. He convinced many that he, Absalom, was the new king for a better Israel.
The day came. Confident of his plans for insurrection and his ability to throw his father off guard, Absalom went to David and asked for permission to visit Hebron. He stated innocently, “I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the Lord, in Hebron. For thy servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying, If the Lord shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve the Lord” (2 Samuel 15:7-8). Suspecting nothing, David said, “Go in peace” (verse 9).
Absalom had laid his plans well. He orchestrated his own coronation in Hebron. David began there—so would he. Hebron was a military stronghold in Judah. It was a seat of power, and many warriors identified with the place. Once Absalom was declared king in Hebron, David would be forced to recognize that the real fighters of Judah were on his son’s side. The rebel prince sent spies to all the tribes of Israel. He had instructed them to announce, “As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron” (verse 10). In addition, Absalom invited 200 leading men out of Jerusalem to the event in Hebron. These men had no idea what Absalom had planned. They were innocent of the conspiracy (verse 11). But they fell victim to Absalom’s trap. If they did not go along with Absalom they could face death. The leaders of Jerusalem were shocked at Absalom’s treachery toward his loving father. How horrible for David to have such a backstabbing son.
Yet another great shock was forthcoming. As the fires were lit on the sacrifices for the crowning of a king, Absalom sent for Ahithophel. When this man showed up in Hebron, the depth of the conspiracy was revealed. Ahithophel, Bathsheba’s grandfather, was David’s most trusted counselor. The Bible states, “And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom” (2 Samuel 16:23). Ahithophel, a gifted political adviser, unwisely helped Absalom plan the revolt.
A dark storm fell over the nation. The Bible states simply, “And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom” (2 Samuel 15:12). Absalom’s revolt was no small problem.
David Flees Jerusalem
News of the revolt spread quickly to Jerusalem. David’s loyal servants brought him the bad news: “The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom” (2 Samuel 15:13). All the details of what was known were given to the king. Having a warrior’s understanding, David recognized his own weakened position. He also understood the grave danger to Jerusalem, his crown city.
David quickly gave orders to his household servants: “Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword” (verse 14). David’s servants went into action. They prepared to escape with their lives and the government. Surmising that Absalom would not sack the city knowing that he was gone, David left 10 concubines behind to keep the palace (verse 16). David informed Zadok and Abiathar by messenger.
As David fled from Jerusalem, his skilled bodyguards the Cherethites, Pelethites and Gittites, 600 men in all, protected him. Even one of their newest recruits, a soldier foreign to Israel, Ittai the Gittite, pledged undying fealty to David (verses 19-22). This had to greatly encourage the king. What a sharp contrast to his own rebellious son! News of the rebellion soon reached the public sector. Many wept. Loud crying and wails broke the silence of the night. David was again a man on the run—not from a corrupt king, but an evil, power-crazed son!
Zadok, Abiathar and the other priests hurriedly prepared to move the ark. They wanted to be with David in exile. David was God’s anointed; the ark belonged with him. In deep silence the procession started away from the sacred tent. Zadok remained calm as he led them through the darkened streets of Jerusalem. Looking back he saw many mouths moving quietly. Yes, instant prayers were very much in order. He fully believed God had not and would not desert the king. The loyal priests caught up with David’s party and moved out of Jerusalem. At the brook Kidron they set down the ark and let all pass by.
In the darkness, a hunched, solitary figured moved toward the priests. Zadok’s spine stiffened as he prepared to protect the ark. However, he quickly shrunk back—it was the king! Zadok’s stomach wrenched at the sight. David’s face was ashen white. Each wrinkle was etched like deep crevices in his face. Zadok knew Absalom’s betrayal held this noble man captive to emotion. Sorrow surrounded David like dense fog. Tear-stained rivulets were evident on his sunken cheeks. Like a fasting priest, David covered his head and went barefoot (verse 30). He was a man of true humility.
The king looked deeply into Zadok’s eyes and said, “Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and show me both it, and his habitation: But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him” (verses 25-26). David had completely resigned his fate to God. This was a perfect example of David’s vibrant faith in a merciful God.
Yet, Zadok wanted to protest. He desired deeply to be with his king–to support him. Zadok was ready to fight alongside him. But the king had a plan. He continued, “[R]eturn into the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz thy son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will tarry in the plain of the wilderness, until there come word from you to certify me” (verses 27-28). David set up his own spy network. He wanted the two priests to return to Jerusalem with their sons. They were to communicate with him through their sons. They would be his special and trusted informants. Zadok and Abiathar returned to Jerusalem and waited for events to unfold. It would not be long until their services would be desperately needed.
As David’s small army ascended up the Mount of Olives, he was informed that Ahithophel had gone over to Absalom. His sage adviser was a conspirator! News of his betrayal cut David even more deeply. He immediately prayed to God, “O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (verse 31). David recognized that Ahithophel could greatly help his wayward son. But God could stop it. At this dark time, David focused totally on God.
Aid for the King
On the surface, things looked very bad for David. As the party moved up the Mount of Olives, Nathan’s dire words played back in the king’s mind over and over: “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house” (2 Samuel 12:10). David wept bitterly. Those close to him were moved to tears at the king’s deep sorrow. However, God was already beginning to bless David.
As he reached the top of the mount, out of the darkness came Hushai the Archite. His clothes were torn and he had thrown dirt on his head. He was in deep mourning over the rebellion. David was very glad to see this man—to know his loyalty. He was an intimate friend and top adviser. David quickly saw an advantage. Hushai was a direct answer to his most recent prayer.
David did the unthinkable and asked Hushai to return to Jerusalem. He told him, “If thou passest on with me, then thou shalt be a burden unto me: But if thou return to the city, and say unto Absalom, I will be thy servant, O king; as I have been thy father’s servant hitherto, so will I now also be thy servant: then mayest thou for me defeat the counsel of Ahithophel” (2 Samuel 15:33-34). David wanted Hushai to return and feign allegiance to Absalom. He would most certainly be taken into the prince’s confidence. He could counteract Ahithophel’s advice and then inform David through Abiathar and Zadok’s sons. Hushai rushed back to the city. David was very encouraged. God had immediately helped him plan a very effective counterattack.
As David passed the top of the mount, Ziba, the servant of Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth, met him with extra mules, food and drink. David graciously accepted Ziba’s gift. David had been very kind to Saul’s crippled son; he inquired as to where he stood with Absalom’s rebellion. Ziba lied and said Saul’s son expected the kingdom to be returned to him. Ziba made David believe the man was involved in the rebellion. He was not. David, not catching the deceit, gave the servant all of Mephibosheth’s possessions.
Shimei Curses David
Surely this night had to have been one of the lowest points in David’s life since he was elevated to king. Yet, he had to endure one more insult. As he reached the village of Bahurim near the Jordan fords, Shimei, a relative of Saul, came out to curse him. As he threw rocks at David and all his servants he screamed, “Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial: The Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man” (2 Samuel 16:7-8). David stood and listened.
Abishai, David’s nephew, was not so patient. He complained to David, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head” (verse 9). Exasperated, David looked the hothead right in the eyes and said, “What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so?” (verse 10). Then David addressed the whole band of vagabonds: “Behold, my son, which came forth of my bowels, seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it? Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day” (verses 11-12). Here David revealed his true royal attitude to everyone.
The real tragedy of the day was not Shimei’s curse; it was Absalom’s revolt. Wasn’t Absalom’s desire for his death far worse? David turned his other cheek to Shimei, looking for a blessing from God for enduring it. As the tired refugees moved on, Shimei followed after them, cursing, throwing rocks and dirt at them.
Absalom Enters Jerusalem
Hidden in the shadows, Zadok witnessed Absalom’s return to the city. In a secret meeting with Zadok, Hushai recounted David’s instructions. They would all work together to restore David to his throne. Zadok noticed that Ahithophel was by Absalom’s side. The sight disgusted Zadok. But Hushai was there to meet them. He raised his voice in salute, “God save the king, God save the king” (2 Samuel 16:16). Absalom was both surprised and pleased. Could David’s friend now be his friend?
He asked Hushai, “[W]hy wentest thou not with thy friend?” (verse 17). Hushai gave a convincing answer, “Nay; but whom the Lord, and this people, and all the men of Israel, choose, his will I be, and with him will I abide. And again, whom should I serve? Should I not serve in the presence of his son? As I have served in thy father’s presence, so will I be in thy presence” (verses 18-19). Absalom grinned widely at this answer. This was certainly more than he expected. He now held two of David’s top advisers as his own. Filled with self-assurance, he believed David would soon be caught and killed.
Absalom was giddy as they approached the palace grounds. He dashed inside the near-empty house. David’s concubines cowered in fear. Like a wild stallion he ran through the halls and into the throne room. Sitting in his father’s seat, pride welled up inside him. Absalom shouted for joy.
Ahithophel followed him into the familiar surroundings. With his head cocked high Absalom addressed the sage, “Give counsel among you what we shall do” (verse 20). The answer was short and simple. “Go in unto thy father’s concubines, which he hath left to keep the house; and all Israel shall hear that thou art abhorred of thy father: then shall the hands of all that are with thee be strong” (verse 21). Absalom did exactly as the old man directed. They spread a tent on the rooftop and Absalom took each concubine in the light of day—in front of the entire nation. This was to prove his ascension to the throne, but it brought great shame upon David. The pain David had to suffer at the hands of Absalom was incredible. Yet, even more intense suffering was to come.
Ahithophel’s Counsel Defeated by Hushai
Ahithophel also advised Absalom to allow him to gather 12,000 troops immediately and pursue David. He assured Absalom that this would catch David off guard and that he would personally see to the king’s demise. In addition, he would bring all David’s refugees back with him (2 Samuel 17:1-4). The seditious prince and his rebel leaders liked this idea. Actually, from a military strategic standpoint, it was the right thing to do. Yet, Absalom would seek more counsel on the matter. Not originally invited to this meeting, Absalom’s second adviser, Hushai, was summoned.
On hearing Absalom explain Ahithophel’s strategy, David’s friend seized the opportunity to help his king. He said, “The counsel that Ahithophel hath given is not good at this time” (verse 7). Hushai used much stealth and wisdom with Absalom. Essentially, he said the counsel was good but the timing was wrong. Saying it this way destroyed any possible debate from Ahithophel. Using skill of language, he went on to explain that his father and his chosen warriors were mighty men and they would not be weak now but strong. He suggested that Absalom gather a multitude of the troops from all over Israel to fight David personally out in the open or at some city (verses 8-13). Hushai stressed that his way was the only way Absalom could win.
Hushai’s persuasion was very powerful. Absalom and all those with him, except Ahithophel, believed Hushai’s counsel. The blood must have drained from Ahithophel’s face as Absalom agreed to the wrong decision. The Bible states, “And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For the Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom” (verse 14). Absalom fell for the trap. Why? It was God’s trap. His rebel days were quickly coming to an end. Hushai’s counsel bought David time to rest and build up an army.
Fearing a reversal in decision, Hushai rushed secretly to Zadok and Abiathar to get a message to David. He explained about the meeting with Absalom. Now the priest’s sons had to warn David to keep moving into the wilderness. His life was in grave danger. They were also to share the good news of the possible defeat of Ahithophel’s counsel. The priests immediately got this message to their sons (verses 15-16).
Knowing that they would be under suspicion and watched—for all knew that the priests supported David—other people were involved in carrying the message between the high priests and their sons. An unnamed girl helped deliver the message to Jonathan and Ahimaaz (verse 17). Under the cover of darkness, the young men carried out their mission. The boys were involved in life-threatening, risky business.
A young boy, a spy for Absalom, suspected their activities and reported them to Absalom. The prince sent warriors after them. But a woman loyal to David hid them in a well. When confronted by Absalom’s soldiers she directed them away from the young priests (verses 18-20). Their lives were spared, Hushai’s true loyalties were kept secret, and David was able to move beyond danger (verses 21-22). The king and his throne were spared great destruction.
Time and again Zadok, Abiathar and their sons proved their deep loyalty to David. They were fearless, unselfish men willingly putting their lives at stake for the king. Unfortunately, future events show that only Zadok and his sons were the truly loyal priests.
The Bible shows clearly that Absalom held fast to Hushai’s counsel. The astute Ahithophel recognized that this would be his undoing—Absalom would fail, which meant he would fail also. Ahithophel returned to his home that night, set his house in order and then hung himself. The beginning of Absalom’s fall had come.