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 (Manna 68: Succession: Generation Next)
Thief of Hearts
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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 popularity.

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 15:4).

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).


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 before.

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.


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:

1)       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 or believers.

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.

2)       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 own name.

              (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).

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.

(Eph 3:17–19)

May our hearts not be stolen by any one individual, but rather let it be the sole dwelling place of the love of Christ.

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Author: Philip Shee