II Samuel 15 Part 2

16. Then the king went out with all his household after him. But the king left ten women, concubines, to keep the house.

David goes out of his palace, and all his household joins him. Yet he does leave behind ten women who were concubines. Their task is to maintain the house while he is gone.

This brings up the topic of concubinage, a sad reality in ancient times. We do not have such women today, so we need to be informed as to what exactly they were. A concubine was, in a manner of speaking, a wife, and yet she did not have the privileges of a wife. She was a woman of lower class than her husband, often a slave or household servant. She was “married” after a fashion to the master of the house, and was expected to remain loyal to him. Taking any other man would be adultery, and she could be punished for it just as a wife would have been. Yet at the same time, she was not promoted to the status of a full wife, nor was she raised above her inferior class. She was and remained a female employee or servant of the master. The only difference was that the master also had the right to couple with her. One of her duties was to produce children for the master. Yet those children would be lower class children as well, and would remain lower class and servants, unlike the children of a full wife who would have the full privileges of sons and daughters. Thus a concubine could be looked at as a female employee with sexual privileges. The master could sleep with her as he wished, the master could have children with her, but she could not claim the privileges of a wife or expect to be promoted above the status of a servant. This was the lot of a concubine.

Once David, while on the run from Saul and separated from his wife Michal, at last gave in to polygamy, it makes sense that he would give in to concubinage as well, as common as it was at that time and in that part of the world. A great lord like he became would have to have many servants in his household, both male and female. Since the female servants belonged to him anyway, there must have seemed little reason to a polygamist not to take as many of them as he chose to be his concubines. Yet notice how far short David’s care for these women falls from the care of a husband for a wife. While he himself flees from danger, he leaves them behind in the danger in order to care for his abandoned palace. Does this sound like the loving care of a husband? No, it sounds like the remote command of a lord to a servant. And that is exactly what a concubine was: a servant whom the master would at times go to bed with. How sad! Surely this was never what God intended in the beginning when He “made them male and female”! Surely there is not a trace here of “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” Genesis 2:24! Yet this was the reality of David’s home, and once again his sad sexual deviancies will lead to his shame and humiliation, as we will learn later in the chapter.

17. And the king went out with all the people after him, and stopped at the outskirts.

So David, after leaving his house, continues to go out of the city of Jerusalem with all the people after him. Multiple times in this story we read of those with David under the title of “the People.” This clearly does not mean “the people of Israel,” since the majority of them were against David. These People are a different kind of people from those who had been fickle and gone over to Absalom. These were the People who did not change with the winds of popular opinion. These were the People who stayed with God’s choice for them even when it was not popular. These were the People who were still with their God even when the majority had turned against Him and His choice for them. They may have been in the minority, but such People often are, even in Israel. Yet in God’s sight these were the People, and He was in their midst, not with those who rebelled with Absalom. David may be experiencing all this as the rightful outcome of his own sin, yet his God and His People are still with him. He has not abandoned David, nor will those who belong to Him. They are still there, no matter what difficulties they may face because of it.

David stops at the outskirts of the city. Yet this is a questionable translation. The Hebrew might well be a name, “House of Remoteness” or “Far House,” probably a well-known place on the road out of Jerusalem. He no doubt stopped here to wait for his people to catch up. This flight includes women and children, servants and nobles. Not all of them are as strong and hearty as David and his fellow warriors. No doubt David’s presence is also necessary here for organizing the retreat.

18. Then all his servants passed before him; and all the Cherethites, all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men who had followed him from Gath, passed before the king.

As David waits there all his servants pass before him. Of particular note are his Cherethites, a word that means “Executioners,” either for what we would think of as executioners, those who put men to death at his command, or else for the fact that they were “executioners” of David’s will. With them the Pelethites or “Couriers” file before him. These are in company with all the Gittites.

Now we should not get these men called Gittites confused with the Philistine Gittites, who were the present inhabitants of Gath. These Gittites are none other than the original six hundred men who were with David when he fled from Israel to Philistia to escape Saul, at which time he dwelt in Gath. We should remember these six hundred men. At first the number was four hundred men in I Samuel 22:2, where we read that “everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.” By the time we get to I Samuel 23:13 in Keilah, this number had increased to six hundred, and it appears to have stayed at about that number throughout David’s exile.

These six hundred men, then, were those who had chosen to join David when he was alone and a fugitive. These were distressed men, men who were in debt, or men who simply were discontented with Israel the way it was. They saw in David a man whom God had chosen to create a better future, a better nation, a better Israel than the one that existed under Saul. They saw this vision, and they threw in their lot with it while everyone else stayed home and simply waited for events to take their course and for God’s will to work itself out.

Years later things did work themselves out. In II Samuel 5:3, “all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD. And they anointed David king over Israel.” Now, Saul and his court were gone. Now, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon to support David. Now, cheering crowds must have met him everywhere he went. Now, many must have clustered around the new king to seek his notice and favor. Yet none of these were there when David was outcast. Only these six hundred men were there. These men, then, were David’s most loyal. They were his most faithful. They must have meant far more to the king, knowing what they had gone through with him in order to help bring in his kingdom, than all the cheering millions of the rest of his people, who joined him when the times were ripe and it was the popular thing to do so.

We can well imagine, then, that David had shown his gratitude to these, his most loyal followers. We read of one of them, “Obed-Edom the Gittite,” in whose house David stored the ark before bringing it up to Jerusalem. Yet we can imagine that he showered many privileges upon these six hundred men. They were now doubtless all among David’s nobility. They were powerful and important men. No longer were they the distressed, the indebted, and the discontented. Though only David was king, he had no doubt seen to it that they all had great and notable houses of their own. And we can imagine the stories they must have told their children of the days when they had not had any of these privileges, when they had followed David and been loyal to him through all the battles and hardships he had faced. No doubt the pride of their children and their families was great in the fact that their husband, their master, their father had been one of David’s most loyal men, the Gittites.

Now a new crisis had arisen. Unexpectedly, David was again going into exile. Once again he was going to be an outcast, a refugee, a fugitive. Would it not be natural for these men to join David in this exile once again, as they had done before? Yet think of what a different position these men were in this time! They were no longer the indebted, the disgruntled, the discontent. They were now powerful and important men. No longer were they poor. They now lived in privilege and luxury. They were no longer the young. When they joined David, they were probably strong and hearty youths. Now, their strength was doubtless waning. Their hair was turning grey, such of it as was left. Their skin was wrinkling. Their youth was fleeing. They were doubtless not in as good a shape as they once had been. Perhaps they had been putting on some pounds and getting round in the middle. They were no longer in the time of life when adventures in the wilderness would seem at all glamorous.

And in their authoritative positions, for these men to go into exile was no longer quite the same thing as it had been when they were young and unattached. Now they had families, wives and children, households and servants. They had every excuse now not to go with David. What would happen to their homes? How could they take their wives and children into danger? How could they give up their lives of comfort and leisure to return to lives of hardship and deprivation such as they had once known? For realize that these men well knew what faced them if they really went into exile with David, since they had been there before. Could they really face such things now, at their age?

Yet though these men might have had every excuse to remain behind, though they might have said that such adventures were for young men, though they might have left it up to other, younger, less important men to join David in exile, yet from what we read here not a one of them did that. None of them counted his privileges and blessings, his comfortable life, his many responsibilities, his vulnerable family, or his fleeing youth as any excuse to abandon and refuse to go with David. Their decision had been made years before in their younger years, and now in their old age they were not about to abandon it. Rich or not, powerful or not, responsible or not, aging or not, their place was with David, and if that place meant they must even now go back into exile, they would do it. Praise God for every man who is just as ready and willing to serve Him at the drop of a hat in his old age as he was ready to do that in his youth! Age is no excuse for disloyalty. Let all who once were young and eager to serve only become old and eager to serve. Let us never let our zeal flee with our youth.

And think what a blessing it was to pass such a thing on to their children. Imagine, after all their pride in their fathers and all the stories they had heard of their loyalty to David and their exploits while in exile with him, if when this time had come their fathers had opted out and refused to go with him! It is like the child who hears his father boast of his days as a championship swimmer, only later to actually see his father in the water and watch him do an awkward dog paddle. What a sinking heart such a child must have! And so it is with any child who learns that his pride in his father is based on nothing but an empty boast. Yet never would the children of these six hundred men have to suffer such disappointment and humiliation. They instead had the privilege of seeing their fathers in their old age prove true the stories of their youth. They had the privilege of joining their fathers in their old age in adding to their legacy and their exploits.

Of course it was all not quite the same thing. Now the exile was not in hopes of a glorious kingdom yet to be realized, but rather fleeing from a glorious kingdom already realized and now rejected by the disloyal. This time the exile was not based solely on the sin of another, but also came about because of David’s own sin. This time the enemy was not the fallen king of a former dynasty, but rather was David’s own son. Yet was it really so different for these six hundred men? Would it really have been any different in the eyes of these children? Not so different, I think! Now, they had the opportunity to join their fathers in the very thing they had long been proud of. Now, they had the chance to write with them their own story of brave exploits. What a great thing this must have been for these children!

I cannot help but think of many parallels in our own lives with what happened to these six hundred most loyal men. We, too, are now serving God in a world and at a time when most are not serving Him. We are proving our loyalty when most are only living for themselves. And we too will someday enjoy great privileges with Christ, for “When the Christ, Who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall you also be manifested together with Him in glory,” Colossians 3:4. Yet we too will come to a time, as the kingdom of God draws to a close, when a revolt against that kingdom will take place. Wickedness will again arise, and conflict will again appear. We too will doubtless have children whom we have birthed and raised in the glorious conditions of that coming age. They will have heard of our backgrounds and learned of our exploits in a much harsher world than the one they have grown up in. They too will have been proud to learn of our loyalty in a time when most were not loyal. And they too will get the opportunity to see us prove our words true by being loyal once again in that time of trouble. Perhaps we should not be so afraid of further battles in the life to come. Perhaps we should look on it as a chance to show the generations to come the glories of serving God in a time of trouble, and of giving them the privilege of joining us in further exploits. This might not be such a terrible thing after all!

19. Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why are you also going with us? Return and remain with the king. For you are a foreigner and also an exile from your own place.

So it was with the majority of the Gittites. Yet there is one who stands out: Ittai the Gittite. Though he also is a Gittite, he is different from the rest. He apparently is not one of David’s six hundred loyal men, which means he most likely is actually a Philistine Gittite. Yet he is now with David. How did this come about? Our best guess is that he had befriended David during his sojourn there, even though he was not an Israelite. David was a different kind of man from the majority of the Philistines, and no doubt lived and acted a different way from the men Ittai was used to. Perhaps Ittai had been attracted to this Israelite man who treated his men and worshiped his God in such a different way from the lords of Ittai’s own nation and people. Perhaps he had been so impressed that he had chosen to spend time with David and had made a friend of this Israelite exile.

David had eventually left the vicinity of Gath and returned to Israel to become king. Ittai apparently had not joined him at that time, but had remained in Gath. Yet now all these years later, for some unknown reason, he has been forced into exile away from his own country and people. Perhaps he never quite had fit in with the rest of the Gittites after what he had learned from his friendship with David. Of course, we have no idea what exactly the difficulty was that turned him into an outcast. Yet apparently in this time of extremity, when he found himself without a homeland and had to decide what to do, his thought was to turn to the man whom he had met and befriended some twenty-five years before, no doubt also in his own youth. David had been an exile in his land, and they had become friends. Perhaps David would still be his friend now that he had a home and Ittai had been exiled from his. If that was his thought, it appears that it was a true one. David had welcomed in this Gittite whom he had known in Gath all those years before. Gath and this Ittai had taken him in when he was an exile, and now he was willing to take in Ittai in his own time of exile and need.

Yet David has no sooner taken in this Ittai when his own fortune changes dramatically. David is being forced from his throne and made to go into exile again. Ittai has no sooner found a place of rest than the place of his sojourning is disrupted as well, and the man to whom he turned is himself forced to flee from his home. Such would seem to be the situation when David now sees this Ittai joining with the other Gittites, his own loyal Israelite men, in fleeing with him from his home. Yet this seems incongruous to David. Why should this Philistine, an exile himself, join David in his day of trouble? Thus he urges him to return and join with Absalom the new king of the people of Israel’s choice. He is a foreigner, probably a Philistine, who had come to Israel as an exile and sought refuge with David. Why should he even further exile himself by now joining with David in his own flight?

20. In fact, you came only yesterday. Should I make you wander up and down with us today, since I go I know not where? Return, and take your brethren back. Mercy and truth be with you.”

Not only so, but Ittai had only recently come to David, so soon ago that David calls it “yesterday.” He might have been exaggerating, but it could not have been very long before at all for him to say it this way. Why, then, should David subject him to the life of a fugitive, wandering up and down with him and his fugitive men? David is going he knows not where. He has no idea what hardships await him. Why should this foreigner face them with him?

Moreover, Ittai had not come alone into exile from Gath to join David. He had brought brethren, no doubt at least part of his own family, with him. This was often the case when a man went into exile. Often the wrath of his own people and his king was turned against him and were what had forced him to flee. Members of his family left behind would find themselves the convenient targets of this wrath. David himself had had to bring his family including his parents and siblings into exile with him when he fled from Saul lest Saul take out his vengeance on them, or else use them as bait to draw David into a trap. So it often is when a man becomes a fugitive, and thus it is not surprising that others of Ittai’s family and clan had come into exile from Gath with him. These other members of his family too would have to face danger and hardship with David if Ittai now leads them with him into yet further exile. Thus David urges him to return to Jerusalem with his family. He will not blame him for doing so. In fact, he even gives him his blessing in doing this. Thus David leaves him with no pressure at all to join with him.

21. But Ittai answered the king and said, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely in whatever place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also your servant will be.”

Yet Ittai will not hear of it, and he refuses to return. He swears by the life of Jehovah and by the king’s own life that he will stay with David wherever he goes, and will live or die with him. Now this was true submission! This reminds us of Ruth, another foreigner of the neighboring Moabites, as she bound herself to her mother-in-law Naomi and promised to go with her and never leave her for the rest of her life. She even swore that Naomi’s dead body would hold her in place, and she would be buried where her mother-in-law was buried. Similar to this was the attitude of this Ittai the Gittite. He was loyal to David indeed, even when all natural and external circumstances would say that he should not have been.

Why would a foreigner love the king of Israel so much when his own people had hated him and driven him off his throne? This is the question that must come to our minds. The loyalty of this Philistine shows up the disloyalty of the common people of David’s own land. How could they turn from him so quickly and for so little reason, whereas this foreigner sticks with him so closely and with so much motivation for him not to do so? What strange bonds must there have been to tie David with this Philistine? What was it about David that, so many years later, stuck in this Philistine man’s mind and caused him to turn to his former friend in this, his time of trouble? What was it David remembered about this particular Gittite that had caused him to take him in and give him a privileged place among his household when he came to him in his trouble? We cannot know for sure, of course, for we do not know more of the story than the few brief facts that the Bible records for us. Yet one thing seems plain: this foreigner’s heart had been touched on meeting David in a very real and meaningful way. In spite of David’s deception of his people when he had been in Gath, this man had apparently seen something in David that impressed him.

What might it have been that so impressed itself on the mind and heart of this Philistine? I think we may find our answer in this very verse. Notice by whom Ittai swears: by the life of Jehovah. Ittai being a foreigner, as David said, he came from a nation wherein the majority of people did not care that Jehovah lives at all, not to mention swearing by His life. Yet Ittai has not only come to Israel in his time of need, but has identified himself with Israel to the extent that he himself now swears by Israel’s God! This too reminds us of Ruth, who also made her own oath of loyalty to Naomi in Jehovah’s name. I wonder if David remembered this story of his own female ancestor when he heard this oath of loyalty come from the lips of this foreigner? So is this our answer? Might it have been David’s relationship with his God that so moved this Philistine to remember him all these years later?

It seems, at any rate, that the sad story of David’s unwise exile among the Philistines did have at least this one positive outcome. Through David, God had touched the spirit of this man Ittai, and he not only came to David in his own trouble but then was immediately willing to be loyal to David in his trouble. He not only looked to David for a place to stay in his exile, but actually identified himself not only with David in his trouble but with David’s God Jehovah as well. What a lesson, and again what a contrast with the people of David and Jehovah’s own nation! Did the common people of Israel think about or care that Jehovah had chosen David but had never chosen Absalom? No, they only seemed to think about their own, selfish interests, to which Absalom had appealed. Thus we see that even though Israel was God’s chosen people, that it was always the people whose hearts God had touched who were loyal and faithful to Him. Just being born in Israel was not all that was needed. One needed to actually develop a relationship with Israel’s God. It was very possible for an Israelite not to do this, even as it was possible for a foreigner to do it if he chose. Let us too have more than an outward attachment to our Lord, but have a real loyalty to him like this foreign man Ittai had.

22. So David said to Ittai, “Go, and cross over.” Then Ittai the Gittite and all his men and all the little ones who were with him crossed over.

Once David sees Ittai’s loyalty and submission, what can he do? Ittai has made his decision, and David must honor that. So he agrees to let him and his family join him, and gives him permission to cross over. This means over the Brook Kidron which lay on the outskirts of the city, as we will see in the next verse. Ittai does so, along with his men and their children. Notice that it was not just Ittai and a few of his brothers. He had men with him, probably servants, and he had little ones with him. Little ones do not come just with men, so if there were little ones, there no doubt were women with him as well. This was his whole family that was making this journey with David into exile. Again, we see the loyalty of those who went with David. Though it put their wives and children into danger, they were unwilling to remain in safety if it meant abandoning David. May we be this kind of loyal people as well!