Today in my continued study of David's life, I paused on consider the briefly featured foreigner, Ittai the Gittite, who appears only twice, in 2 Samuel 15:19-22 and 18:2, and two parallel characters, Ruth and Elisha.
Background: Absalom is marching into Jerusalem to overtake it, and David and his entourage are taking the walk of shame out of the city.
The king said to Ittai the Gittite, "Why are you also going with us? Go back and stay with the king since you're both a foreigner and an exile from your homeland. Besides, you only arrived yesterday; should I make you wander around with us today while I go wherever I can? Go back and take your brothers with you. May the LORD show you kindness and faithfulness." But in response, Ittai vowed to the king, "As surely as the LORD lives and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king is, whether it means life or death, your servant will be there!" "March on," David replied to Ittai. So Ittai the Gittite marched past with all his men and the children who were with him. Everyone in the countryside was weeping loudly while all the people were marching past.
David reviewed his troops and appointed commanders of hundreds and of thousands over them. He then sent out hte troops, one third under Joab, one third under Joab's brother, Abishai son of Zeruiah, and one third under Ittai the Gittite.CHOOSING LOYALTY-
David offered Ittai a comfortable out. "Go win favor under my son. Make a nice life for you and your people. Don't bother coming outonto a hard road with me- you've just finished a journey for goodness sake!" He knew Ittai had been exiled from Gath (for defecting to David, who had once served King Achish in pretense?), but Ittai refused to take it, and instead, offered a vow of incredible loyalty. Similar vows are those Ruth and Elisha offered Naomi and Elijah, respectively (Ruth 1:11-18; 2 Kings 2). Both Ruth and Elisha could have accepted the easy out as well- and perhaps without any sin on their parts (like Ruth's sister-in-law, Orpah, did), but their hearts were full of greater compassion and concern for their mentors/leaders than for themselves, and they were compelled by love to go with them no matter the cost.
BRAVING THE COSTS-
Their choices hardly seem like sacrifices because they desired to be loyal, and, in so doing, they fully acknowledged the costs ahead of them. Ittai faced certain war and knew he would be subjecting his family and the families of his men that had journeyed with him from Gath to potential destruction. Ruth knew that leaving her home in Moab would mean a certain degree of isolation from the nation of Israel; she would be an outsider and would have to struggle to find a way to support not only herself but also her mother-in-law. Elisha traveled with Elijah from Gilgal to Bethel, Bethel to Jericho, and Jericho and the Jordan, continuing to prophecy with him and learn from him, I assume. At each location, prophets told him the discouraging news that Elijah would soon be taken from him, and he repeatedly told them to shut up. As Elijah's mentee, he'd already assumed the mantle of outsider, and was not going to lay it down for the world out of his love and respect for his teacher.
Going outside the camp:
Hebrews 13:11-13"For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy of holies by the high priest as a sin offering are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the gate, so that He might sanctify the people by His own blood. Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing His disgrace. For here we do not have an enduring city; instead, we seek the one to come."
- David was forced "outside the camp"- away from his "City of David," Zion and the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. He walked a trail of tears- literally. People wept for him as he left; he was mocked and slightly stoned; and driven into the wilderness. He ascended the Mount of Olives crying. Sounds just a little like Jesus' walk to the cross. (Maybe Ittai could also be compared somewhat to Simon the Cyrene.) And Ittai and his people (foreigners!) bore that shame gladly with him. Ittai looked forward to the restoration of Israel to its rightful king.
- Naomi was already "outside the camp" as she and her family had emigrated from Israel to Moab because of famine, but they return to the camp as foreigners who had lost everything and needed a kinsman redeemer to preserve their very lives. Ruth looked forward to a happier day for her mother-in-law and herself.
- Elijah faced the partial isolation that is the lot of the traveling prophet of God, intermittently being hated and loved by the people because he spoke the truth. Elisha, by extension, accepted all that reputation's honor and disgrace. Elisha looked forward to being used for God like Elijah.
Risking it All:
Like David, Naomi, and Elijah, God never compels us to follow against our will. He gives us the option to follow or to live in relative comfort, tending to ourselves. He doesn't tell us to go home and tend to our own needs; (Or maybe- if he does at all, he does so as a bit of a test to determine the extent of our faith. See his words to the Canaanite woman in Mark 7:27-30.) but he is upfront about the shame to be borne along his side:
Lk 9:23, 62 If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lost it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it...No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.
Lk. 14:26-27, 33 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters- yes, and even his own life- he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross an come after Me cannot be My disciple... In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple.
Jn. 15:18 If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you...Remember the world I spoke to you: 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don't know the One who sent Me.SEEING GLORY-
But what if Ittai had gone home? What if Ruth had remained in Moab or Elisha had stayed put like Elijah told him to? Their vows of loyalty won them glimpses of God's glory, treasures in heaven far greater than any comfort they could have received by tending to their own interests as they were encouraged to do. Ittai saw David's army defeat Absalom's and the kingdom restored to David. I'm sure he and his people were well rewarded also. Ruth won favor and a noble husband, bore a son that would father the line of David and Christ, had all her needs met, and saw- at long last- the bitter Naomi filled with joy. And Elisha- phew!- saw with his earthly eyes a firey chariot and heavenly horses descend to take Elijah away in a whirlwind, and then he received, as Elijah had promised him, a DOUBLE portion of Elijah's spirit. Had they not chosen to risk everything, this dramatic story-book material would not exists and we'd be left with a dull history. I love the drama and the FAITH and the reward, and how I want it for my life!
Leaning on the Promises:
Jn. 14:12-14 I assure you: The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.
Ro. 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.
2 Cor. 3:7-18 Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel were not able to look directly at Moses' face because of the glory from his face- a fading glory- how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of the condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even more glory. In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious in this case because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious. Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness- not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel could not look at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were closed...but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.