The most painful single episode of David’s turbulent, fast-paced life was the nearly successful rebellion of his favorite son, Absalom, against him. The one David loved the most, the spoiled—now grown—child; the very handsome, charming, but deceitful and self-centered Absalom, figuratively drove a sword into his father’s heart, and would have done so literally.
From the human perspective, he nearly succeeded in removing God’s man from the throne of Israel, but from the divine perspective, the one who chose David in the first place so ordered events that a humble prayer of David became a supernaturally efficacious instrument to rout the enemy and defeat Satan’s design against the messianic line. In this terrible, heart-rending test that David passed through, we see glimmers of how the sovereign God activates His eternal plan by providentially ordering circumstances in such a way that the prayer of a suffering saint is stronger than an entire army.
The pain David felt, first over his son’s conspiratorial rebellion, and then over his son’s death—without any chance of reconciliation with his father—was an indescribable grief that at least some parents will understand at a deep level. I suspect that many Christian parents, by substituting a different name for David’s son, could cry out with the Psalmist: “O my son Absalom, would God I had died for thee!” (2 Sam. 18:33).
Many commentators think that part of David’s grief as he fled may have been the thought that his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah had removed divine protection. The prophet had told him that due to this sin, the sword would never depart from his house (2 Sam. 12:10–11).
Unlike ungodly people who are hurting, David’s grief would have been far worse for having let down His Lord than for his own critical situation. We do not know when David wrote Psalm 6, but how accurately it may be describing this kind of situation! The great Scottish Reformer, John Knox, in his wonderful exposition of Psalm 6, states that the greatest grief is to realize how we have offended God, for then we feel cut off from the only one who can make it right. Certainly David’s refusal to allow his troops to kill Shimei (who was cursing the fleeing king and throwing stones and dirt at him) indicates that David felt the heavy, duly deserved chastisement of God (2 Sam. 16:10). But like all the tried and true elect, David works through that and reaches the place of prevailing prayer. For he says, “It maybe that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and … requite me good for his cursing this day” (16:12). That sentiment is not far from Psalm 6:8: “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.” Being subjected to grief and cursing may be well worth it, if it takes us to the place of prayer.
With his penitent heart, he reached “praying ground,” even while he was fleeing. As soon as he heard that the very wise Ahithophel was counseling Absalom, and that so far everything was going their way, David simply prayed, “O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (2 Sam. 15:31). Apparently not many moments passed before that prayer (on which everything else would depend) began to be answered. By the way, believing prayer did not mean that David would lie down, give up trying, and leave everything to God. On the contrary, part of the answer to prayer was the sudden insight he received upon meeting another counselor—Hushai the Archite. He asked Hushai to go back to Jerusalem, pretend to join Absalom’s conspiracy, and thus seek to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel (2 Sam. 15:34).
That is exactly what a prayer-answering God enabled Hushai soon to do. Had Absalom followed the strategic advice of Ahithophel (to go after David immediately), his conspiracy would have been successful (2 Sam. 17:1–4). But Hushai “stonewalled” action by advising them to wait until all of Israel could be gathered. This gave David time to escape far enough away to gather a number of troops in a strong position. Ahithophel saw that this policy would destroy the conspiracy, and so committed suicide (17:23).
What a vivid illustration of Isaiah 65:24 (“before they call I will answer: and while they are yet speaking, I will hear”) is David’s “just happening” to meet Hushai moments after he prayed for God somehow to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel. The sovereign God, whose “covenant is ordered in all things and sure” (2 Sam. 23:5), had everything arranged to keep His man on the messianic throne. He ordered David’s prayer, then put Hushai on his path at the right moment, and gave him favor with David’s enemies so as to undo their strategy. Although David was not spared a heavy share of sorrow in these events (losing his best-loved son to the darts of Joab, 2 Sam. 18:14), God even sent tough-minded Joab to bring the king to his senses, so that he would quit lamenting Absalom and go out to congratulate his own troops before they turned against him (2 Sam. 19:5–8). We need never doubt that this same covenant God, all of whose promises in Christ are “yea and amen” for us (2 Cor. 1:20), is with equal tenderness and solicitude watching over our pathways and providentially preparing well ahead of time just the right answers to the prayers He gives us!