Ittai: A Friend for Life
April 26th, 1981 @ 7:30 PM
2 Samuel 15:18-22
ITTAI: A FRIEND FOR LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Samuel 15:18-22
4-26-81 7:30 p.m.
And we welcome the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. We are in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and this is the pastor preaching a sermon especially prepared for our Adult and Bible divisions in our dear church. I never preached on Ittai in my life. It is new to me, as it is new to most of you, but, has in it one of the dearest, finest messages to which we could ever be introduced. So turn with me to 2 Samuel, in the Old Testament; 2 Samuel, chapter 15. And while you are finding it, I am going to read a verse or two. Then I want you to begin reading at verse 19 with me.
The king went forth, and all the people after him, and tarried in a place far off.
And all of David’s servants passed on before him; the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men which came after him from Gath. They went on before the king.
[2 Samuel 15:17-18]
Now we are going to read from verses 19 to 23. We are going to read out loud, 2 Samuel 15:19-23. Now together:
Then said the king to Ittai the Gittite, Wherefore goest thou also with us? return to thy place, and abide with the king: for thou art a stranger, and also an exile.
Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I may, return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth with be thee.
And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the Lord liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or in life, even there also will thy servant be.
And David said to Ittai, Go and pass over. And Ittai the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones that were with him.
And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the Brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness.
[2 Samuel 15:19-23]
Now I am going to read verse 30:
And David went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that were with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went.
[2 Samuel 15:30]
The background of the passage is so well known to us, it is almost unthinkable. Yet it is true that in the midst of the height of the glory of David’s reign, his own beautiful and gifted son, Absalom, conspired against his father. And he did it so shrewdly and so effectively that he won the hearts of the nation [2 Samuel 15:2-6]. And it was his proposal, accepted by the people, that David be slain and that Absalom be proclaimed king in the stead of his father David [2 Samuel 15:10-14]. So David, to save the lives of those who were with him in his household, fled from Jerusalem down toward the Ghor, toward the wilderness of the Salt Sea [2 Samuel 15:23, 28]. And those that were with him followed after, barefoot, bareheaded, weeping as they left the holy city of Jerusalem [2 Samuel 15:30].
Now among those that waited on David was a stranger and a foreigner by the name of Ittai [2 Samuel 15:19]. He was from Gath; the citizens of Gath were called Gittites [2 Samuel 15:18]. Gath was one of the five Philistine cities on the plain toward the Mediterranean Sea in the south of Palestine. Those five cities are Ashdod and Ashkelon and Ekron and Gaza and the city of Gath. Gath was a tremendously famous center in the days of the Philistine empire. The Anakim lived in Gath. They were giants, and Goliath was one of their number [1 Samuel 17:4]. He was a Gittite. Obed-Edom—the wonderful man into whose house David committed the ark [1 Samuel 7:2; 2 Samuel 6:10] when Uzzah was struck dead by touching it [2 Samuel 6:6-7]—Obed-Edom, where the ark stayed for [three months] [2 Samuel 6:11], Obed-Edom was a Gittite. It was a walled city and it had a king, as did each one of the five Philistine cities. When David fled from before Saul, he went twice to Gath. The first time they were afraid for him and David feigned madness and so escaped [1 Samuel 21:10-13]. The second time the king Achish received him kindly and sought to integrate and amalgamate the six hundred men of David with his own army. But the Gittites were afraid when they went to war against Israel, so, with the blessing of Achish the king, he was given a city of his own, Ziklag [1 Samuel 27:2, 6].
This man Ittai was standing outside the gate of the palace of David when David, barefoot and bareheaded, left the throne and left the city. There stood Ittai, with six hundred of his men and their families and their little ones [2 Samuel 15:18]. When David saw him, he said to him, “You are a stranger and a foreigner. You go back home and take your men and their families.” And Ittai said, “Not so, my lord. We are with you, whether to live or to die” [2 Samuel 15:19-21]. The fortunes of David were at their lowest, unspeakably lowest ebb. The entire nation was with Absalom. And it seemed certain that David faced nothing but defeat and disaster and death. But there stands Ittai, a foreigner and a stranger: “My lord, O king, whether to live or to die, I am with you” [2 Samuel 15:21].
[It] reminds you of the whole structure of the Christian faith. It is not built upon a tremendous devotion to a church, though that’s beautiful, or to a denomination, though that’s commendable. But the Christian faith is built upon a personal devotion to a somebody, a person, a man, the Man Christ Jesus. I one time heard of a neophyte, a young theologian, who was by the bedside of an old saint facing the cold, sullen Jordan stream, passing over. And the young fellow quoted to the old saint 2 Timothy 1:12: “For I know,” he said, “in whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” And the old saint broke in and said, “Son, son, don’t put a preposition between me and my Lord, not even a preposition. Do you remember the passage? “For I know whom I have believed”—not in whom—”for I know whom I have believed,” a Person [2 Timothy 1:12]. That’s the Christian faith. It is a devotion to a Somebody.
And it is illustrated beautifully in the life of this stranger from Gath named Ittai. Standing there with David in the lowest ebb, nadir of his fortunes. “Well,” David said to Ittai, “If that is your heart, then you come” [2 Samuel 15:22] And in the war against Absalom he appointed three generals: one was Joab, one was Abishai, and the other was this stranger from Gath, Ittai the Gittite [2 Samuel 18:5]. And the war, as you know, was fought in the forest of Ephraim. And Absalom was killed and David was triumphant [2 Samuel 18:9-15]. We never hear any more about Ittai—possibly, most probably he fell in battle—a wonderful example of a friend unto death. A friend for life, and a beautiful and precious picture of the devotion of our Lord. And that is the sermon tonight A Friend for Life, a friend forever, Jesus, in His love for us.
First: Jesus walking with us and being with us in the morning of life, in the beginning of the days of our life, what a Friend we have in Jesus. Sometimes I think people get the wrong idea about the worth and the beauty of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. We get the idea because there will be a, say, a criminal, who is marvelously saved and we think, “Isn’t that wonderful?” Or here is a dope addict and he is rescued out of his addiction, and we say, “That’s miraculous.” Or some other vile and evil and condemned imprisoned criminal is saved, and we say, “That’s gloriously wonderful.” That is right. I have never heard a drug addict who was converted and give his testimony for Jesus that I did not rejoice in it. And I have never heard one of those imprisoned criminals who had turned to the Lord, but that I rejoiced in his turning. But I say we get a wrong idea in it. To me, it is a thousand times better, incomparably better to give the whole life to Christ and to never know drunkenness or addiction or criminality or imprisonment. The life of a beautiful Samuel, or the life of a beautiful Daniel, or the life of a wonderful David—Jesus walking with us in the morning time of life.
I heard a lawyer from Seattle. He had been an atheist, an infidel. He had no room in his life and no place in his heart for God. And into their home was born a precious little girl. And she now was something like, oh, four or five years of age. And suddenly his wife died and left him with the care of that little child. In the beautiful home he possessed there in Seattle, in his bedroom was a beautiful picture window facing toward the east, toward the Cascade Mountains. And one morning, early in the morning as the sun was just rising over those Cascade peaks, his little girl, dressed in her white nightie and her black hair flowing over her little gown, she came into her father’s room and up to her father’s face, close by. And he made as though he did not know, he was not aware; he made as though he were sound asleep. And the little girl, looking at her father for a brief moment, then walked over to the picture window. And the father, wondering what was happening, raised his head and there was that precious little child, standing there in her white nightie, with her black hair flowing over her shoulders. And she was bowing, back and forth, watching that sun rise over the Cascade range. And as she bowed the little thing was saying, “Good morning, God. Good morning, God.” And the lawyer buried his face in his pillow and said, “O God, let me see the shining of Thy face.” And he found the Lord and gave himself a great legal witness for Christ.
Walking with us, God in the morning of life; a friend forever walking with us in the noonday of life; in the strength of womanhood and manhood; I cannot conceive of a finer partnership than for a man to make God his helper and confidant. The chairman of the board, the president of the company, make God a partner and to lay before Him every decision. He has wisdom, infallible, unfathomable, and what a privilege to lay before God every plan, every prospective program, every vision and dream, lay it before God and ask God to bless it, and to give us wisdom in it. What a marvelous open door the Lord hath given to us. Walking with us in the noonday, in the strength of our life. The Lord walking with us, with us in the evening of life. What a precious remembrance; “I will not leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]. God with us through all the days of our lives and walking with us in the evening of life.
Sometimes I read—many times I read of speculations concerning when the twenty-third Psalm was written. Well, there are those that are peripherally minded, shallow scholars who say, “Well, that is one of the psalms that David wrote when he was boy, singing on his harp to his sheep.” I don’t think so. It took a man of long experience to write, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; the tokens of Thy presence, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they strengthen me and comfort me [Psalm 23:4]. In the days of my own despair and sorrow, You prepare an abounding, overflowing table of strength before me. You anoint my head with oil. My cup, in joy and gladness overflows. Surely, surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the rest of the days of my life”—my Friend forever—”and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, world without end” [Psalm 23:5-6]. It was a psalm written in his old age.
Do you remember the closing of the greatest chapter in Isaiah; Isaiah 40, [verses 30 and 31]? They close like this: “Even your youths shall faint . . . and your young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord . . . they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint” [Isaiah 40:30-31]. Did you know in these years and years gone by, I used to think, I just cannot imagine the prophet doing that. He has turned that thing around. What he ought to say, “They shall walk, and then they shall run, and then they shall mount up with wings as eagles.” That is the way I thought of it.
And then as the years pass, and I am multiplied in wisdom as I walk in and out before these dear people, I have come to understand what the prophet was saying. It is a picture of our lives. In the youth time of life; in it is vigor and enthusiasm, “mounting up with wings as eagles.” Then, as the years multiply, “we are running and we are not weary.” And then in the old age of life, “we walk and do not faint” [Isaiah 40:31]. That is a beautiful thing. God with us, whether in youth, flying like the birds in the sky; or in the strength of manhood, running a race toward a goal; or in the age of life, walking and not be weary and not faint. That’s great. That’s God. You know, after all of these years and years I have learned that age and the multiplying of days and the sorrows of life, with their inevitable disappointments—it does one of two things to you. It will always do one of two things. It will embitter you, or it will make you sweet and precious and humble and lovable. It will do one or the other; always one of the two.
In my first pastorate, my first pastorate out of the seminary, there was a house in that county seat town. And the people said to me, “Don’t you dare go into that house. There is the bitterest old woman that lives in that house that you ever knew in your life. She curses the church. And she curses God. And she curses the neighbor. She hates everything. Don’t dare go into that house. It is poison.” Well, being very young and very inexperienced and without good judgment and sense, I just decided I would go. And so I knocked at the door. And if I ever saw a witch of a woman in my life, she came to the door and looked at me, and scared the daylights out of me—just the way she looked. “Who are you and what you want?”
I said, “I am the pastor of the First Baptist Church. I just came to town. And I just wanted to come and see you.”
Well, she was so taken by surprise and so amazed I think at my youth that she said, “Well, come in.” So I came in and sat down. And as she began to talk to me, I never heard such a string of vitriolic condemnation of everything that exists. Her husband had left her, and I could understand that! All of her children had left her, and I could understand that. And she hated all of her neighbors, and she hated everything in the world. It was poisonous. And she had written a poem. And in her vitriolic condemnation of the whole world she quoted it for me. And so penetrating was the hatred of that poem, that when my visit was over I went home and wrote it down word for word. You would not think that a guy could do that. Well, I didn’t either, till I did it. And I have kept that poem these years, and you will hear it for the first time tonight: “I Hate Oklahoma.” My first pastorate was in a county seat town in Oklahoma, and this is that woman,
I hate Oklahoma, not the land of my native birth,
But a land by all the gods that be
A scourge on the face of the earth.
I hate Oklahoma.
I hate Oklahoma.
Where the centipede crawls in your bed at night,
And the rattlesnake lifts its fangs to bite,
Where the lizard and the scorpion play on the slide,
And the loathsome vulture sails high in the sky.
Where water and food are in eternal lack
And a man’s best friend sticks a dagger in your back.
I hate Oklahoma.
[author and source of poem unknown]
Isn’t that something? Before I go on, I want to tell you how nobody is beyond the reach of love and care. I went back to see her. I read the Bible to her. I prayed with her. I buried that woman. And the only thing she had was a beautiful Persian rug in the living room, and she willed that to the church. Well that is one thing that despair and sorrow and age will do to you. It will make you bitter.
But there is something else so different that the years can bring to you. The years can soften you and humble you and sweeten your heart and spirit, and make you lovelier with the passing days.
Let me grow lovely, growing old—
So many fine things do:
Laces, and ivory, and gold,
And silks need not be new;
There is healing in old trees,
Old streets of glamour hold;
Why may not I, as well as these,
Grow lovely, growing old?
[“Let Me Grow Lovely,” Karle Wilson Baker]
Lord, Lord, don’t let me as I get into the years of my age, don’t let me be bitter, and caustic and critical; carping, full of unkindness, unforgiveness, bitterness. But let me Lord, as I get older, be more sympathetic and understanding and sweeter and lovelier and kinder, growing old. And God will do that for us when we walk with Him.
Why, my brother, and I close, we have everything better; God having provided that better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. There is no need to despair, He lives. There is no need to lose hope, He reigns. The whole world is in His hands. And if the down look is bad and dark, the up look is always bright and glorious. There is a better day coming and we shall rejoice in it and be glad. Alfred, Lord Tennyson said in the age of his life, “Wherever my poems are published, grant me this one request, that this poem conclude the volume.” And you will never see a published collection of poems of the great poet laureate of England that does not close with this beautiful Christian hope.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
But may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho, from out this bourne of Time and Place,
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see . . .
I would just like to change that one word: I “know” I shall see
. . . my Pilot face to face,
When I have crost the bar.
[“Crossing the Bar,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1889]
Life at its best: life can be beautiful all the way through, every day with Jesus; in the youth time of life, in the noontime of life, in the evening of life, and walking with our Lord into the dark. Jesus is there. Ittai, a paradigm, a type of the friendship of our life [2 Samuel 15:21]. “Whether in life or in death, I am with you” [2 Samuel 15:21]. God bless us in the way. Now, may we stand together?
Our Lord, in the nighttime Thou art there. There is no night so dark but that Jesus is there. In the youth time and in the strength of life Thou art there. And down to old age and to death, You never leave us [Hebrews 13:5]. What a sweet and precious pilgrimage, to walk with our Lord in the light of His face, His presence, His promises [2 Corinthians 4:6]. O Lord Jesus, that we could draw closer to Thee and have a greater capacity of love for Thee, a deeper desire to devote the strength and energies of our life to Thee. There is no one of us, Lord, that doesn’t know what heartache is, not if we live long enough. Know what frustration and sorrow and disappointment, we will all know it. The difference is Lord, sometimes those things but embitter those who endure it. But for us who know Thee, the sorrows and the heartaches and the tears of life; but bowest like they did David—who put dirt on the top of his head and took off his shoes, and weeping walked from his throne into the wilderness, not knowing whether he went whether to live or to die [2 Samuel 15:30]. Our lives are like that. But Lord, in Thy hands we have a sure security. If we are to live, it is to be with Jesus in this life. If we are to die, it is to be with Jesus in another life, whether here or there, we are with Thee [Romans 14:8]. O beloved Savior, we praise Thy name and love Thee forever.
And in this moment that our people stand in prayerful reverence before God; a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you; to come to be with us in our pilgrimage with the Lord, welcome. To give your heart in faith to Christ [Romans 10:9-13]; to come into the fellowship of the church; to follow our Lord in believer’s baptism [Matthew 3:13-17]; to answer His call in your life; as God shall press the appeal to your heart, answer now. May angels attend you as you come. Thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us tonight, in Thy saving and keeping name, amen. Now while we sing, welcome, welcome, welcome.
ITTAI: A FRIEND FOR LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Samuel 15:18-22
1. Joined David when David fled from Absalom
2. David at his lowest point in life
3. Ittai and 600 of his men join David
4. Ittai is faithful to God’s ruler through the entire campaign
1. Loyal to a Person 2 Timothy 1:12
2. Psalm 23
3. Wait upon the Lord
III. Bitter widow
IV. The Lord reigns, go with Him, stay on His side unto death