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David was the greatest king that ever sat upon the throne of Israel, "David waxed greater and greater; for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him" (2 Samuel 5.10).
His greatness was recognized by all, and the nations around feared him in the day of battle. As a man of war David had no equal, for the LORD taught his hands to war and his fingers to fight (Psalm 144. 1). In warfare with the enemies his courage and skill inspired his men as they were led on from victory to victory by their warrior king. When he tended his father's flock, his training as a shepherd fitted him to guard the flock from the enemies that went about seeking what they could devour. Whether in long range conflict or in close personal contact with the enemy, David knew how to fight. He was not ignorant of the devices resorted to by the wild beasts that roamed over the pasture lands of Palestine in their search for prey. His eyes, ever on the lookout for the welfare and safety of the flock, could see the enemy moving nearer and nearer to the wandering sheep. Placing a stone into that wonderful sling of his, he, often from a great distance, sent his warning to the stealthy foe. David was there, the shepherd was on the watch. Startled, and at times no doubt hit by the stone which seemed to come from nowhere, the enemy hesitated and finally fled (see James 4.7).
Then see how he grapples with the lion which rose up against him! Taking hold of him by the beard, he wrestled and fought until he gained the mastery (see Ephesians 6.). In this fight he no doubt used the rod which hung from his belt, within ready reach of his strong right arm. In the hands of a warrior-shepherd like David this rod, or club about two feet long, proved a powerful weapon of defence. The rod is also a symbol of Jehovah's power, the great Shepherd, to guard and to protect us. The real source of David's greatness did not, however, spring from his prowess and victories over his enemies. Man no doubt looked at it in this way, but David knew better. The LORD was his loving-kindness and he traces it all to the true Fountain Head whence it came.
Thy gentleness hath made me great" (2 Samuel 22.86). The Lord's condescension to him when He took the shepherd-youth from tending the sheep and placed him on the throne filled the heart of David with humility as he thought upon it. It was this gentleness of the Lord to him which also moulded the life of the man of whom it is written, that he was a man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13.14; Acts 13.22). This testimony which God has seen fit to put on record in the Old and New Testaments is a truly wonderful one. David's life showed that the failings common to man were true of him as of others. Yet here is the divine record. Where then are we to look for this reflection of the heart of God in David? We look for it in those incidents in the life of David where the mercy and gentleness of the Lord are truly reflected in and through him to others. Many of these incidents are seen in his life. We cite one which has often been commented on. Deal gently for my sake with the young man (2 Samuel
18.5). The guilt of Absalom was beyond question. He was a traitor, a rebel and a murderer. His crime against the throne on which his father sat was both wicked and shameful. He was without natural affection and showed that he would not hesitate to have his father put to death rather than lose the throne which his wicked heart coveted. "Deal gently for my sake with the young man". Joab and the men under him heard the king's command as he sent them out against Absalom, for the rebellion had to be crushed. He deserved no mercy, and no one knew this better than David, but the love of the father shines out.
Compare the prayer of the Lord to His Father, whose loving heart He knew so well. "Forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23.34). To show mercy and gentleness, even when judgement seems to be called for, does not reveal weakness in the administration of rule in the house of God. The opposite is true. Mercy is not weak in itself and the Word of God shows it to be all-powerful against judgement. It glories or triumphs against judgement (James 2.13). The moment that mercy intervenes, judgement has to retire before
it.It is no match for the lovingkindness of the Lord.
King Solomon tells us, and he surely knew, that the king's throne is upheld by mercy. Mercy is here seen to be the chief pillar of support that prevents weakness and decay from undermining the throne. When a nation rules with a rod of iron and forgets to show mercy and gentleness (Mercy and Lovingkindness have the same meaning) it invites judgement against itself and hastens its own downfall. Judgement is the last thing to which a loving, righteous Lord resorts. We read that He hateth putting away, though there are times when this has to be done (Malachi 2.16). It grieves Him to the heart to have to do so. The Lord is never in a hurry to inflict judgement. Man often is. "But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not" (Psalm 78.88).
We live in perilous times and the devil goeth about seeking whom he can devour (1 Peter 5.8). We encourage ourselves in the Lord, knowing that He that is for us is infinitely greater than he, or aught else, that can be against us. "But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 20, 21). The Lord is coming and while waiting for Him, let our gentleness be known unto all men (Philippians 4.5. R.V. Mar.). The gentleness of the Lord which we have known, and continue to know, should be reflected in our attitude to others. The next time that we are sorely tried and tempted to be harsh and hasty with the erring, or offending one, let these words have a place in our hearts
"Deal gently (with him, or her), for My sake." He loves them.
David's love for Absalom made him at times forget the claims of truth and justice which God's law demanded (2 Samuel 14. 38). Love rejoiceth with the truth, but this is not possible while these claims are forgotten. The death of Absalom was sad and tragic. One has said that Absalom's hair might well have been the envy of the women of Israel (2 Samuel 14.25, 26). Be that as it may, it certainly symbolized his pride and vanity which finally led to his shame and destruction. As Absalom tried to escape through the wood upon a mule, which, like a horse, is a vain thing for safety when fleeing from divine justice, his head caught in the branches of an oak tree and he was left hanging while the mule went on.
No help came to him from heaven above, nor from m~ on earth, as he hung a helpless, hapless victim, caught in the net or web which his pride and ambition had weaved about himself. The awful end came when Joab, disobeying the king's command to deal gently with the young man, took three darts and thrust them through the heart of Absalom while he was yet alive (2 Samuel 18.14).
When David heard of Absalom's death he was much moved and wept (2 Samuel 19.4).
For a good man some would even dare to die, but the love of David for his renegade son was so deep and strong that he willingly would have died in his stead. Selah!