I heard recently about a church that was conducting a Christmas Eve service a few years ago. While the minister was speaking, he looked out into the audience and realized that the people weren’t looking at him. They seemed to be looking behind him. And they were. There was a candelabra behind the preacher that had been placed just a few inches from the fabric that provided a backdrop for their candlelight service.
The people looked horrified, but the preacher didn’t know what they were looking at. He started thinking, “What did I say? Did I do something wrong?” And then after about five minutes, it happened. The heating vents blew the fabric into the candelabra. The fabric caught fire, the flame traveled up the fabric, and there’s was a lot of running, shouting, and fire extinguishing.
In the end, it was just a minor fire but it made for a great story and a memorable Christmas Eve service that that church will never forget. But here’s what I want you to see. Dozens of people noticed the danger, but they all thought, “I don’t want to be the weird guy who walks up on stage and interrupts the preacher while he’s speaking.” And so, they all did nothing, which resulted in destruction.
In the book of Proverbs, Solomon wrote “If you do nothing in a difficult time, your strength is limited.” (Proverbs 24:10, HCSB).
Sometimes we have to take the initiative even if it may be a little embarrassing so that we can prevent something even more embarrassing or even dangerous. For most of us, though, our default is to keep quiet and try not to make any waves.
Someone put it well when they said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I’m sure we could all tell stories of people we know who were lured into an addiction, or a dangerous investment, or a bad relationship, or an infidelity. We saw the warning signs. We even mentioned it to our other friends. But in the end, we regret that we didn’t say something to the person who was teetering on the edge of failure before it became a huge issue.
It’s always easier to do nothing in a difficult time, but that’s not what we were created for. God wants people who will take the initiative, who will do what needs to be done, and say what needs to be said. That’s what leadership is all about.
When we talk about leadership in the church, sometimes we define our leaders as the ministers and elders. But the truth is, any serious Christ-follower who wants to influence other people for Christ is a leader. Because leadership is all about influence, and we all have influence over people in our lives.
Don’t underestimate the power of what I just said. We all have influence over people in our lives, and to influence the life of others is an awesome responsibility given to us by God. And there’s a lot at stake. Because when good leaders stop leading and do nothing, it creates a leadership vacuum, and I can assure you bad leaders are just waiting to fill that vacuum and to lead people you deeply care about down the wrong path. Whether you’re talking about leadership in the church, leadership at home, leadership at school, in the work place, in the community — leadership is very important.
But let me ask you a question: why would any good leader stop leading? Why would a good leader do nothing? And I think one of the reasons that can happen is failure! It can be a moral failure, leadership failure, any sort of significant failure — whatever it is, you blow it, and you make a mess of things. And the tendency for all of us is even though we have been forgiven by God, we put ourselves on the bench and we stop leading. And when that happens, we create a leadership vacuum that invites every bad leader around us to step into the vacuum and to lead the people we care about down a destructive path. That’s what I want to talk with you about this morning – when good men do nothing.
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to 2 Samuel chapter 15. If you’re visiting with us this morning, we’ve been working our way through 2 Samuel, and we find ourselves this morning in the 15th chapter. Ever since David committed sin with Bathsheba, things have been really messed up in his life and in his family.
The key character at this point in our story is David’s son, Absalom. As the events of the past few chapters have unfolded, it would be easy for us to sympathize with Absalom. He grew up watching his father reign as king of Israel. He heard stories about when his father was young, how he bravely fought Goliath, how he won victories over the Philistines, and how God gave David the kingdom.
After David became king, young Absalom saw more of his father’s victories, he knew about the covenant God made with his father, his father was an awesome king. But then a crisis came. The father Absalom had looked up to as a boy committed adultery and then he tried to cover it up with murder. His image of a perfect father had been blown to bits and we can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him to watch this unfold.
After that, Absalom saw his half-brother Amnon rape his sister and then he saw his father do absolutely nothing about it. So, he decided to take matters into his own hands After murdering Amnon, he knew he couldn’t stay in Israel so he fled to another country. But then one day, years later, he receives word that his father, King David, will allow him to return home. But when Absalom gets back to Jerusalem, he didn’t get the welcome home he expected. Instead, his father ignored him for two years.
So, there’s a part of us that wants to side with Absalom and say that David bears most of the responsibility for all of this mess. But, the darkness in Absalom’s soul begins to manifest itself more and more as time goes by.
We pick up this morning in chapter 15, verse 1: “After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him.” (2 Samuel 15:1)
Last week, we had this physical description of Absalom – he was tall, dark and handsome, full of charisma, long-flowing hair. And now he has found himself a chariot to ride around town in. That may not sound too unusual, but it’s possible that this is the first time a chariot had ever been seen on the streets of Jerusalem. Keep in mind that Jerusalem was on a mountain. Nobody used chariots in the mountains. Chariots were very common among the Philistines down along the coastal plains but they wouldn’t be very useful up in Jerusalem. So, this would have been a most unusual sight.
There’s another reason there weren’t any chariots in Jerusalem. Because David was a man of humility, he wasn’t a king who needed a lot of pomp and pageantry. So, Absalom didn’t learn this from his father. Maybe he learned it from his grandfather while he was living in Geshur. At any rate, Absalom gets himself a chariot, he gets some horses, and fifty men to run alongside him, and Absalom parades up and down the streets of Jerusalem.
Absalom is presenting a certain image to the people. An image of royalty, of power and pageantry which would have been very attractive to any worldly-minded Israelite. When David came into Jerusalem, he rode on a mule. But Absalom, he comes in a chariot, with horses, and fifty men.
It’s not surprising for us to see Absalom act this way. The same thing still happens today, especially in politics. The world seems to be filled with people who want to demonstrate their greatness with outward displays of grandeur. In the midst of all the swagger, bravado, jockeying for power, and self-centered strutting that surrounds us, we need to remember the words of Jesus in Mark 10, “But it shall not be so among you…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45). Those of us who follow Jesus Christ are called to a way of life that looks very different from the ways of this world.
But Absalom parades around the city like the crown prince that he was.
Verse 2, “And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, ‘From what city are you’ And when he said, ‘Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,’ Absalom would say to him, ‘See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.’ Then Absalom would say, ‘Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.’
“And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment.” (2 Samuel 15:2-6)
Absalom goes to the city gate. This was their courtroom in that day. It’s where all the cases would have been heard. And Absalom meets all the people as they arrive at the gate to present their case to the king. Now the text specifically tells us that Absalom got up early. Here’s what I think is happening. I think speaking with the king was probably a first come, first serve situation. And so, if you wanted to have your case heard, you would have to get there early to get in line.
Back when we were at Helen Street, we used to give out government food once a month. We would start passing it out at 9:00, but people would get in line as early as 6:30 or 7:00 because they wanted to be the first in line. That’s how I picture things here in our text. David maybe shows up at 9:00 to start hearing cases, but people are lining up way before that, so Absalom sees this as an opportunity.
He gets up early and he goes to the gate and he talks with the people who show up. He asks them where they’re from, wants to know what their concern is, and he listens to them, and then no matter what they say, Absalom tells them, “I think you’ve got a good case.” But then he would say, “Unfortunately, the king didn’t seem to think it was important to train and install someone who would hear and judge the complaints of the people.” “But if I was the judge,” in other words, “If I was the king, I would take good care of you.”
Then when people would try to bow before him (because, after all, he was the king’s son), he would stop them and say, “Oh, don’t do that! You don’t need to bow down before me. Come here, shake my hand. Let me give you a hug.” And the people began to say, “What a nice fellow Absalom is! He’s not like David. You never see him. I don’t know where he is. But Absalom is always out here. He’d make a great king!”
There’s a name for this kind of schmoozing, it’s called the common-man technique. This is when a politician goes out into the country, finds a local farmer, puts on a hat, loosens his tie, unbuttons his collar, rolls up his sleeves, puts his foot up on the fence post as he’s chatting with the farmer about the common concerns of the common man. Which all seems well and good except for the fact that there’s always a video crew there to get pictures of this so that they can show everyone how ‘normal’ their candidate is.
And even though it should be easy for folks to see what’s going on, it usually works! People feel cared for and heard, even though sadly, they’re just being used. And that’s what was happening with all those people of Israel who came to the gate. When kind and caring Absalom took the time to talk with them, they would leave with a lot of concerns about David being king and great appreciation for Absalom doing for them what David didn’t seem to care enough to do.
And the result of all this, in verse 6, is that “Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” (2 Samuel 15:6). The way we use that phrase in English makes it sound like everyone just fell in love with Absalom. But that’s really not what the Hebrew means. Any time you see a reference to the “heart” in the Old Testament, it’s not primarily emotion. The heart for the Hebrews was the core of a person’s being and it had much more to do with their mind and their thinking than it did their emotions.
So, when we’re told that Absalom stole the hearts of Israel, this was not a positive thing. It’s intended to be a negative statement. In modern-day English, we might say. “Absalom deceived the people of Israel.” He spread a bad opinion of the current king and a good opinion of himself.
Then, in verse 7, Absalom goes from being a deceiver to being a usurper of the throne.
“At the end of four years Absalom said to the king, ‘Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron. For your servant vowed a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram, saying, “If the Lord will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to the Lord.”’ The king said to him, ‘Go in peace.’” (2 Samuel 15:7-9)
Four years go by, and Absalom keeps stirring the pot. At this point in time, we’re at least ten years past David’s sins with Bathsheba and Uriah. So, we’re talking about at least a decade where David has been somewhat passive; he’s been ineffective as a leader, and it has affected the whole nation, and the people are becoming more and more frustrated with the lack of leadership from David.
David had to be aware that Absalom was riding around Jerusalem in a chariot with horses and fifty men running alongside him. And David had to be aware that Absalom was going to the city gate every morning and stirring up trouble. At that time, Jerusalem was still a relatively small city. There’s virtually no way David could have missed what Absalom was doing. So, you have to wonder, what did David think Absalom was up to?
Whatever David may have thought, he didn’t do anything, which is pretty much what he’s done for the past several chapters. David did nothing. He seemed to suspect nothing. So, when Absalom wants to go to Hebron to offer a sacrifice, David doesn’t even question it. In fact, he gives him his blessing. Why would Absalom need to go to Hebron to offer a sacrifice? Remember, the ark of the covenant was now in Jerusalem. Whatever reason he gave, David said, “Okay, fine with me.” How ironic that David’s last words to his son were, “Go in peace” and then Absalom goes off to start a war.
“So he arose and went to Hebron. But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, ‘As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, “Absalom is king at Hebron!”’ (2 Samuel 15:9-10)
We’re immediately told that Absalom was up to no good. He sends spies out to all the people of Israel to tell them that when the trumpet blows, they should declare that Absalom is king in Hebron. All of Absalom’s shmoozing with the people is going to pay off. Absalom has people who love him and want to follow him all across the kingdom. And he knows that everyone will rally around him, and he can overthrow the king.
Absalom went to Hebron to start his revolution. If you remember, back when David was the king of Judah, his headquarters was at Hebron. Then, when he became king of Israel, he moved to Jerusalem. If you want to overthrow the king, you don’t want to do it in Jerusalem where the people are loyal to David and where David has his armies. So, Absalom chose to start his reign at Hebron, the same place that his father started his reign.
“With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem who were invited guests, and they went in their innocence and knew nothing.” (2 Samuel 15:11). These were innocent men who were not part of Absalom’s plot. It has been suggested that Absalom brought them along to make it look like he had a huge following. It’s like political candidates today who hold rallies and try to bring in as many people as they possibly can, because if it looks like you have a large following, it’s easier to attract more people.
But there’s one person in particular who was on Absalom’s side. Verse 12, “And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.” (2 Samuel 15:12)
This is significant. Ahithophel was David’s chief counselor, and I think it would be correct to say he was his favorite counselor. So why would Ahithophel, who had been David’s favorite counselor, now jump sides and join Absalom?
I actually gave you the answer several weeks ago when David committed adultery with Bathsheba. Bathsheba’s father’s name was Eliam, and his father’s name was Ahithophel. That means that Bathsheba was Ahithophel’s granddaughter. He had watched King David grossly abuse his power and devastate his granddaughter’s family. He probably remained a faithful counselor because he wanted to live, but now, finally, after over a decade, he has the opportunity to get even with David and he jumps at the opportunity.
In verse 13, we see David’s response when he hears that Absalom is starting a rebellion against him.
“A messenger soon arrived in Jerusalem to tell David, ‘All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!’ ‘Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!’ David urged his men. ‘Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.’ ‘We are with you,’ his advisers replied. ‘Do what you think is best.’ So the king and all his household set out at once.” (2 Samuel 15:13-16)
Why did David run? Why didn’t he just say, “Look, I can hold off Absalom. This is a town that’s loyal to me. It’s well-fortified. I found that out when I took it over. I had to go up the water shaft to get here, but I’ve fortified that weakness, and nobody can take this city away from me.” I think probably David would have done just fine if he would have stayed there and fought.
But David loved Jerusalem and I don’t think he wanted that city in the crosshairs of this family feud. He wanted to spare them that.
But I think there’s another reason. David had lived for 10 years as a fugitive from King Saul. He knew he could survive in the hiding places and the caves. He knew where they all were. He probably thought, “I’ll leave town and go where nobody knows where to find me.” So, to spare the city, David left.
The rest of this chapter tells us about David’s encounters with different people on his way out of Jerusalem.
I want to close this lesson by making two points of application. First, there are a lot of little subtle words and phrases in this chapter that remind us that all of what happens here goes back to David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. It’s important that we understand that the text is reminding us that sin is a big deal.
Years before, David was on top of the world. He was over an empire. What God had accomplished through David was absolutely staggering. The people under David had never experienced anything like this. In fact, I think it would accurate to say that no Jew in the history of the world has ever experienced life like they’d experienced it.
But then, David messed up. It happened on a spring evening — one night of pleasure for a lifetime of utter devastation. Neither David nor his family nor the kingdom would ever be the same again. David would go to his grave regretting that one spring evening — and we are reminded that sin is serious business.
We live in a culture that diminishes and even dismisses sin. Even within the church, there is sometimes a tendency to think: I can sin tonight, get forgiveness tomorrow — no harm, no foul. But it doesn’t work that way. Sin is utterly devastating. The Bible could not be clearer. There are so many people I know who would gladly stand up here with me and say to you, “Listen to what Alan is saying.” Because they would give anything to be able to go back and change disastrous choices they made in the past — and we need to understand that sin is serious business.
But secondly, there is this reminder that once we have sinned, God’s grace is enough. It’s an amazing thought that God would grant his forgiveness. When we confess our sin, when we repent of our sin, when we experience God’s forgiveness, God doesn’t tell us to sit on the bench and watch while everyone else accomplishes his mission. He invites us back into the game.
I think it’s important for us to keep in mind that the devastation that happened in David’s story may not have happened if David had truly accepted the forgiveness of God and gotten back to doing what he was called to do. David was a king; he had a job to do. He was a leader; he needed to step up and lead. The lives of thousands of people were depending on him.
But it appears that, for a decade, David was passive, he was indecisive, he did nothing when he should have done something — and, as a result, much of what happened didn’t have to happen. We can only imagine how different the story would have turned out if David had gotten back into the game and been a strong king again.
I am convinced that when you come to the end of your life, you will look back and you will realize that what ultimately defined the trajectory of your life was not failure — all of us have that in our story. We all have things that, if we could, we would go back and change them. What ultimately defines the trajectory of your life is what you choose to do after you fail. Will you have the courage and the faith to believe God’s amazing grace, to confess your sins, to repent, to acknowledge your sin, but then to experience the forgiveness of God and, with courage and faith, get off the bench, and get back in the game?
Each of you has a job to do; you have a calling to fulfill. Failure is never final. But part of what you need to realize is this, what you do doesn’t just affect you. When you choose to sit on the bench and not fulfill your calling as a leader, you create a leadership vacuum — in the home, at school, at work, in your community. And, as I said earlier, there are no shortages of bad leaders like Absalom who are just waiting to step into that vacuum and lead the people you care about down a path of destruction.
You need to realize that even though you may have sinned and failed and blown it and made a mess of things, God’s grace is sufficient. You need to accept it; believe it; have the courage and faith to get off the bench; get back in the game—you have a job to do! You have a mission to fulfill! We have a world to change together. Let’s get it done.