Whether in Death or Life
“As the Lord liveth, and as my lord my king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be” (2 Samuel 15:21).
One of the finest expressions of loyalty and devotedness of heart ever uttered was that of Ittai to David.
The circumstances leading to the declaration are well known. We may recall them in a few words. Absalom had rebelled against his father and David had to flee for his life from Jerusalem accompanied by such as were true to himself. These faithful ones nobly declared, “Thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my lord the king may appoint,” thus placing themselves at his disposal absolutely. Together with these there were found six hundred men who had come after David from Gath, where he had been as an exile and which he had taken when he had come to the kingdom. He had won the hearts of some of the men of Gath and these had followed him and now were loyal and true to him when he was dispossessed of his throne for a time by Absalom’s insurrection.
Ittai was one of them and becomes spokesman for them and declares their faithfulness and allegiance to the rejected king.
David’s position at that time is typical of the position of our Lord Jesus as now rejected by the world. He has been refused His rights by His earthly people Israel. The only crown given to Him was one of thorns, the only sceptre a reed, the only throne a cross. He is cast out by the world and His position becomes a test for us who are His own. He has said of His loved ones, for whom He laid down His life, “They are not of the world even as I am not of the worlds.” We belong to Him and the question arises how shall we respond to His love which has made us His own, and own our fealty to Himself.
Let us look at the noble utterance of Ittai and see how far we are like him in faithfulness.
“As the Lord liveth.” These words of faith ring down the centuries from the beginning. In every dispensation the truth of the abidingness of God has been the resource of the godly. God lives, and He is not indifferent to the condition of things in the world. He is the Observer of all and records every thing. Ittai recognized this and recalls it for the comfort of the outcast king.
“And as my lord the king liveth.” He had confidence that God cared for David and would bring him through this time of trial, and re-establish him upon his throne. And we know that God will yet place Christ upon the throne of His father David and will give Him universal dominion. He shall be “the one Lord and His Name one.” “And He shall reign from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.” God lives, Christ lives. And it is but “A little while and He that shall come will come and will not delay.”
Ittai’s expression of trust in God is followed by his expression of attachment to David.
“Surely in what place my Lord the King shall be, whether in death or life, there will also thy servant be.” David’s position governed Ittai’s. If David was in death, Ittai would be in death with him. If David was in life, there Ittai would be. His “Surely” told of decision and definiteness which nothing should shake. And as we see later David’s remonstrance failed to move him in the least. He stood firm and was not to be deflected from the course he had taken. Can we take up such language with regard to our Lord?
Happy are we in knowing that Christ’s place before His Father and God is our place also. We are before God in Christ. And “IN Christ” is as Christ. It was this which the Lord declared in resurrection when He sent the message to His own by Mary Magdalene from the open sepulchre’s side, “Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend to My Father, and to your Father; and to My God, and your God” (John 20:17). Through His atoning death He had won for them this place. Every question as to their sins and sinful selves was settled and He could lead them in triumph into His own place of relationship with the Father and of righteousness with God.
Anticipating His work and its results He had said, “My peace I give unto you.” “That My joy might be in you.” “The words that Thou gavest Me I have given them.” “The glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them.” “That the love where with Thou hast loved Me may be in them and I in them.” His peace, His joy, His glory, ours, and the Father’s communications to Him and the Father’s love resting upon Him shared with us. He had said, “Not as the world gives give I unto you.” The world gives away what it bestows. It gives a part of its possessions, and usually a small part, and it preserves its own position of superiority to those to whom it gives. Christ gives by bringing us to share with Him all that it is possible for us to enjoy. As the husband brings his wife into his home to enjoy with himself all that he delights in, sharing his all with her and finding his delight in doing so, thus the Lord introduces His loved ones into the circle of sunshine and gladness in which He finds His own pleasures. There are His own Godhead glories which no creature can ever share, but all that it is possible for a creature to have with Him, He loves to impart to us, finding His own deep joy in having us with Him appreciating it all, as we find our deepest joy in being with Him, the Giver of it all.
But while it is true that His place before His Father and His God is ours, it is also true that His place before the world is ours; both go together. It is expressed in the epistle to the Hebrews by the position “Inside the veil” on the one hand, and “Outside the camp” on the other. If it be ours to enter in with Christ into the Holiest of all by His blood, it is ours also to go forth to Him outside the camp of this world, “outside the gate,” sharing shame and dishonour with Him our rejected Lord.
We may note that Ittai said, “Whether in death or life.” He puts death before life in his thoughts and utterances. He was prepared for the worst. He would die where David died. It was his love for David, coming from his previous acquaintance with David, which led to this pledging of his troth. And we are to be in death here with Him who is our Lord, as we look to be in life with Him eternally. “If we have died with Him we shall also live with Him.”
Our death with Him is figured in our baptism. We have been baptized unto His death. We have been thus identified with Him in His cutting off. His life has been “taken from the earth” and we have ours taken from it in figure too. This was done for us by another.
In the partaking of the Lord’s Supper we do for ourselves what was done for us by another in our baptism. We become identified again and again with the death of Christ in the world, as it is said, we “do show forth the Lord’s death till He come.” He is away, but we are here in the place of His rejection and we own His rights and unfurl His flag where He has been and is refused.
In our baptism and in partaking of the Lord’s Supper we say with the Christian poet, “Know ye not that our Lord Jesus died here.” We share with Him in the place of His death, in figure; and are called to be true to our identification with Him in all our association of life here.
And with us it is but “Till He come.” We know that the moment of His return draws nigh. Then the place of glory will be ours with Him as the place of shame has been ours now.
We are called to devotedness to Him who was devoted to us unto death. He was for us here and we are to be for Him here.
Ittai was honoured when David was restored to his rightful throne, and became one of his trusted field-marshals; a third of David’s army being put under his control. And “if we suffer we shall also reign with Him.”
David valued Ittai’s devotedness so plainly expressed. Can Christ our Lord appreciate ours?