Now Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him. And when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came to Absalom, Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” And Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?”
– 2 Samuel 16:15-17
Loyalty, by definition, is about unswerving in allegiance; the quality or state of being faithful to something or someone. In this particular text the word loyalty is the Hebrew word “lovingkindness” (Hebrew word: Hesed). It is often used of God’s covenant loyal-love and faithfulness to His people Israel.
If you read the context the situation is intriguing. Absalom is David’s son. He has betrayed his father and won the people to himself by shrewdly undermining his father’s authority. He is now invading Jerusalem and driving David to flee the city. David now has to go into hiding from his own son. Hushai is David’s friend and he wants to go with David as he departs the city. David instructs Hushai to stay in the city and essentially be his eyes and ears to find out what Absalom is planning on doing. Hushai can then pass the information on to others who are loyal to David and they in turn can get the news to David. When Hushai returns to the city he makes a declaration to Absalom – “Long live the king! Long live the king!This, of course, raises suspicion with Absalom so he asks this question, “Is this your loyalty (lovingkindness) to your friend?”
Loyalty is a critical quality in relationship, in fact, it is indispensable. Loyalty carries with it the element of trust which is essential for any viable relationship. It would be right for Absalom to question Hushai because he knows that Hushai has been loyal to David. Interesting enough, back in 2 Samuel 15:33 David told Hushai that he would be a burden to him. Regardless if that was particularly true it served as an adequate excuse for David to send Hushai back to spy on Absalom for him. So Hushai appears to be disloyal to David, yet remains faithful; he appears to now choose to be loyal to Absalom but will actually be unfaithful as David’s spy.
This reminds of a conversation many years ago with a friend who was trying to discover the difference between loyalty and hypocrisy. He question was this, “If I do something that I don’t really feel like doing, am I not being a hypocrite?” It is an interesting question but reveals a very interesting way we think; it is even more prevalent today than at the time of this conversation. My answer to him was this, “It all depends on who you are trying to be loyal or faithful to.” He was not sure what I meant so I explained it this way. The Christian life is driven by faith not feelings or any other proclivity – instinct, logic, common sense, and intuition or even gut feelings. If my feelings are driven by the Flesh (that alien disposition that still tempts me to act according to the old manner of life) I need to decide if I am going to make choices based on those feelings or to choose by faith to do what may not be emotionally attractive but it is the right thing to be faithful to God. If we obey the passions of the Flesh we are being unfaithful to Christ. If we ignore those “feelings” and choose by faith to say no and choose a different path then we are being faithful (loyal) to Christ. Feelings are always involved in our decision-making, in fact we want them to be. A person who does not allow their feelings to be part of their decisions or commitments is usually apathetic, indifferent and often will never put their whole heart into what they are doing. What we treasure or value, our heart will follow. The difference is that the primary basis for decisions is not how I feel but what does faith require.
Back to the narrative. In times of conflict like we see above, even though it looks like a family feud, this false loyaltythat Hushai shows to Absalom might be considered shrewd tactics in understanding the enemy and being able to strategically keep an advantage over one’s enemy. This happens in warfare. There are always spies and secret agents that are trying to secretly find out the tactics of the enemy and warn his own people of the military movements of their enemy.
But in normal relationship, the family of God, ministry and connecting with those far from God, this false loyalty can be disastrous. Take ministry for example. Ministry is often undermined by people who give the appearance of being loyal but have their own agendas running in the background by which, at some point, they act on because they think what they want to do is far more important than what others are doing. When a person forces their agenda the results are a little like what happened to Absalom and David. Someone is driven out by another person because they have consistently undermined the credibility of the other person. The result is an attempt at a hostile takeover or a conflict that splits the “kingdom” so to speak.
False loyalty can destroy ministry. When I was doing pastoral ministry in Portland I had a young man who was my youth pastor. He had been with us for about a year and all appearances indicated he was faithful and loyal. But suddenly he started spreading the word around the congregation that he felt like he should become the senior pastor and that the church should get rid of me. I called him into the office and he was as blatant about the issue with me as the rumors I was hearing had suggested. He thought God had called him to become the senior pastor and that he could “do a better job of the ministry than I was doing” and that I should step down so he could take over. I told him that I had not heard God’s voice affirming that idea so we had a problem. Since he had family in the church who were part of our leadership team the process took longer than normal but we let him go about six months later. He appeared loyal but he had this other agenda and tried to have me ousted from the ministry because that is what he felt God called him to do… really!! But that is exactly what he thought God was calling him too. If you want to hear more I can share it with you if you want to follow up with me.
False loyalty can destroy families. David and Absalom situation demonstrates the internal carnage that tears apart families; disloyalty is often a lack of transparency and vulnerability. But disloyalty is often a sign of a power struggle, like David and Absalom, where someone is dissatisfied with life and their situation and will do anything to “take back control of their life” regardless of the cost or consequences. There is no place that Satan wants to destroy trust more readily than in marriage and family. I have seen unfaithfulness destroy marriages and family with the power of a relational nuclear warhead. I have also seen some pretty courageous families fight back against Satan’s schemes to rebuild trust and transparency in their family… pretty amazing steps of faith if you ask me.
False loyalty can destroy our relationship with God. The same problem can undermine our relationship with God to the point of no return. People often spend so much time pretending to believe in Jesus and consumed with giving off the right appearance to other believers that they erode their own faith. They are more concerned about pretending so people won’t see their real struggle; they end up destroying their own confidence in Christ. Absalom hurt himself more than anyone else. He broke his father’s heart but David took the path that he would trust God to restore him to the role of king and even with his son. Absalom ended up becoming his own worst enemy and ended up hurting himself more than anything else. Paul was concerned about his very thing when he spoke to Timothy:
This charge “I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
– 1 Timothy 1:18-20
We often speak of being loyal to self; sometimes it is expressed in terms of being true to self above all else. That is an option but it leads to a narcissistic selfishness and tends to exclude all others including God. Jesus said that nature of discipleship (following Jesus) calls us to loyalty to Him – here is what it looks like:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
– Luke 9:23-26
In His grace,
Pastor Brad Little