When the World Turns Against You

Whenever a baby is born, one of the things that always generates a lot of discussion is the question, “Who does she look like, her mother or her father?”  Because all of us carry the DNA of our parents which means that we tend to resemble them in our physical characteristics. 

            But it’s not just the physical DNA that gets passed on.  It’s also the spiritual DNA.  There’s an old proverb that says, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  Which simply suggests that, as children grow up with their parents and watch the way they behave, they tend to become like them in the way they speak, the way they act, the way they think. 

            Those of us who are parents, I think we’ve all had those moments when we’ve said something like, “Shut that door.  Were you born in a barn?”  or, “If everybody else jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?” and then we thought, “Oh no, I’ve turned into my father!  I’ve turned into my mother!”

            And there are patterns in our families that get repeated generation after generation.  Which can be a good thing if we are instilling Christian values in our children.  But unfortunately, it can also be a bad thing.  Somebody once said there’s nothing more contagious than a bad example.  

            Some behaviors– some sins– in families get perpetuated by that contagious bad example.  Now it doesn’t have to be that way.  It’s not a curse that God places on a family.  The cycle can be broken, by the grace of God.  But there are many behaviors that are perpetuated in families, where the behavior of the parents results in that same behavior in their children or grandchildren.

            And we see this in the life of King David.  There were plenty of things in David’s life that were bad examples for his children.  We’ve already talked about how David committed adultery.  He killed the husband of the woman he had an affair with.  He placed other troops in harm’s way, taking their lives in a staged battle.  And those actions had consequences in his children’s lives.

            There’s an interesting phrase that’s used several times in the Old Testament.  Four times God said, “I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.  But I do not excuse the guilty.  I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected — even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:7, NLT)

            This was prophesied by Nathan when he stood in front of King David and said to him, “You’re guilty of sin.”  And then he said, “From this time on, your family will live by the sword…. Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you.” (2 Samuel 12:10-11).  Basically, Nathan said, “David, you’re going to reap what you’ve sown”, and he did.

            David had a son named Amnon who raped his half-sister Tamar.  As a result, another of David’s sons, Absalom, hated Amnon and murdered him.  And then, as we saw last week, Absalom intended to overthrow his father’s kingdom.

            Absalom was a clever politician.  He said to the people, “You know, if I was in charge, things would be different.  Your life would be better.”   And the Bible tells us that he “stole” the hearts of the men of Israel.  He didn’t win their hearts — he stole their hearts by deceiving them.

            And after Absalom gained enough support among the people, he started his rebellion.  He had trumpets blown throughout all the land of Israel and the announcement was made, “Absalom has been crowned king in Hebron.” (2 Samuel 15:10).

            When we left off last week, Absalom was on his way to Jerusalem to occupy the throne of his father, and David fled.  Once again, David became a fugitive on the run.  And I would have to say that he was pretty good at being on the run.  He spent ten years of his life running from King Saul.  He knew the land like the back of his hand.  He knew where all the good hiding spots were, where all the caves were.  

            So, David leaves Jerusalem, he heads toward the wilderness.  Meanwhile, one of his most trusted advisors — a man by the name of Ahithophel –- switched sides and went to work for Absalom.  He was a turncoat, a traitor.  And now he’s working for Absalom, the rebellious son.

            So, David spoke with one of his other trusted advisors, a man named Hushai, who wanted to leave town with David.  And David said to him, “If you go with me, you will only be a burden.  Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’  Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice.  Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, will be there.  Tell them about the plans being made in the king’s palace, and they will send their sons…to tell me what is going on.” (2 Samuel 15:33-36). 

            David said to Hushai, “What I really need more than anything else are some eyes and ears inside the palace.  I’d like for you to be part of an undercover operation.  Pretend to be on Absalom’s side, but then, whenever you find out what he’s planning to do, get the word out to me.”

            And that brings us now to chapter 16, where David is on his way to the wilderness and he encounters two men.  First, he meets Ziba.

I.          Ziba

            Verse 1, “When David had gone a little beyond the summit of the Mount of Olives, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, was waiting there for him.  He had two donkeys loaded with 200 loaves of bread, 100 clusters of raisins, 100 bunches of summer fruit, and a wineskin full of wine.” (2 Samuel 16:1)

            Let me help you picture the scene.  When David and his family and his men left Jerusalem, they headed toward Jericho, toward the Dead Sea area, out into the wilderness.  The path they took would have taken them down into the Kidron Valley, and then they would have climbed the Mount of Olives, which was a pretty significant height. 

            But when David gets just over the top of the Mount of Olives, there was Ziba waiting for him.  Ziba was the servant of Mephibosheth.  You may recall that Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul.  We talked about this in a previous lesson.  Mephibosheth was crippled.  But after David became king, as a favor to his good friend Jonathan, David invited Mephibosheth to come live in the palace with him and eat with him at the royal table and he provided him with everything he needed.  It was a beautiful story of grace.

            So, now we’ve got Ziba who was Mephibosheth’s servant, basically his caretaker.  He’s waiting for David on the side of the road and he’s got all this stuff, all these supplies — 200 loaves of bread, 100 clusters of raisins, 100 summer fruits, a skin of wine.

            David and his followers fled from Jerusalem so quickly, they wouldn’t have had time to gather much in the way of provisions. So, the sight of all this good food and drink must have seemed like a blessing from God.  Which is exactly what Ziba intended David to believe.

            “‘What are these for?’ the king asked Ziba.

            “Ziba replied, ‘The donkeys are for the king’s people to ride on, and the bread and summer fruit are for the young men to eat. The wine is for those who become exhausted in the wilderness.’” (2 Samuel 16:2)

            So, at this point, it looks like Ziba is a great guy. What a nice gesture.  King David has a long road ahead of him, and he has a large household to feed.  It’s a long, difficult journey, so the donkeys will come in handy. But let’s continue the story.

            “‘And where is Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson?’ the king asked him.

            “‘He stayed in Jerusalem,’ Ziba replied.  ‘He said, “Today I will get back the kingdom of my grandfather Saul.”’ (2 Samuel 16:3)

            Ziba says to David, “I just want you to know that I’m loyal to you.  I really want to help take care of you.  I know this journey is going to be difficult for you, so I’m here to support you any way I can.  But Mephibosheth, he’s back in Jerusalem because he thinks he’s got a shot at getting the kingdom back.

            David is devastated by this news.  I’m sure he thought, “After everything I did for Mephibosheth.  I let him live in the palace.  I let him eat at the royal table.  I gave him everything he needed.  And this is the way he repays me?  I can’t believe he would turn on me.” 

            So, David said to Ziba, “‘In that case…I give you everything Mephibosheth owns.’  ‘I bow before you,’ Ziba replied. ‘May I always be pleasing to you, my lord the king.’” (2 Samuel 16:4)

            So, it looks like Ziba is a great guy and Mephibosheth is a scoundrel.  However, we’re going to find out later on that everything Ziba said was a big fat lie.  The truth is Mephibosheth wanted to leave with David, but when he asked Ziba to get him a donkey, Ziba wouldn’t do it and because Mephibosheth was crippled, he wasn’t able to leave.

            Ziba intended to capitalize on the political unrest and David’s emotional distress to manipulate the situation to his own advantage.  And it’s obvious that David believed this man’s report too quickly.  He should have asked him some follow-up questions.  And maybe he would have gotten to the truth.

            There are a couple of proverbs that come to mind.  In Proverbs 14, Solomon said, “Only simpletons believe everything they’re told!  The prudent carefully consider their steps.” (Proverbs 14:15).  Don’t be too quick to believe the allegations that are brought against another person.

            In Proverbs chapter 18, Solomon said, “The first to speak in court sounds right — until the cross-examination begins.” (Proverbs 18:17).   We’ve all had it happen where somebody comes to us and tells us a story about what someone else did to them and we’re ready to believe the worst about that person until we hear the other side of the story, and that changes things!

            That’s what’s going on here.  Ziba tells his side of the story and David believes him.  But, later on, Mephibosheth will come before King David and he will tell him the truth about what actually happened.  And David will come to understand that Ziba was lying to him.

            But we’ve got to keep in mind that David was in the midst of a crisis.  His mind was clouded by his emotional distress.  When our world is caving in on us, that can distort our judgment and make us willing to believe things we wouldn’t otherwise believe… accept things we wouldn’t otherwise accept… trust people we wouldn’t otherwise trust… and doubt the people we should be trusting.

            David misjudged Mephibosheth.  Perhaps it was partly because he had already been betrayed by his own son and his trusted advisor, Ahithophel.  And so, with everyone seeming to turn against him, David was ready to believe the worst — “Even Mephibosheth has turned against me!”  How prone we are to believe the worst when we’re going through difficult times.

            I think there’s a lesson here for all of us.  David made a judgment based on first impressions.  It appeared to him that Mephibosheth was ungrateful.  It seemed that Ziba was loyal.  But David completely misjudged Mephibosheth, a man who loved him deeply and was only ever loyal to him.  He did it because he believed the word of a man who turned out to be a scoundrel.

            Is there perhaps an area in your life where you might be tempted to rush to judgment? Where you might be tempted to jump to conclusions without having all the facts?  Where you might be tempted to make judgments about someone without really knowing what is in their heart?

             We live in a world that is filled with rumor, gossip, and spin.  And if we rush to judgment on every accusation we hear, we will fall into the same trap as David did.

            This was a difficult time for King David.  Think about what he must have been feeling.  HE’s been rejected by the city that he loved, he’s been rejected by his son Absalom, he’s been betrayed by his closest advisor.  David had to be thinking, “It can’t get much worse.”  But it does.  Somebody says, “Mephibosheth, that guy that you were so kind to, he’s back in Jerusalem, and he’s joined up with Absalom, too.”  And even though it wasn’t true, David didn’t know that and it would have made him feel even worse.

            So now you’re thinking, things have got to get better.  It can’t get any worse than this.  But it does.  Because David has an encounter with another person on his way to the wilderness.

II.        Shimei

            Verse 5, “As King David came to Bahurim, a man came out of the village cursing them. It was Shimei son of Gera, from the same clan as Saul’s family.  He threw stones at the king and the king’s officers and all the mighty warriors who surrounded him.” (2 Samuel 16:5-6)

            The path that David is taking is leading through the territory that belonged to the tribe of Benjamin.  That was the tribe that King Saul was from.  It’s been about 25 years since David replaced Saul as king, but some of the people of Benjamin never got over it.  Some issues never go away.  Old wounds can remain close to the surface, and it doesn’t take much for them to be re-opened.

            I think that’s how it was for the extended family of the house of Saul when it came to David.  David was the king.  The house of Saul may not have liked it, but there was nothing they could do about it, and they got on with their lives.  But Absalom’s rebellion opened up all those old wounds and hard feelings.

            One of Saul’s family members was Shimei.  a man who was filled with hatred towards David.  Shimei was a true partisan — he could see no bad in Saul and he could see no good in David.

            We’re told that when David came to his village, Shimei came out and “cursed continually” (2 Samuel 16:5).  This man had a foul mouth.  He could hardly put a sentence together without cursing.  His mouth spewed out the hatred that filled his heart and all of his hatred was directed toward King David.

            Picture David and his people walking along a path in the valley. Shimei is on a ridge above them, “stalking” them as they walked.  From up on that ridge, he’s shouting curses, throwing stones, and even flinging dirt (2 Samuel 16:13).

            Apparently, this kind of behavior – throwing rocks — is still in existence in that part of the world for the simple reason that for lots of people that’s their only weapon.  And that weapon is in great abundance in Israel. There are stones everywhere.

            Put yourself in David’s shoes: He has lost the love of his son and the support of his people. He’s been driven from his home and from his throne, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, now he has to listen to this guy shouting curses at him.

            In verse 7, “‘Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!’ he shouted at David.  ‘The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan.  You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom.  At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” (2 Samuel 16:7-8)

            Shimei accused David of being a murderer.  Now, we know that David was a murderer, he killed Uriah.  But that’s not what Shimei is talking about.  He’s accusing David of murdering King Saul which wasn’t true at all.  King Saul died in battle at the hands of the Philistines.  And, in fact, when David had the opportunity to kill King Saul, he refused to do it.

            So, what Shimei said was completely wrong.  David didn’t murder King Saul and he didn’t steal the throne. So, David has to listen to all this slander as Shimei is up there throwing a tantrum.

            But it wasn’t just David listening to this.  David was surrounded by his mighty men, who were more than happy to deal with this situation.

            In verse 9, “‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?’ Abishai son of Zeruiah demanded. ‘Let me go over and cut off his head!’” (2 Samuel 16:9). 

            Abishai was the brother of Joab, the commander of David’s army.  And they were both fierce warriors.  Abishai said, “David, you’re the king.  Nobody should treat you like this!  Let me go shut this guy up and cut off his head!”  And I think he would have, if David hadn’t intervened.

            What would you have said? Think about a person who is a thorn in your side.  How relieved you would be if that person wasn’t around anymore, if you didn’t have to deal with their garbage.  How tempting it must have been for David to say, “Deal with it.”  All he had to do was just say the word and it would all have been over for Shimei.  But David wouldn’t do that!  Instead, he said,

            “’No!If the Lord has told him to curse me, who are you to stop him?’  Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, ‘My own son is trying to kill me.  Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so?  Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it.  And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today.’” (2 Samuel 16:10-12)

            So, David ignored Shimei, and Shimei kept on doing what he was doing.

            “So David and his men continued down the road, and Shimei kept pace with them on a nearby hillside, cursing and throwing stones and dirt at David.” (2 Samuel 16:13)

            It’s interesting that David didn’t do anything about being cursed and having rocks thrown at him.  Perhaps it was because David was still dealing with guilt.  The accusations that Shimei made against David weren’t true.  David wasn’t guilty of the blood of the house of Saul.  But he did have the blood of Uriah on his hands.  So, maybe he thought, “I didn’t do what he’s accusing me of, but I have sinned enough to be cursed.” 

            I have to admire anyone who is willing to listen to his critics.  It’s hard for us to listen to those who criticize us, but it’s important for us to do.  Don’t just listen to the people who sing your praises.  It’s dangerous to listen only to people who will tell you how awesome and amazing you are.

            It’s good to be willing to listen to your critics as David did.  He said, “You know what?  God could be in this.  Maybe I need to hear this.”

            I think there’s something here for all us to learn.  Whenever we’re criticized, we ought to listen to it, pray about it and say, “Lord is there something here you want me to address or be aware of?”  And it’s a good idea to go to someone who knows you well, someone who will be honest with you, and say, “What do you think?  Is there something here I need to work on?”  And then you can either respond to the criticism or ignore it.

            Once again, as we’ve seen so often, David is passive and does nothing, but this time I think it’s a good thing.  Someone has suggested that what David did here was even more impressive than his victory over Goliath.  That’s the story that we all remember — David and Goliath.  And that was a great victory.  But in Proverbs 16, Solomon wrote, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)

            So maybe, this was a greater victory than killing Goliath.  Anybody can get angry and go into battle.  But to be able to hold your peace when you know that what that person is saying about you is wrong — that takes real strength.  

            And David had a lot of practice at this.  Remember when Saul threw a spear at David. What did David do?  He ducked.  Now the spear is stuck in the wall.  David is a far better aim than Saul.  David could easily pull it out, throw it back at Saul, and he wouldn’t have missed.  But he didn’t do it.

            What did Jesus do when they spat on him and yelled at him and put him on a cross?   “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (I Peter 2:23).   Like Jesus, David said, “Let it be. Just walk away. Don’t do anything about it.”

III.       What Next?

            Meanwhile, in verse 15, “Absalom and all the army of Israel arrived at Jerusalem, accompanied by Ahithophel.” (2 Samuel 16:15)

            This had to be one of the lowest points in David’s life.  He’s been rejected by his people.  He’s been kicked out of Jerusalem.  He’s a man on the run.  His own son has rebelled against him.  His trusted advisor is now on the other side.  There’s a guy throwing rocks at him and cursing him. And then, because Ziba lied to him, he thinks that Mephibosheth has turned against him.  At this point in time, David had to feel that everybody was against him.  His world was caving in.  He was at his absolute lowest.

            What do you do when you’re at your lowest?  What do you do when the whole world turns against you and everything is going wrong?  You worship God.

            That’s what David did.  Let me just read this to you.  Psalm 3.  We have this superscription under it, “A psalm of David, regarding the time David fled from his son Absalom.”

            So, David is on his way out of Jerusalem.  He’s headed for the wilderness where he can hide.  Maybe the first night, when they stopped and set up camp, David said, “I need a few minutes to myself.  Something’s on my heart. I’ve got to write this down.”  And this is what he wrote:

O Lord, I have so many enemies;
    so many are against me.
So many are saying,
    “God will never rescue him!”
   (Psalm 3:1-2)

“But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
    you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.

I cried out to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy mountain.”
(Psalm 3:3-4)

“I lay down and slept,
    yet I woke up in safety,
    for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
    who surround me on every side.”
(Psalm 3:5-6)

“Arise, O Lord!
    Rescue me, my God!…
Victory comes from you, O Lord.
    May you bless your people.”
(Psalm 3:7-8) 

            What do you do when you’re at your lowest?  You worship God. That’s what you do.

            That’s why our times of worship together are so very important.  We’re not here because it’s a fun way to spend a Sunday morning.  We’re not here so we can come together our friends and talk about sports and restaurants.  We’re here to make a declaration that we have a God who is bigger than any of the problems we face.  We have a God who will never desert us, even if everyone else in our life does.

            We need this time to focus our hearts on God, to remind ourselves as we proclaim and sing out loud the truths that never change — God is good all the time, we worship him, and we trust him.              No matter what happens.  No matter what anyone else may do to us.  No matter what anyone else may say to us.  No matter who may turn their back on us.  No matter if the whole world seems to be caving in.  Our God is still with us, and in the end, that’s all that matters.        


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