We have come to a passage that highlights the importance of reliable information for both Absalom and David. And it's been kind of fun having this come right after Rodney's economics discussions. We've been having fun starting Thomas Sowell's book, Knowledge and Decisions, and going through Friedrich Hayek's book, Road to Serfdom. And believe it or not, this passage highlights most of the principles that they list in an economy of knowledge. One of the things that I hope to do this morning is to trigger some thinking on how each of you treats information in your day-to-day work. It certainly has for me.
And since this passage is dealing with information and political conflict, I will try to at least highlight a few issues that are directly related to our current culture wars. Both Sowell and Hayek show that the free flow of information is so critical to the free market that it is no surprise to find collectivist governments seeking to control what information the public may have. It explains why communists always take over the media. And it explains why there will always be some people who will try to get around such blackouts. Ever since Daniel Ellsberg's landmark win in the Supreme Court against President Nixon, I have been fascinated with the debates over whether the government should be allowed to control information flow – whether that control is over the Internet, the media, Wikileaks, insider trading on Wall Street, or other forms of information flow. What makes something criminal and what makes something free? Too many people tend to default to whatever shifting definition the current Supreme Court gives.
This summer the Washington Post had an interesting article1 claiming that Obama is acting like an elected monarch trying to control all information. I thought the connection between monarchy and control of information was interesting because it is true that collectivists always seem to slide towards the control of society's information. Anyway, the article said that things done by Nixon that were considered unconstitutional back then are now being entrusted to Obama's control without any reservation by either party. Now, we will see that information can be dangerous, so it is perfectly understandable why governments will sometimes try to criminalize the possession of such information. Certainly what is going on in verse 15 was dangerous to Absalom, wasn't it?
2Sam. 17:15 Then Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, "Thus and so Ahithophel advised Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and so I have advised.
It's true information, but it was totally dangerous to Absalom that this information get to David, and it appears to have been illegal - probably just by executive decree. Of course, verse 16 indicates that the same information was an incredible blessing to David, and saved his life and the lives of all who were with him. So when you say that it is dangerous information, you need to also ask, "Dangerous to whom?" It was information that helped David take the action that would give him success. Verse 16:
2Sam. 17:16 Now therefore, send quickly and tell David, saying, "Do not spend this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily cross over, lest the king and all the people who are with him be swallowed up.' "
Without even going through the rest of the passage, just those first two verses give us an economics of information and knowledge. Knowledge is costly. It's somewhat scarce. It's needed. It has purveyors and consumers. It's relationship to past, present, and future parallels other issues that have been addressed in our economics books.
And my hope is to not make this academic, but apply the principles to your day-to-day lives. How each of you handles information acquisition and information distribution is either glorifying to God or it is not. It is either done in faith or it is not. We see in this chapter that one of the premises of the John Birch Society is wrong: Welch thought that sufficient distribution of reliable information would somehow save American society. What he overlooked was human depravity. Sometimes a society prefers to believe the false information of an Absalom. As far as the Bible is concerned, before America will turn around, we will need God's grace as well. But that's not to say that information is unimportant. The John Birch Society was right about the critical need to distribute reliable information through decentralized grass roots networks everywhere. They were merely imitating the Committees of Correspondence in America's War for Independence. Anyway, just read through this chapter in light of the economics of knowledge, and I think you will be benefited.
One of the things that really encouraged me in reading those two books was how they demonstrate that no collectivist government can ever have the ability to have enough information to run an economy well or to control an economy well. They are not omniscient. They are constantly having to gather and filter more information than they can process, and because of fallibility, collectivists can come to mistaken conclusions like they did in verses 1-14.
General overview: there will always be a market for information (v. 15ff)
The concept. Is it appropriate to speak of a market of ideas, information, and knowledge? (Prov. 3:13-15)
There are three points this morning. The first point is that there will always be a market for information. Now it may see strange for me to speak of knowledge and information in terms of economics. So before we go any further, why don't you turn to Proverbs 3:13-15 so that I can show how the Bible itself does the very same thing. Proverbs 3:13-15.
Prov. 3:13 Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding;
Prov. 3:14 For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold.
Prov. 3:15 She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
I won't deal with all eleven economic terms in those verses, but they speak of this grasp of information as having cost, trade value, psychic value, increase, and in other ways liken it to a commodity. The Hebrew word translated "proceeds" and "profit" in verse 14 is the Hebrew word sakhar (סַחַר), which the dictionary defines as "trading profit… the financial profit of traveling merchants." And the Hebrew word translated "gain" is *tévuʾah (*תְּבוּאָה), another economic term that refers to either a commodity, yield from an investment, revenue, or income. So here is a passage that at least likens knowledge to a commodity that can be stored for the future, traded, increased, etc. And if you think of information, knowledge, and understanding that way, you might be a bit more motivated to be systematic and selective in your reading and in your other forms of information gathering.
The need. Both statists and non-statists need information (v. 15 with vv. 1-14)
And the first 14 verses of chapter 17 show the huge need for reliable information. The reason Absalom has advisors (and David had them as well) is that no one person can know everything. Our Congressmen and Senators are really limited by how good their advisors are. Even in knowledge there has to be specialization and division of labor if we are to advance. That means that we all have to make decisions based on limited information. And in this case, both Absalom and David need to fallibly process fallible information before they can proceed. And they depend heavily on others to do that, and have to make judgment calls on various tradeoffs.
This will always be true in every country, every period of time, and in every situation. Even when you go out shopping every week, some of you are loaded with coupons and information of where to get the best deals, and others are so busy they don't have time to clip the ads or drive to stores. And some of you have found that you don't need to drive because some stores will honor everybody's coupons or ads. But there are good reasons why some people just pay whatever price is available in a given store. The first person is paying in time and energy and fuel costs of driving to different stores in order to save money. The second person finds it more profitable to save the time and energy by buying everything he needs in one place, with or without a coupon. It's not that one is better than the other, but we do need to understand what we are trading off. Because of lack of time, energy, information, and money, every decision we make is an economic trade off. If you take the time to clip coupons, you are deciding not to spend that time on other things. That's OK, so long as you understand what it is you are giving up.
And those trade-offs may change in different seasons of life. In chapter 15:1-5, Absalom had more time than he had of some other resources, and he expended his time rather generously in the hopes of gaining something in the future. In our current chapter Absalom has limited time, but he can leverage the time of other people who find it profitable to serve him. But there are always tradeoffs of even things like time and knowledge.
The use. Statists will use the free market of ideas (15:1-12) only to later limit such a free market (17:15ff)
I will just briefly mention point C. In chapter 15:1-5, Absalom made full use of the free market of ideas that had flourished under David; and he used that free market to undermine David's reign, and eventually to undermine the free market. His false information was being traded on the Internet of his day right alongside of true information. But because statists use falsehood to undermine a society, their intuitive impulse is always to limit such a free market of ideas once they get into power. And in chapter 17, we will see that he does not allow anybody to do what he freely did in chapter 15. And in a similar way, the use of information is different under a collectivist system like Absalom's than it is under a free-market system like David's.
The cost. There is a cost to information (15:1-17:23)
Point D deals with cost. You might think that information is free, but both Sowell and Hayek point out that there is always a cost to giving and receiving information. Some of you who don't like to read know quite well how costly it is to pick up a book and gain some information to improve your life. It's hard. You don't enjoy it – at least not as much as doing other things. Sowell speaks of that as a psychic cost. Like any investment, it costs up front so that you can have more gain down the road. You are sacrificing something to devote yourself to reading. It might be a cost of time, giving up some pleasurable activities, money, or some other cost. Now, this passage doesn't address all the costs that the two economics books that we have studied have highlighted, but let me at least introduce you to the concept that there is a cost to knowledge.
The cost to statists:
In chapter 15, what did it cost Absalom to distribute his false information across the nation? You might think it cost him nothing. He is getting the use of the Internet for free, right? Wrong. There is always a cost. Chapter 15 shows that it cost him a great deal of time. Every day he rose up early in the morning so that he could get out there to gain information and to distribute his information. So there are bad guys out there distributing information, and there are good guys like Lee out there distributing information. But it takes time. That is the first cost. It also cost Absalom effort. Economists talk of the psychic energies that are expended in the knowledge market via inter-personal relations. He invested EQ, words, and personal relationships. He had to hire bodyguards while he was out there
Of course, he wasn't the only one who had a cost to giving and receiving information. It cost the people as well. But what our chapter focuses on is the costs that Absalom spent from the future. We don't often think about the future costs to our present actions, but he was spending future capital. We can sometimes pay dearly in the future for our expenditures right now. Well, the same is true in the market place of information. Some people don't like to read or listen to lectures or engage in other reliable information gathering activities. And it might seem like they are not in any way being shortchanged by it. But they will always pay, if not presently, at least in the future. And over a lifetime, this lack of ability to gather reliable information will become increasingly costly, until even a very slow-witted person will not be able to ignore it.
When they are not in power: in addition to regular costs (time, effort, psychic energy, investment in people, etc.) they were expending future costs: their own use of the free market will later come back to bite them; they have to cheat their customer to sell their product, etc.
Let's consider Absalom as an example. Absalom very aggressively used the free market that existed under David to undermine David in chapter 15. But in chapter 17 Absalom realizes that since he was cheating customers when he sold them his false ideas, in a free market he will eventually lose a lot of customers, and they will go elsewhere. That's why he felt like he had to act so quickly against the competition. So statists always have to eventually close down the free market of ideas. If they don't, that free market of ideas has the potential to close them down. This is why you will never find a collectivist government that does not try to stop the free flow of ideas in some way. They know how dangerous it is because they themselves have used that free flow to gain power illegitimately in the first place. So in chapter 17:17 you will see that certain people dare not be seen with information. Why? Because things aren't like they used to be under David. Absalom has created fear by making certain information distribution to be illegal.
When they are in power: allowing a free market of ideas can result in potential overthrow of tyranny, competition is at odds with monopoly (statism), the huge desire (market) for liberty is at odds with statism, etc.
What had Absalom been trading in during the first few verses of chapter 15? Well, he knew that people hate injustice, unfairness, hurts, and pains, and he had been promising them that when he got into power he would fix all those things. Of course, those promises would have been impossible for any administration to fulfill, so he knows that once he gets into power there will still be injustice, unfairness, hurts, and pains that citizens will still experience. There isn't any society that doesn't have those. So he has already set them up to expect the impossible and to think that it's the government's fault when those things happen. That means that these ideas that he has planted in chapter 15 will cost him when he gets into power. It's a future cost or risk or danger. So if he allows a free market of information to continue to exist like it did under David, the same people who helped him could potentially be a danger to him. Can you see why almost every Communist leader over the last 100 years has killed or imprisoned many of those who put him into power. And they have sought to control the media. So in chapter 17, he starts controlling the free flow of information.
And we are seeing the same pattern in America: the more collectivist our nation becomes, the more its desire to control everything, including information. They want to control radio talk shows hosts. Thankfully they have not been successful. They want to control the Internet. Thankfully they have so far not been successful. If you study Obamacare simply from the perspective of control of information, it is fascinating. So we have controlled information versus free market information.
Other costs involved: time expenditure, diminishing returns, cost of disinvestment, variation among citizens of risk aversion
The other costs incurred by statists in this chapter include time expenditure and people resources needed to stop the flow of information in verses 18-20. Absalom has a lot of people he can use, so that's not a problem, but he has limited time to accomplish his task of controlling the information before things get too hot for him. In fact, because he listened to Hushai, he waited a little too long, and tens of thousands of people smelled a rat and defected to David by chapter 18.
The cost to non-statists:
When they are in power: there is the risk that statists will use the free market to promote falsehood, selfishness can abuse the free market, present-oriented people do not see the long term costs of statism and may embrace it, etc.
But there are hints at the costs of information to non-statists as well. And again, I am giving you a bird's eye view in point I. When David was in power in chapter 15, he allowed for a completely uncontrolled Internet (so-to-speak). And he allowed it because David was committed to liberty. The problem is that liberty can only survive as long as there are enough citizens who value liberty. In chapter 15 Absalom was engaging a market of discontent. In fact, he was creating a market of discontent. He knew that in a free market of ideas he could appeal to selfishness, present-oriented desires, envy, and other short-term perspectives in order to undermine the civil government. David's government was about as libertarian as you could get without actually being libertarian. But there is always a cost to even that. The cost is that as the market for envy grows, it will be possible for collectivists like Absalom to get into power by marketing false ideas, and that in turn will eventually end the free flow of ideas. So there is a cost to even allowing a free market.
And so you can see that it is a catch-22 apart from God's grace. If God's grace had been pervasively at work among the citizenry, it would have been much harder (if not impossible) for Absalom to compete and win in the competition for ideas. But one of the problems that complicated things was that Absalom's dissemination of unreliable information was not being countered by David's own ideas. David had gotten lax in vision casting (just like we elders can sometimes get lax in vision casting) and it left a vacuum that got filled. So the free market of ideas in chapter 15 was dangerous to David, but such a danger is a risk we must take if we are to value liberty. We should only fear bad ideas if we are not willing to counter them with visionary good ideas. So there was a risk (or a cost) to David's free market system, and that risk is that it would be abused. And it was abused.
When they are not in power: punishment by statists for having some information, psychic well-being, greater difficulty in getting information – but total costs tend to be lower in informal systems than in civil government.
And once Absalom got into power, there was an even greater cost to David's followers to maintain the free flow of ideas that they had been used to. Let me give a quote from Thomas Sowell's book, Knowledge and Decisions, that I think summarizes this point rather well. This is from page 271 of his book, Knowledge and Decisions. He says,
There are many sources of knowledge, and the behavior of legal authorities puts a higher or lower cost on its transmission or effectiveness. [And he gives an example:] The simple knowledge that a crime has been committed can vary in its availability to the criminal justice system according to the costs imposed on victims, witnesses, or informants. The costs of reporting rape can obviously be increased or decreased substantially by the way police respond to rape victims, by the way opposing attorneys are permitted to cross-examine the victim in court, and by the likelihood that a convicted rapist will be either turned loose soon (perhaps to retaliate against the plaintiff or witnesses) or given a retrial on a technicality.2
That makes sense, right? You might think twice about giving information if doing so might mean slander, attack, or other costs. Of course, Biblical law established high cost for a false witness, since a false witness could be punished. So in any system there is going to be cost to bringing forward information about a crime. Anyway, Sowell goes on to give other costs to the free flow of knowledge that we won't get into this morning.
But the reason I have included this general overview in point I is that it really is important that every one of us handle the acquisition and understanding of information just like we would any purchase, investment, or trade. In fact, the passage I started with in Proverbs 3 says that we should treat our understanding of reliable information as being far more important than acquisition of gold or gaining a return on investments. And when you think about it, smartly reading good books is an investment in the future. Just as there was a need in the time of Absalom, there is a need for reliable information today. This is why I keep telling people that it is very difficult to lead effectively if you are not strategically reading the best books. Just as Absalom swayed the people, you can easily be swayed.
Perhaps one more thought under "need." It's not just "reliable information" that we need, but also useful information. Sowell and Hayek point out that some information is unimportant – in fact, it can be counterproductive to be bombarded with too much irrelevant information. I think lots of people struggle with information overload. It can keep you from making good decisions. There is way more information out there than any one person can read, so you need to be selective. But every one of you is a de facto consumer and purveyor of information. The only question is, are you wise in how you consume and purvey that information?
The purveyors and consumers.
In the system (17:1-15)
The consumers and purveyors within Absalom's government were men like Ahithophel, Hushai, the elders and even the young lad who was an informant in verse 18.
Outside the system (17-15-22) There will always be some who will value liberty enough that they will risk the process of undermining a monopoly:
The purveyors and consumers of information outside the system included the prophet-priest Zadok, a churchman like Abiathar, the two runners (Jonathan and Ahimaaz), the servant girl, the man of property in Bahurim, and his wife who protected the two young men. These were people who valued liberty enough that they were willing to take great risks to get and distribute information that would undermine the monopoly imposed by Absalom. If we are lazy on the acquisition and distribution of information in America, don't be surprised if we don't have a great return on our non-investment of liberty-minded ideas.
The benefits. Reliable information has such value that it can be a life-or-death issue (v. 16)
Just as we saw that verse 16 showed the life or death benefits of reliable information to David, we must protect the free flow of ideas in our society or it may be a life-or-death issue for America. The collectivists would love it if it were possible to know all things about all people. The NSA is certainly trying to be collectivist on information. And they would love it if none of us knows too much about them. So speak up in defense of a free press before we lose it. Speak up in defense of a free Internet before we lose it. Speak against NSA's attempts to know all things. And speak up in defense of those who undermine collectivism. So that's the big picture overview.
The market for information sometimes needs to go underground (vv. 17-18)
Cost. Fear of punishment limits the spread of certain ideas resulting in an increased cost (v. 17a)
Now let's dig a little deeper into the text. And we are going to look first of all at both the legitimacy of an underground information market (kind of black-market, so-to-speak) as well as how such a market could function. And we may well need this in the not-too-distant-future.
Once again there is a cost. Verse 17 says, "Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz stayed at En Rogel, for they dared not be seen coming into the city…" They dared not be seen. Fear can limit the spread of certain ideas. The greater the penalties imposed by the civil government on those who hold information deemed dangerous to the state, the greater the cost. And the greater the cost, the fewer there will be who are willing to gain and distribute such information. It's simple economics. Jonathan and Ahimaaz took huge risks in acting like Daniel Ellsberg in leaking information to David. There is a cost to a black market of information.
And I will hasten to say that there are immoral black markets that do indeed unnecessarily undermine liberty and the safety of a nation, and I am not justifying that. But there are perfectly moral black markets of information in China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. And this passage is describing one such black market. But there is a cost. The cost could mean imprisonment. It could mean death. But we have already seen in previous sermons that the benefits are freedom and liberty. And sometimes that is worth risking death.
Ingenuity. With sufficient motivation, information can always be had (v. 17b)
The second thing that we see here is ingenuity. Verse 17 goes on to say, "so a female servant would come and tell them…" Here was the Pentagon leak. But it wasn't a person in the know who took the information. If Hushai travelled back and forth, Absalom's men would immediately suspect him. But this was a servant girl who was carrying the news back and forth.
And again, I need to hasten to say that my point is not to encourage Pentagon leaks today. I'm not doing that, because again, such leaks can be immoral leaks on behalf of a true enemy of God and country (like Absalom), or they can be moral leaks on behalf of God, liberty, truth, justice, the Constitution, and a man like David. We have to make those kinds of distinctions and understand what makes them moral. But with sufficient motivation, information can always be had – for the better or for the worse.
The motivations for the free flow of information can be freedom, justice, love, patriotism, self-preservation, etc. (v. 17c)
There are two motivations highlighted here. The first motivation is a good one. Verse 17 ends, "and they would go and tell King David." Maintaining this free flow of information at great risk was motivated by a love for freedom, justice, patriotism, self-preservation, and love for David. The immediate text doesn't say, but from the previous chapters I would think that a lot of this was motivated by a love and devotion for God as well.
The motivations to support statist limitations of the information market can be self-promotion, fear, power, control, safety of tyrants, etc. (v. 18a)
The second motive can be seen in the first phrase of verse 18:
"Nevertheless a lad saw them, and told Absalom…
What could motivate a young boy to do such a wretched thing? Doesn't he know that being an informant might mean the death of David? Well, it could be that he was deceived and actually thought that blind support of whoever is in power is what God wants. Or it could be a desire to find favor with Absalom. Maybe he will think that by being a useful boy, he might get hired. It could be fear that was the motivation – fear of being accused of aiding and abetting treason. "If I don't say something about this, then maybe I'll get in trouble." We don't know the exact motivation; we just know that he had one. Somehow he was motivated to support a tyrant. And motivation is a huge part of understanding the economics of knowledge.
And today there are any number of motivations to be like this young lad, and in the process to oppose the free flow of information and to support the government control of the Internet. It's sad, but it is mainly Christians today who are supporting Absalom and lobbying the government to control the Internet. They fear the evils of pornography, drugs, and other things that are indeed abusing the Internet. But the Christian solution is not to control the Internet, but to go after the criminals. If Biblical penalties were imposed on adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and pedophilia, the pornography problem in America would be solved rather quickly. We know exactly where these things are being produced and so we know exactly where the original crimes are being committed. Why are they not being prosecuted? The porn is simply the evidence that can lead to the trial of criminals. But Christians unfortunately don't like Biblical law or Biblical penalties. They seem too harsh. So they ignore the criminals producing the pornography and instead appeal to the government to control the Internet (which means controlling all of us). It's nuts. Christians are playing right into the hands of the collectivists. The collectivists love to protect the sexual behaviors that the Bible would criminalize and punish, and they love to criminalize the free market of information, which the Bible says should not be criminalized.
Now, is there a danger that David's free market of information will be abused by Absaloms? Of course there is. Pornographers and drug dealers are abusing the Internet. But the answer is not to put a kabash to the free market of ideas. The answer is Biblical law and Biblical punishments at the source of the crime, and to have those penalties swiftly imposed after due process. Collectivists in America don't want to do that. They want to control everyone.
The means (vv. 18b-20)
Risk takers (v. 18bff)
But back to the underground market place of information, let's look at point D – the means. This is the how-to of what is going on. You first of all need some risk takers who are willing to do this. Verses 18 and following show some people willing to face risk because they value liberty and secondly because they understand that what they are doing is not immoral. It is lawful. So Jonathan, Amihaaz, the female servant, the gentleman in Bahurim, his wife, and others were risk takers willing to be active participants in the market place of ideas for liberty. In China there are millions of such risk takers. We need more liberty-minded risk takers in America.
Networks (v. 18c)
But if they are to be effective, they need to network. The third clause in verse 18 shows that when there was trouble, these two young men knew exactly whose house to go to. They were networked enough to know that he was a friend. Verse 18 says,
2Sam. 17:18 Nevertheless a lad saw them, and told Absalom. But both of them went away quickly and came to a man's house in Bahurim, who had a well in his court; and they went down into it.
This man appears to be a man of some wealth – he had a court and a private well, so he was probably somewhat well to do. And he was part of a network of freedom lovers. The American War for Independence would not have been successful without such networks of people in every community. They were called Minutemen – people who at a moment's notice were willing to go into action, and people who had what they called Committees of Correspondence for dissemination of information. They constantly printed up and distributed tracts for liberty throughout their networks. Networking is essential to an underground economy of information.
Technology (v. 18d)
But networking has its own disadvantages in that collectivists can scoop up a lot of people if they discover who is in a network. And so these networks needed to be somewhat decentralized, somewhat secret, and somewhat technologically savvy. And that is sub-point 3.
Admittedly, the technology for secrecy described here is a bit primitive. But it was still effective. It was a well. It was a hiding place. In the American War for Independence, there was a large network of spies, who used various forms of hiding their flow of information. And the underground church in some countries today has had to be very creative: using SIM cards from dead people's phones, using VPN tunneling, increasingly sophisticated tunneling that doesn't look like tunneling because of random search packets that are sent with it, secret codes, and other technologies for hiding what is in the information flow should it be intercepted.
Of course, if disaster strikes, you may not have access to computers, phones and other normal outlets for information. In that case it might be helpful to have battery operated short wave radio. Why? Because you need information during times of disaster. Collectivists like Hitler didn't like that. They tried to round those all up. Some people advocate having a bearcat scanner so that you can know what emergencies are happening around you. Others call for walkie talkies, GMRS transceivers, CB radio, and Ham radio. But even more primitive technologies of communication can also be effective.
Supporting and taking sides with purveyors of liberty (v. 18e)
Of course, these young men would have had to have physical help from others to get down that well. So when it says, "and they went down into it," it is likely that they were lowered into the well by the man of the house. So the gentleman of Bahurim was a supporter who didn't have the ability to do what Jonathan and Ahimaaz did, but they could still support them and they could at least take sides with the purveyors of liberty.
Protection of the information and those purveying it (v. 18e-19)
Then there is continued protection of the information and those purveying it in verse 19:
2Sam. 17:19 Then the woman took and spread a covering over the well's mouth, and spread ground grain on it; and the thing was not known.
And the thing was not known. Encrypted emails can cover information just like VPN can cover those who send and receive it. Of course, if the tyrant comes into your home, he can confiscate your computer and find out what it was that you had sent. But you can at least make it tougher. And if such tyrants become too heavy handed, there will likely be more and more men and women who will come up with new ways to protect information from the likes of Absalom. These cycles of liberty and collectivism have happened thousands of times over history. There is really nothing new about it. And to those of you who are nervous about my preaching about stuff like this, I suggest you read the sermons of the preachers during the American War for Independence. You will see that these concepts are as American as motherhood and apple pie. It is modern chicken-hearted passivity that is un-American.
Disregarding lawless demands (v. 20a)
Sub-point 6 – to do what they were doing, they needed to be convinced that what they were doing was lawful and constitutional. You will never take those kinds of risks if you don't believe that. And so the question comes, "Were the two acts of verse 20 lawful act?" First of all, was it lawful to disregard lawless demands? And the clear answer in the Bible is, "Yes."
When the Sanhedrin tried to control the preaching of Peter and John in Acts 4, those apostles refused to stop the free flow of reliable information. And the clear implication is that the civil government has no authority to shut down that free market of ideas. Instead the apostles boldly said, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20). They disregarded lawless demands, despite being threatened.
To the sheeple who submit to every lawless order of lawless governments, I would point out that Peter and John were beaten, imprisoned, and threatened with death, but they kept right on. The apostle Paul was a jailbird. But that did not make his actions unbiblical. Think about it. Scripturally, who is the criminal in Saudi Arabia? Is it the citizen who breaks the law by downloading a sermon from the USA (for which he could face death), or is it the civil magistrate that made that unlawful law in the first place? Scripturally, it isn't that citizen who is the lawbreaker. It is the lawless magistrate who is the criminal, just as Absalom was the unconstitutional criminal in this chapter. Of course, if you don't believe God's law stands over every nation, none of this makes sense. But if God's law does indeed stand over and judge every nation, then the conclusions of this sermon are inescapable. The church of Jesus Christ must once again return to the laws of God (what James calls the Perfect Law of Liberty) or we will never see liberty restored to America.
Misdirection (v. 20b)
Anyway, moving on, in times of war or when dealing with criminals, the very circumscribed use of deceit by spies is allowed by God's law. Verse 20 says,
2Sam. 17:20 And when Absalom's servants came to the woman at the house, they said, "Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?" So the woman said to them, "They have gone over the water brook." And when they had searched and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.
The Hebrew is not technically a lie. It literally says, "They have gone toward the water container," with the word for container being able to be used for a brook, a lake, a well, or a basin. So it was literally true – they were down in a well. But she was probably pointing to the water brook when she said it, thus giving misdirection. Anyway, call it misdirection, deception, cloaking the truth, or whatever you want, the free flow of truth will sometimes demand the hiding of the truth from lawless criminals who want to kill the truth. If you use VPN, it is a form of misdirection. It is giving your computer a new ID, a new location, and making it look like you are someone in another country doing a web search. Why would people use VPN? It's to keep criminals from intercepting and stealing their information. Some people have conscience issues with this, but it is something you will need to come to grips with by studying God's law. But I can tell you this: I will never take you to work in an underground church if you have not firmly resolved in your heart the legitimacy of misdirection in an underground economy of information. You will jeopardize the lives of many people and you will have blood on your hands simply because you were being legalistic (going beyond the law) about misdirection. If information is a commodity, you don't owe that commodity to every criminal who wants to steal it from you. We give information, and we are always truthful in court because the bible does not allow a false accusation against even a criminal. But this concept is different from what the eighth commandment prohibits. The free market of ideas needs to understand these principles or it will get shut down for good. And because I have taught on this before, I'm not going to teach on it any further now, other than to say that it is allowed in the law of God.
Communication to strategic players (v. 21)
The last means of maintaining this underground market of information is to successfully communicate the information to strategic players – obviously. Verse 21:
2Sam. 17:21 Now it came to pass, after they had departed, that they came up out of the well and went and told King David, and said to David, "Arise and cross over the water quickly. For thus has Ahithophel advised against you."
Why does God give you knowledge? Is it so that you can hoard it? No. It is so you can be a steward of that information and wisely give it where it will bear the most fruit to His glory. It is a stewardship trust. That's why I preach on these things and post them on the web even though there is a risk. As a steward I believe that I must. In any case, God has called you to not only acquire knowledge but to distribute it strategically as well.
So there you have it: the underground economy of knowledge. When conspirators have overthrown our constitution, seized our courts, overturned centuries of law, and are seeking to seize ever-greater chunks of our economy, it behooves American citizens to know about the legitimacy of an underground market of information. We will not regain our liberties without it.
Don't underestimate the power of information (vv. 22-23)
David understood its power (v. 22)
The last two verses show that we should not underestimate the incredible power of information. It is the mainstay of liberty. We are not saved by knowledge apart from grace, but Scripture is quite clear on the foundational role that knowledge plays in liberty. David clearly understood its power. Verse 22:
2Sam. 17:22 So David and all the people who were with him arose and crossed over the Jordan. By morning light not one of them was left who had not gone over the Jordan.
If it hadn't been for the free flow of information that the black market afforded, David, his men, their wives, and their children could have all have died. In any case, it was information that led to strategic action, and that in turn led to success.
Don't underestimate the power that good information can have on your ministry at home, the discipleship of your children, investments, your attempts to establish a long-term dynasty, etc. Without knowledge, understanding, and wisdom we will fail to make a lasting impact upon America. Now, homeschooling by itself is a good start. But as Hayek and Sowell point out, it isn't simply information that you need – it is good information that is strategic and useful. Too many homeschool curriculums have kids spinning their wheels with busy-work. Why do they do it? Well, because everybody else does it. It's part of the curriculum. Not a good reason. We've got to be more strategic in what our children read – especially in high school.
But for those who are not in school it is useful to point out that simply reading books is not enough. You need to read the best of the best. It's one of the reasons why we have a bookstore – it is to whet people's appetites for reading. And fathers especially need to read books on children's issues, women's issues, men's issues, sanctification, the practical applications of doctrine, economics, social issues, and the law of God. The more you understand, the better your decision-making is going to be.
Absalom understood its power (v. 23)
But it wasn't just David who understood the power of reliable, useful information; Ahithophel did too. Verse 23:
2Sam. 17:23 Now when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not followed, he saddled a donkey, and arose and went home to his house, to his city. Then he put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died; and he was buried in his father's tomb.
We already mentioned that this was a man who could see ten chess moves down the road. And he already knew at this point that it was all over for Absalom. We aren't told how aggressively he tried to convince Absalom otherwise, but in the end he could see that they were not going to follow the best information that was available, and he could see the end results. David was going to win, Absalom would be killed, and his future was bleak. He preferred death. I won't deal with everything that this verse has to say – especially in relationship to Judas.
But I do want to conclude by saying that if God gave you Ahithophel's ability to see the outcome of your actions or lack of actions; to see ten chess moves down the road (so to speak), some of you would treat information acquisition and distribution much differently. You would see the great importance of it. You would start memorizing key concepts and Scriptures to be able to reason with them instantly in any conversation. You would begin reading books listed in my suggested worldview reading list. You would begin to take the advice of Proverbs much more seriously. And so I will end by once again reading from Proverbs 3:13-15.
Prov. 3:13 Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding;
Prov. 3:14 For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold.
Prov. 3:15 She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
In fact, if you are still not convinced to buckle down and become a consumer of knowledge and a purveyor of knowledge, read Proverbs chapter 2 over and over again. It's not a chapter for pastors. It's a chapter for every Christian. It calls you to apply your heart to understanding and to cry out for discernment; yes to lift up your voice for wisdom. It calls you to seek it as for silver and to search for it as for hidden treasures. Why? Because if you don't make wise economic decisions with regard to information, your lack of prospering will become more and more evident throughout life. Reliable information is a valuable commodity. Seek it, invest it, distribute it. I put my summary advice at the bottom of the front page of your outline.
Buy good books. For a few bucks you get years of wisdom.
Read good books. For a few hours you know years of wisdom.
May it be so Lord Jesus. Amen.
Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions (New York: Basic Books, 1980), p. 271. ↩