by Pastor Doug Marshall
The eternal love of God, which had once created you out of nothing and then redeemed you from Adams’ curse through the sacrifice of his blood, could not bear to let you go on living so common a life far from him. And so, with exquisite kindness, he awakened desire within you, and binding it fast with the leash of loves’ longing, drew you closer to himself into what I have called the more Special manner of living. He called you to be his friend and, in the company of his friends, you learned to live the interior life more perfectly than was possible in the common way.
Cloud of Unknowing p38
Chapter thirteen in 2 Samuel starts with the gut-wrenching story of Tamar. She was David’s daughter and the brother of Absalom. Her step-brother, Amnon, raped her. When David heard about it he got angry, but he didn’t do anything. There was no punishment or consequences of any sort. Two years later Absalom got revenge by having Amnon killed. Absalom was worried how David would react, so he ran away. He was gone for three years. Again, David didn’t do anything, except for the fact that he missed Absalom. His heart was broken.
In chapter fourteen Joab, the general of the army and David’s right hand man, realized that David was grieving Absalom, so brought Absalom back to Jerusalem and helped the two of them reconcile.
In the fifteenth chapter Absalom started acting like a politician, drawing people to himself. He was a handsome young man and people started falling in love with him. Then he started a conspiracy and plotted to become king instead of his father. Over several years he was very successful. That is where we pick up our story.
Read 2 Samuel 15:13-17
At this point David’s world had fallen apart. He was a broken man, running for his life. As he ran away he carried the guilt of what he had done. He family was disintegrating. On top of that, he has lost control of his kingdom. However, David was still a brilliant leader, and if you read the rest of the story through 2 Samuel, you know that he regains his role as king of Israel. Part of what makes that possible is that David is blessed with some wonderful friends. As people leave the city of Jerusalem with David four people are mentioned.
Read 2 Samuel 15:18-23
These 600 Gittites who followed from the town of Gath, which was the town where Goliath had come from. Somehow David had won their love and loyalty. They were devoted to David.
One of the Gittites was named Ittai. David stopped him and told him to go back. Essentially he said, “You’re a foreigner and don’t owe me anything. Your life will be so much easier if you go back.” Ittai makes one of the most amazing statements of loyalty in the Bible. “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be” (2 Sam. 15:21). David ended up making Ittai a commander in his army.
After Ittai and the Gittites went by, a group of Levites followed. Two priests in particular were named. Read 2 Samuel 15:24-31. Abiathar and Zadok carried the ark of God. There were probably two other men but they weren’t named. Normally, the ark went with the king when he led the army out to war. It was a symbol of God’s presence and would bring victory. These Levites were part of the old guard. The religious establishment supported David. However, David sent them back to Jerusalem. There are two reasons he may have done this.
On the one hand, this may be an act of humility on David’s part. He recognized his own sin and wondered if God might have rejected him. He certainly had no claim on God. He didn’t want to use the ark inappropriately or try to manipulate God. He trusted that if God wanted him to be king God would bring him back.
On the other hand, knowing that Abiathar and Zadok were on his side allowed him to send them back into the city where they could act as spies for him. They would be right in the middle of the action and be able to keep David posted, to inform him about what Absalom was doing. They would have insider information. It was a dangerous job, but they were willing to do it.
We tend to prefer life in Black and White. Either this is humility and faith, or it is a cunning, strategic plan on David’s part. The Bible is not always so clear about life. Sometimes faith and sin are mixed together, God’s work and our work. In Philippians Paul said, “work out your salvation, for God is at work in you” (Phil. 2:12-13). Jesus even said “I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16). That is what is happening in this passage. As David left Jerusalem he wept and mourned. But he also received a report about Ahithophel. David trusted God, but he also did whatever he could to get his kingdom back.
The fourth person to come along was Hushai the Archite. Read 2 Samuel 15:32-37. Before the rebellion Hushai had been one of David’s official advisors. David sent Hushai back to Jerusalem. Ahithophel had also been one of David’s advisors, but now was working for Absalom. David hoped and prayed that Hushai would counter Ahithophel’s influence. Hushai would also be a spy for David. But notice how Hushai is described – David’s friend.
A Brazilian pastor came to the United States. He had been very successful back in Brazil. He started a church that was thriving and that church had started other churches. He created a seminary to train new pastors. He’d written a number of books that were used by the Brazilian pastors. He was a big thing and had come to the United States to share some of his wisdom.
A young pastor was asked to pick him up from the airport and drive him around to the various places he needed to go – the hotel, the conference site where he was leading a workshop, a church where he was speaking. As they were driving from the hotel to the conference, the young pastor said, “Hey, do you want a cup of coffee?” The Brazilian pastor said, “Really? We have time? Wow, I’m honored! That would be great.”
The American pastor didn’t understand what the big deal was. He pulled into a drive-through coffee stand. The Brazilian pastor responded, “Ugh, you Americans. I feel so sorry for you. I thought you were asking to be my friend. I thought we were going to sit together and share life.”
Friends are an essential part of life. Our American culture tends to deny that. The ideal in our culture is being a strong individual who doesn’t need anyone else. Even the church encourages individualism. Just me-n-Jesus – that’s what counts. I’m convinced that God created us to need friends. Yes, we need God, but God often comes to us through our friends.
There are different types of friends. Some people are acquaintances. I go down to our local Y and work out. I’ve met a lot of people down there, many of them I would call friends. Some of them I even know their names. There’s one guy down there, I would guess he is about 65 years old. For least six months we worked out side-by-side. We would chit-chat a bit about the weather or the Steelers. One day we were talking and both admitted that we didn’t remember each other’s name. Now we play a game with each other. Whoever sees the other person first calls the other ones name across the gym. Every now and then I’ll hear him call out “Hey Dougie!” I always respond “Hey Davey!”
The next type of friend is what I would call a casual friend. It is a deeper relationship that acquaintances. We see them in a several different settings. We probably have some common interests and might like to do things together. We share ideas and thoughts with each other. We might even have enough of a friendship that we can disagree with each other.
The third level of friendships is close friends. These are people with whom we have similar life-goals and we share our faith. We socialize together and maybe even go on vacation together. To a certain level we probably are even able to share some of our struggles and questions and doubts, and even some of our emotions.
The fourth level of friendship is intimate friends. These are people we spend time with on a regular basis and we have a deep commitment with them. We are able to share life, both the good and the bad. We can tell them about our failures and our fears. It’s okay to reveal our deepest emotions. To be honest, in your life-time, if you have three or four people like this you are fortunate.
Friendships must be cultivated. They take time. David had spent a significant amount of time with the 600 Gittites. They were with him out in the wilderness before he became king and probably faced all sorts of trials with him. One of my most best friends is a pastor down in Tennessee. Obviously we don’t live near each other so we can’t spend time together like we used to during seminary. This week we were able to spend about an hour and a half on the phone, not only catching up with each other, but sharing our lives, our faith, our struggles and joys. What do you need to do to cultivate the friendships in your life?
True friendship takes also takes loyalty and commitment, especially close friends and intimate friends. Ittai, Abiathar and Zadok, and Hushai, were willing to stay with David, even if it meant risking their lives. What do you need to do to show your commitment to your friends?
About twenty five years ago I was at a Presbytery meeting. Laurel Neal came before the Presbytery hoping to be ordained. It is a daunting process. There are all sorts of hoops you have to jump through to become a Presbyterian Pastor. The last step is being examined by the Presbytery. You read your statement of faith and then the Presbytery, pastors and elders, get to ask you questions about anything. You have to try to satisfy the intellectual pastors who like to ask questions to show off their own knowledge, elders who haven’t a clue about the church or theology, and all types of people who have their own issues and they want to find out where you stand on them.
Laurel read her statement of faith and then answered three or four questions. Someone got up and asked a question something like this: “Tell us your understanding of Jesus and the work he has done for us.” Laurel gave all the right answers to that, and she ended by saying this. “I believe all of that is true, but to me personally, if I have to choose one idea about Jesus I believe he is my friend. He is the one who listens to me, who loves me even when I’m a jerk, who died because he wanted me to be his friend.”
We all need friends. So I invite you to cultivate your friendships, to work at your friendships, to spend time with your friends. Above all, I pray that you will know that Jesus is your friend.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.