In the book of 2 Samuel, the story of Absalom’s rise to power is recorded. Rather than launch an attack against his father, David, Absalom exercised great patience and quietly secured a following that eventually joined him when he made his move against the king. Absalom’s tactic involved sowing seeds of discord among the king’s citizens. In 2 Sam. 15, we read some of the details: “Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way to the gate; and when any man had a suit to come to the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, ‘From what city are you?’ And he would say, ‘Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.’ Then Absalom would say to him, ‘See, your claims are good and right, but no man listens to you on the part of the king.’” (vv. 2, 3) Before the visitor had a chance to take his concerns before the king’s counselors, Absalom encouraged doubt regarding the fairness of the coming encounter. “Oh that one would appoint me judge in the land,” Absalom declared, “then every man who has any suit or cause could come to me and I would give him justice.” (v. 4)

Whenever someone “sides” with us in a dispute, we automatically have a favorable opinion of them. Absalom used flattery to gain the confidence of visitors. By that I mean that he agreed with the person immediately, indicating approval of their opinions, and made himself out to be an ally. And, admit it or not, we all like to be told our perspective is right, our cause just, and our input needed. Little by little, Absalom won over a sizeable group of supporters. The Bible summarizes Absalom’s accomplishment in this manner: “Absalom dealt with all Israel who came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.” (v. 6)

When the time seemed most advantageous, Absalom made final preparations for the overthrow of the throne. He sent spies throughout the kingdom with this message: “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” (v. 10) Shortly thereafter, David learned of his son’s treachery; he chose to protect the lives of all who were with him and fled Jerusalem.

This is the story of how a wicked man undermined the integrity of a leader by putting thoughts of distrust in the minds of many people. Rather than challenge Absalom’s assertions, it appears that the majority accepted as fact whatever Absalom said and promised. David was represented as untrustworthy and unconcerned about the needs of his people. Although David had served with distinction for many years, Absalom managed to destroy the king’s reputation simply by speaking to people who foolishly and selfishly believed whatever they were told. They wanted to prevail in judgment and Absalom promised that, if he were in charge, they would certainly win their case. That sounded too good to be bothered with God’s commands regarding the establishment of truth and His warnings about the foolishness of deciding on a matter before hearing all available testimony (cf. Pro. 18:13, 17)

Two elements led to Absalom’s success. The first was Absalom’s own willingness to lie and defame. Since a lawful occupation of his father’s throne was highly unlikely, Absalom resorted to deception and manipulation. And that brings us to the second element, which was a willing audience. As I already noted, those who heard Absalom speak had the option of ignoring him or at least investigating his claims against David. Most chose to accept Absalom’s word without any proof. When you combine a man like Absalom, who is willing to do such things in order to achieve his goal of power, with people who readily set aside God’s commandments for the sake of personal gain, the outcome is all but certain. David’s kingdom was taken from him without him even perceiving a threat until the very end.

It is a disturbing fact that the behavior of Absalom can be observed in the struggles of contemporary churches. One man, with the determination and patience of Absalom, can create enough doubt about a pastor’s integrity to destroy his ministry. He will need a willing audience, of course, just like Absalom, but if he has that, the outcome, as I said before, is all but certain.

Jesus once said: “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” (Matt. 13:57) After nearly three decades of service as a minister, borrowing from the wisdom of the Savior, I would say: “A pastor is not without honor except in his own congregation.” David served as king for a very long time and you would assume that his faithfulness would have resulted in the people’s confidence and support. But that was not the case, as we know. Our fallen natures sometimes cause us to take secret satisfaction in the downfall of another even though he has done nothing wrong to us personally. This is a sign of our corruption as God’s creatures. We feel better about ourselves when we see another person being taken down, especially if that person occupies a position of leadership.

Although there is a great deal of blame to be placed on the shoulders of those people who hear an evil report and choose not to verify it or seek a response from the accused, such ecclesiastical coups would never take place without the mastermind—that man who desperately wants control and has convinced himself that his tactics are acceptable because of his self-determined righteous goal. For many months, even years, this man may toss out criticisms of the pastor—nothing scandalous, but assertions designed to entice willing souls and slowly alter the general perception of a congregation.

Eventually, these criticisms, distortions, and half-truths become “facts” in the minds of many. And, just like Absalom, when the time seems most advantageous and when sufficient preparation has been made, this man acts decisively by suddenly unleashing a barrage of accusations against his pastor in a short period of time. Those who have been groomed for months or years to think badly of their pastor react with unquestioning loyalty to their new leader; they even admire him for his courage. They seem blind to the fact of their own transgressions and the pastor, stunned by this development, has his ministry taken away and his reputation destroyed. In the end, evidence shows that the Absalom Initiative has been utilized perfectly.

Most of those reading this post will never be in the position of the instigator described above. But all of us, at one time or another, will be told damaging things about another. Even if what is said is mild, we have a duty at that very moment to respond Biblically. We can simply refuse to hear anything more outside the presence of the one being criticized. We can remind the one bringing the accusation of his Biblical obligation to take his opinion to the person himself, instead of speaking to others who have no business being involved. If more believers would just obey the simple commands of God, if more of us would commit ourselves to protecting the reputations of others with as much enthusiasm as we sometimes exhibit in the destruction of reputations, the Church would be a much more peaceful place and much more effective in accomplishing the mission given to us by the resurrected Savior.