Preparing For Temptation
A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Now, therefore, send quickly and tell David, saying, “Do not spend this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily cross over, lest the king and all the people be swallowed up” (2SA 17:16).
Absalom was the favorite son of King David. He was tall. He was handsome. He was the apple of his father’s eye. While his father sat on the throne doing the actual work of bringing justice to the kingdom, Absalom stood in the gate of the city and greeted all the people who came to petition the king. He told each one just what he wanted to hear, that if he were king, he would surely decide in that one’s favor. More and more people began to succumb to this flattery and began to love Absalom more than they loved David.
Absalom seemed to have everything going his way, but he did have one glaring fault that led him into many disorders: he wanted to be king so badly that he could not patiently wait for his father to die or give him the throne. Absalom spent most of his adult life plotting to violently overthrow his father and rule in his place.
The amazing thing is that David knew of his son’s plans, he knew that Absalom was a constant threat to the stability of his kingdom and his own life, and yet he continued to turn his eyes away from Absalom’s wickedness, and play the fool to Absalom’s lies. His love for his son was not based upon respect, or on the good things that Absalom was able to accomplish among the people. Instead, his love was based on the mere fact that Absalom has arisen from his own body, and for that reason alone David protected him from the consequences of his behavior. If David had only acted as a responsible parent and brought Absalom under control, it would have saved both of them much misery in their lives.
As with every story in the Word when viewed from the perspective of the regenerative series, David, as the central figure, represents each of us as we try to regenerate. Absalom stands for the evils that we love even though we know that they are evil.
David’s uncritical love for his son represents our uncritical loves, all those conflicts between our will and our understanding where we know we should be doing one thing, but we want to do something else. David knew he should control Absalom, but he did not want to. He refused to restrain his son.
Returning for a moment to the literal story, we see that when Absalom believed that he had amassed a sufficiently broad base of popular support, he moved against his father. Absalom and his army rose up in the night and attacked Jerusalem. Their victory was quick, though it was not quite complete. David managed to flee into the country-side with a few of his advisers, servants, and family.
As David fled, he had time to speak to his close friend and loyal adviser, Hushai, and asked him to risk his life by staying and becoming an adviser to Absalom. David’s hope was that Hushai could confound the good counsel that Absalom would get from his other advisers, specially from such wise men as Ahithopel.
Hushai did as his king bid him. He presented himself to Absalom, who recognized him as a trusted friend of David’s. Absalom asked him to explain why he should not be executed for his treason against David. Hushai explained that he had always been an adviser to the king, and now there was a new king to advise. Hushai convinced Absalom that his loyalty lay with the throne, not with the individual who sat upon it. Absalom, a man who was not known for his humility and good sense, believed him, because the explanation pleased him. And so Hushai was in a position to protect David from within Absalom’s inner circle of advisers.
Absalom called his council together to discuss what to do next. Ahithopel correctly advised him that David was now alone in the wilderness, without food, tents, or weapons. He had no army, but only a few personal servants and members of the court. He told Absalom that if he were to strike forcefully and immediately, he could easily overwhelm David and ensure the future of his own kingdom.
Hushai (knowing that if Absalom did move swiftly, David was doomed), cautioned Absalom not to move too quickly. He reminded Absalom of David’s reputation as the slayer of “10 000 Philistines”, and told him that if he thought to fight against such a warrior as David was, he had better be thoroughly prepared. Absalom accepted the counsel of Hushai because he did still fear his father’s reputation as a warrior, and so he lost his opportunity to crush David while he was weak and unable to defend himself. As a direct result of the delay, David was able to gather a powerful army to himself and crush the rebellion, killing Absalom.
This is an interesting story of political intrigue and struggles between powerful men within a royal family, but there must be more to it than that, or it would not be a part of God’s Word. It must somehow address the problems of men that transcend time and place. If it is God’s Word, it must speak to each of us and help us in the daily struggle of our lives. When we think of David as standing for ourselves, and Absalom standing for our evil loves, this story tells us many things about fighting against the hells in states of temptation.
First, it tells us that although the hells (represented by Absalom) seem to be incredibly powerful, we must keep in mind that they are stupid, vain, and cowardly, and we can use these weaknesses to our advantage. We don’t have to fight against them when we are weak and unprepared. We can push them away until we are ready to fight, until we have chosen the time and place that puts us in the better position. The internal sense of the story tells us what these steps are in their order.
Starting from the point where we see that David stands for each one of us, and Absalom stands for some evil within us that we love like a son, we can see the first step in preparing to do battle with and defeat some evil love within us is to flee from it!
- By ourselves, unprepared, we cannot stand and fight. If we try, we will be defeated.
- A person who has a problem with alcohol will not beat it by spending a lot of time socializing with people who drink a lot.
- A man who is tempted to commit adultery cannot defeat it by spending his time in the company of loose women.
- The belief that we can conquer an evil by immersing ourselves in its sphere and then exercising self-control is a lie spread by the hells. They know that the more often we succumb, the more difficult it will be for us to ever rid ourselves of that evil, so they want us to fight them in such a way that we can be easily defeated, to get into the habit of succumbing in temptation.
- So we must not let them control the time and place of the battle.
- We must flee from the sphere of evil before we fight.
After David fled from Jerusalem into the wilderness, counsel was given to both Absalom and David. This tells us that the second step should be that, having fled the sphere of the evil, we must then take counsel.
- We need to ask ourselves what is right.
- We need to examine our lives for previous experiences that might be helpful.
- We need to examine our thought and will for evidences of that evil’s power.
- We need to spend time gathering information about ourselves and our enemy.
- We need to read the Word for guidance, for only after we have full knowledge can we act with assurance and safety.
The third step is revealed when Hushai sends word to David that he should not delay, but should “speedily” cross over the Jordan and leave the wilderness. The wilderness represents a state of despair, hunger, loneliness, and temptation. Gilead, the land on the other side of the Jordan, was a good place, pleasant to live in, and represents the sensuous pleasures that delight the natural man.
- This tells us that we are not to remain in the wilderness state of loneliness, temptation and despair, but that we are to get back to those things which are useful, delightful, and refreshing to us.
- It is another lie from hell that tells us that somehow we should be full of woe and pain while preparing to fight in temptation.
- The Lord doesn’t want us to feel sad or guilty ever, and certainly not just when we need our strength and clarity of mind to fight a powerful foe.
- We need to get out of that wilderness state into another state where our bodies are rested and our minds refreshed so that we can go forth to fight with confidence and with vigor.
- We are told that this should be done “speedily.” Once we make the decision to fight, we must not then put it off into some far distant future when we think we might be more ready. Again, procrastination is from hell, and is as effective as a full-scale frontal assault if it keeps us from shunning evils as sins.
The fourth step is to continue our self-examination, our searching for the truth of the matter. This is represented by the spies, Jonathan and Ahimaaz, who were sent to David by Hushai. We are told that Absalom’s men were looking for them, and they were forced to hide in a well in a courtyard, which was then covered with a cloth and ground grain.
A well in Israel in those days was usually a pit hollowed out of the underlying sandstone. Rainwater would be directed into the pit, and hoarded through the long dry season. This kind of well has a good representation, because it is used to store water, but the water becomes stale after several months, and while it is still useful for watering crops and livestock, it is not as pleasant to drink as running water from a mountain stream. Thus, such a well represents the very lowest sort of truths there are, very external and sensual. This is further represented by the fact that the well was in the courtyard of a house, for a courtyard also represents what is external or natural.
External truths from the Word are our sure ground when we are being attacked by the hells.
- We remember the things that are simple, basic and strong.
- We say the Lord’s prayer.
- We sing our favorite hymns.
- We may go and sit quietly in the church for a while. We read a favorite passage from the Word.
- We do something kind for another person.
- We use this time to gather our inner resources, to fall back on those things that are so sure in our minds that not even the most hellish attack can make us question them or abandon them.
We are told that Absalom’s men were not able to find the spies, which means in the spiritual sense that the hells cannot harm our remains of good and truth.
The fifth step again refers to crossing over into Gilead, and we are told that this is because as we prepare to fight, as we make decisions to do what the Word teaches, as we compel ourselves to fight against evil, the Lord gives us feelings of pleasure and delight. Perhaps we could think of this in terms of an army facing an important battle. How does the General prepare his troops?
- Does he tell everyone how hard it is going to be, how dangerous?
- Does he tell the soldiers that he believes they will loose, but they may as well give it a try anyhow?
- Of course not. A successful General inspires in his men the confidence that they are powerful, competent, and ready. He wants them to feel good about themselves, and to feel that the task ahead is within their abilities.
The Lord cannot stand before us in person and give us a pep talk, but He can touch our hearts and our minds with the strength and courage we need, if we will invite Him to do so. This is what encamping in Gilead means.
And so in this story of Absalom’s revolt against David we learn five steps that we can take to prepare ourselves properly to fight against the hells in states of temptation so that when we fight with the Lord’s help, we will certainly win.
- First, we must flee from the evil and get out of its sphere and its power.
- Second, we must read the Word, borrowing its strength to fight to coming battle.
- Third, we must shun feelings of despair and loneliness, we must not dwell on our evils, but turn our attention to useful activities. We cannot fight effectively when we are morose and depressed.
- Fourth, we are to gather our inner resources, to reflect on the way the Lord has been with us and helped us in earlier battles, the way He has always been present in our lives.
- Finally, we must encamp in Gilead. We are not to spend the night in the wilderness, but speedily cross over, lest we be swallowed up by the hells. We must go forth into the battle with the courage that comes from the confidence that the Lord will fight our battles for us, and He never loses. AMEN.
Lessons: 2 Samuel 17:15-29, Mark 10:35-45, TCR 596
True Christian Religion 596.
VII. WHEN THIS TAKES PLACE A CONFLICT ARISES BETWEEN THE INTERNAL AND THE EXTERNAL MAN, AND THEN THE ONE THAT CONQUERS RULES OVER THE OTHER.
596. A conflict then arises because the internal man is reformed by means of truths; and from truths he sees what is evil and false, which evil and falsity are still in the external or natural man; consequently disagreement first springs up between the new will, which is above, and the old will, which is below; and as the disagreement is between the two wills, it is also between their delights; for the flesh, it is well known, is opposed to the spirit and the spirit to the flesh, and the flesh with its lusts must be subdued before the spirit can act and man become new. After this disagreement of the two wills a conflict arises; and this is called spiritual temptation. This temptation or conflict does not take place between goods and evils, but between the truths of good and the falsities of evil For good cannot fight from itself but fights by means of truths; nor can evil fight from itself but by means of its falsities; just as the will cannot fight from itself but by means of the understanding where its truths reside.
 Man is not sensible of that conflict except as in himself, and as remorse of conscience; and yet it is the Lord and the devil (that is, hell) that are fighting in man, and they are fighting for dominion over him, or to determine who shall possess him. The devil or hell attacks man and calls out his evils, while the Lord protects him and calls out his goods. Although that conflict takes place in the spiritual world, still it takes place in man between the truths of good and the falsities of evil that are in him; therefore man must fight wholly as if of himself, for he has the freedom of choice to act for the Lord, and also to act for the devil; he is for the Lord, if he abides in truths from good, and for the devil, if he abides in falsities from evil. From this it follows that whichever conquers, the internal man or the external, that one rules over the other; precisely like two hostile powers contending as to which shall be master of the other’s kingdom–the conqueror takes possession of the kingdom, and places all in it under obedience to himself. In this case, therefore, if the internal man conquers, he obtains dominion and subjugates all the evils of the external man, and regeneration then goes on; but if the external man conquers, he obtains the dominion, and dissipates all the goods of the internal man, and regeneration perishes.
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