Monday, February 4, 2019

Ittai (2 Sam 15:19-22)

Ittai—An unconditional friend (2 Sam 15:19-22)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2019

There may be a sense of comradery for those who find themselves in the same situation even if they have little else in common.
John's cell phone quit working just as he tried to let his wife know he was caught in traffic and would be late for their anniversary dinner. As he waited for the long line of cars ahead of him to move, John composed a message on his laptop computer, asking other motorists to call her, printed the message on his portable printer, and taped it to the rear window. When John finally arrived home, his wife greeted him with a big kiss. "I know you love me," she said.... "At least 70 people called and told me so."
There may be a sense of comradery for those who find themselves in the same situation even if they have little else in common. David is significantly different from a particular officer under his command, but the two men still forge a friendship, despite that one is a Jew and the other is a gentile. Among David's Companions is Ittai—An unconditional friend.

There is a common ethnicity that binds together the descendants of Abraham. Yet more important than their common ancestry is their common deity and His revelation to them:
What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? (Deut 4:7)
No other nation...know[s] his laws. (Ps 147:20)
Gentiles, though they lack a common ethnicity, can still acknowledge this deity, and they do. Through contact with Jews, many gentiles become aware of Israel's God. More importantly, through contact with Jews, some gentiles adopt Israel's God for their own, as He makes the opportunity available to them. Some gentiles in that latter category are easy to identify because the biblical description of them is sufficiently detailed. Other gentiles in that latter category are difficult to identify because the biblical description of them is less detailed. Still, the biblical author may provide sufficient intimation to point the reader in that direction, as is the case with one of David's Companions, Ittai—An unconditional friend, who appears briefly in the biblical text with just enough detail to suggest that he is one of those gentiles who adopts Israel's God.

Ittai is in only two portions of the biblical narrative, both when David's son Absalom challenges his father's claim to the throne. It is the first portion, however, that offers the better insight into Ittai's character.

After Absalom's successful coup, he attempts to consolidate power by pitting his forces against David's forces. David, who loves Absalom despite his betrayal, instructs his chief officers how they should treat him. One of those officers is Ittai, a non-Israelite whose rank has risen in David's army and whom David discharges from any obligation to choose a side in what is essentially an internal struggle for power.

Ittai and his family live in Jerusalem but leave with David when Absalom seizes the throne.

I. David releases Ittai's pledge of his personal loyalty (2 Sam 15:19-20).
2 Sam 15:19 The king said to Ittai the Gittite, "Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. 20 You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your countrymen. May kindness and faithfulness be with you."
A. He has no natural citizenry in Israel.
Ittai's initial move to the capital may have been fairly recent ("You came only yesterday" v. 20). Consequently, his departure from the capital disrupts what has finally become stable for him.
B. He has no national responsibility in Israel.
Ittai is a Gittite ("a foreigner" v. 19), not an Israelite, so he has no ancestral connection to the Davidic line. This struggle for power is an internal one that does not really involve Ittai, and David gives him the opportunity to recuse himself. David sees that his own future as a now deposed ruler is uncertain ("I do not know where I am going" v. 20). He may never recover the throne, and Ittai may be out of a job. David recognizes Absalom's coup as a fait accompli and recommends that Ittai throw his support over to the winning side. "Ittai has nothing to gain and everything to lose by remaining with David" (Youngblood 1992:994).

Application: With the current interest in genealogy (e.g.,, there is an assumption that whence you have come somehow informs whither you are going. Whereas your past may tell something important about your present (e.g., by identifying a genetic disorder), it need not dictate it. More important is that your present behavior set a good example for future generations. As when Paul writes about Timothy's faith, "which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also" (2 Tim 1:5). Will the way you are living now be obvious to someone writing your epitaph later?

The biblical author reduces the life of most kings to one of two phrases, either "He did evil in the eyes of the LORD" or "He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD." Even if you will not write your own epitaph, which phrase best describes your life?

Despite the fact that this is not Ittai's fight, he does not jump at the chance to avoid this conflict between father and son. On the contrary, he makes his position quite clear.

II. David receives Ittai's pledge to his royal authority (2 Sam 15:21).
2 Sam 15:21 Ittai replied to the king, "As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be."
A. He accepts the Lord of Israel.
Beginning with an oath ("As surely as the LORD lives" v. 21), Ittai declares his allegiance to David unconditionally. While the oath formula might be a stock expression, it is one indication of Ittai's faith, especially coming from a gentile.
B. He accepts the liege of Israel.
Ittai expands his oath to include another phrase ("as my lord the king lives" v. 21), underscoring his commitment to and expressing his confidence in David's cause.

Application: The use of an oath should be a rare event. By taking an oath, you involve God in the transaction, making Him an official witness should you fail—an unenviable position, because "the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name" (Exod 20:7)—and whoever "takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said" (Num 30:2). By taking an oath, you obligate yourself for something whose outcome you do not control. That is why Jesus says, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No" (Matt 5:37). The use of an oath should be a rare event.

After declining the opportunity to withdraw from David's service, this gentile shows his commitment to David's cause by relocating with him to the new staging area across the Jordan River.

III. David recognizes Ittai's pledge for his entire family (2 Sam 15:22).
2 Sam 15:22 David said to Ittai, "Go ahead, march on." So Ittai the Gittite marched on with all his men and the families that were with him.
  • He leads his party from Israel.
Although he has only lived in the capital a relatively short time, Ittai leaves his home behind and follows David out of Israel proper. There are others who leave with him, uncertain if or when they will be able to return.

Application: Uncertainty about what the future holds is unsettling and can be very stressful. Whether it concerns moving to a new area and all that entails (e.g., meeting new people, getting a new job, finding a new place to live, entering a new school) or facing a new medical problem and all the questions that arise (e.g., the competence of the doctor, the value of a second opinion, the affordability of surgery [even with insurance], the likelihood of a successful outcome, the time and effort needed for recovery), uncertainty about what the future holds is unsettling and can be very stressful. If only there were a way of alleviating the doubt, of facing the future with confidence that the outcome will be positive. Thankfully, there is!

Put together what the Bible says about the power of God, that He controls the future (e.g., "The plans of the LORD stand firm forever" Ps 33:11), with what the Bible says about the personality of God, that He is a benevolent deity (e.g., "He is good" Ps 118:1), and the advantage is clear: The benefit of being a child of God is that what you do not know (about the future) will not hurt you (in the present).
Among David's Companions is Ittai—An unconditional friend, whose allegiance to David and respect by David are beyond reproach. Ittai demonstrates that being a gentile is not a detriment for someone who wishes to follow God's people and align with God's plan. Ittai chooses the right side in this struggle, the side that leads to David's coronation as king of Israel, and eventually to Jesus' incarnation as messiah of Israel and savior of the world, both Jews and gentiles.

For the Footnotes and Bibliography see the pdf here.

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Relevant and civil comments are welcome. Whether there will be any response depends on whether Dr. Manuel notices them and has the time and inclination to respond or, if not, whether I feel competent to do so.
Jim Skaggs