Thief of Hearts
Philip Shee—Dubai, UAE
“So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” (2 Sam 15:6)
This tragic turn of events in the history of Israel is a sober reminder
that one of the biggest threats to the church and our own faith could
come from within the church, rather than from outside. By the special
grace of his father, King David, Absalom was allowed to return to
Jerusalem from exile. He even received the king’s pardon despite
murdering his brother, Amnon (2 Sam 14:33). Yet this kind gesture was
unappreciated. Instead, Absalom reciprocated by hatching a treacherous
plot to usurp his father’s throne, even to the extent of seeking his
life. But how did Absalom manage to steal the hearts of the Israelites
and turn them against David, the king who was ordained by God?
Going the extra mile to gain personal popularity
Absalom’s evil plot started with his special effort to gain personal
First, Absalom rose early and positioned himself beside the way to the
gate so that he could intercept and meet people who were bringing
lawsuits or grievances to the king for judgment (2 Sam 15:2). Making the
special effort to rise early, he was willing to make a personal
sacrifice, to be inconvenienced in order to achieve his aim. Such
sacrificial spirit would be well received by people who had no reason to
look beyond the surface at his underlying intention.
Second, Absalom listened to the people’s grievances and opined that
their “case is good and right; but there is no deputy of the king to
hear you” (2 Sam 15:3). This was a subtle but very effective way to take
a bigger stride into their hearts. People with grievances long for
someone to be on their side. Absalom knew what they wanted to hear and
he made sure he told them! Such empathy naturally won him their favor.
Having gained a foothold in the hearts of the people, Absalom then
promoted himself more directly, indicating his desire to serve them,
promising to give them justice if he were made judge in the land (2 Sam
Then, Absalom took the final step and appealed to the emotions of the
people by extending a more personal and intimate touch to the
relationship. For anyone that came to him, he would not only gave his
judgment, he would also offer his hand and kiss the person (2 Sam 15:5).
By this time, the people had been completely deceived and as described
by David’s messenger, “the hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom”
(2 Sam 15:13).
Staging the rebellion
As the number of people defecting to him increased (2 Sam 15:12),
Absalom sent spies throughout the tribes of Israel and instructed them
to declare Absalom as king as soon as the trumpet sounded (2 Sam 15:10).
Absalom’s operation was both deliberate yet covert. As a result, in
Jerusalem, David remained in the dark and unable to stand up against
this assault. Soon, David was forced to withdraw from Jerusalem, knowing
as he did the ruthlessness of Absalom and wanting to avoid bloodshed in
Jerusalem. David recognized that Absalom would have no qualms in
striking the city with the sword (2 Sam 15:14).
RECOGNIZE THE DEVIL’S PLOY
It is sad that the enemy in this case was not a traditional external
party, such as the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Assyrians, or any
neighboring tribes, but rather from within Israel. Even more tragic was
that it arose from within David’s own household. Instead of uniting
against external enemies, the energy of Israel was spent in internal
struggle, in dealing with treachery.
This incident provides a glimpse into the work of the devil and the
potential damage it can inflict on the church and on each one of us.
Just as Absalom rose from within Israel, the evil one is likely to use
the same ploy today. After all, this ploy had been used several times
In the wilderness, Korah managed to steal the hearts of enough people
amongst the children of Israel to rise up against Moses. This incitement
included a sizeable two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation,
men of renown (Num 16:1–3).
We also see a similar ploy in the generation following Solomon’s reign.
Jeroboam made a deliberate effort to steal the hearts of the people of
Israel. He was concerned that their hearts would turn away from him to
Rehoboam and the house of David, if they continued to offer sacrifices
in the temple at Jerusalem (1 Kgs 12:26–27). Hence, he made two calves
of gold and persuaded the people that it was too troublesome to travel
all the way to Jerusalem to worship. He introduced an easier alternative
and suggested the calves of gold to be the gods of Israel who delivered
them from the land of Egypt. He even took pains to set one in Bethel and
one in Dan, build shrines on high places, establish a system of priests
from every class of people who were not of the sons of Levi, ordain a
feast like that in Judah, and offer sacrifices in Bethel (1 Kgs
12:28–33). On the surface, unlike the harsh Rehoboam, Jeroboam was the
ideal leader who understood the people’s difficulties and needs. It was
no wonder that he appealed to the ignorant and subsequently stole their
hearts. Jeroboam was only interested in gaining political support from
the people and was even prepared to turn them away from God and His
institution in Jerusalem.
GUARD AGAINST dangers IN
It is natural for us to be attracted to charismatic people and be drawn
to their passion, their empathy, their talent, their eloquence, and
often, their personal touch. If such members or workers were indeed to
inspire us to be even closer to God and His church, it might prove
beneficial for our faith.
However, the examples above soberly remind us of the need to be
constantly on our guard. The following are areas where we have to
exercise our vigilance:
Are we being drawn closer to any charismatic individual within the
church while being alienated from others? Have we unknowingly started
to hero-worship or take sides?
Paul pointed out clearly the carnal nature and spiritual immaturity of
the Corinthians when they started to align themselves to individuals,
with some claiming to be of Paul, some of Apollos, and some of Cephas (1
Cor 1:12; 3:1-4). It is natural and healthy that we have relationships
within the church and we will also inevitably be closer to some workers
However, it is important that we do not allow this relationship to
develop into animosity with others. Likewise, we must be careful not to
be blind to the faults of members close to us while magnifying the
faults of others.
The principle: We should draw from Paul’s guidance, that even workers
like himself and Apollos were merely ministers through whom we believed
(1 Cor 3:5). Perhaps, through the sharing of a good friend, we have come
to believe, or perhaps a particular church worker inspired and revived
our faith. Notwithstanding, we must recognize that the real target of
our worship should be Christ, and Christ alone.
Have we allowed any charismatic church worker to turn our hearts
against God’s church?
A true worker of God will be particularly conscious about turning people
towards God and His church, rather than to himself. Paul was not
flattered when he realized that some Corinthians had claimed to be “of
Paul” and not of others. On the contrary, he corrected them:
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized
in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except
Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my
(1 Cor 1:12–15)
He further remarked:
Who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you
believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered,
but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything,
nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.
(1 Cor 3: 5–7)
The church, comprising members still on the journey of spiritual growth,
is clearly not perfect. Likewise, ministers are also imperfect. Hence,
it is possible to find faults within the church or among ministers. In
our interactions with members close to us, we must be extra careful that
we do not end up stirring negative sentiments about the church.
The principle: If we encounter members who are unhappy with the church,
and they attempt to stir up division, we must strive to bridge the gap
and to unite rather than divide. Also as a part of the church, we need
to pray and positively work towards the improvement of the church, just
as Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “endeavor to keep the unity of the
Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).
Is our relationship with God built only upon the inspiration from an
individual and not from the church herself, through whom God had
intended to make known His manifold wisdom (Eph 3:10)?
We have to recognize that God’s design is for His ministry to be led by
an organization as opposed to any one individual. As the apostolic
church grew, it continued to operate in an organized and
institutionalized fashion. When Philip successfully converted the
Samaritans and baptized them, word reached the apostles in Jerusalem,
who sent Peter and John to help him (Acts 8:14). Even though Peter was
moved by the Holy Spirit to preach to Cornelius, he explained his
actions to the church in Jerusalem and to the other apostles (Acts
11:1–18). Although Paul was an apostle, and a very gifted worker, he did
not operate alone. He subjected himself to the Antioch church to be
dispatched elsewhere (Acts 13:1–4). When there was a dispute over the
matter of circumcision, this was discussed at the council in Jerusalem,
after which the decision was dispatched to the churches throughout the
region (Acts 15:1–2; 23–31; 16:4–5). This is consistent with biblical
teachings of the church being the body of Christ, which comprises
members playing different functions, yet working together and integrated
as a whole (1 Cor 12; Eph 4:11–16).
The principle: As our relationship with God develops, it should also
draw us closer to His church, where we continue to be edified and at the
same time, contribute to her growth. This then aligns with God’s
intention of establishing the church, where “He Himself gave some to be
apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and
preachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry,
for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of
the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to
the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11–13).
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote:
…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being
rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the
saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the
love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all
the fullness of God.
May our hearts not be stolen by any one individual, but rather let it be
the sole dwelling place of the love of Christ.