In this portion of scripture we have the record of some very important, very critical and very tragic details. We have the tragic outcome of a father’s failure- a father’s sin. We have the tragic conclusion of a son’s rebellion and treason against his father and his nation.
This is the record of a nation divided- a nation at war with itself; brother killing brother, fathers and sons engaging in war against each other.
In this record we have the incredibly deep emotions of a father’s heart broken and smashed into pieces. We have the lamentation of a father who would have exchanged places with his son in death.
Have you ever considered why God determined that in this record of such weighty details- such national determining events- there should also be this seeming most unimportant detail of conflict between two runners over who would be chosen to deliver the news report to king David?
One runner was an unnamed Cushite, in all likelihood a black man- and the second was Ahimaaz (A-him-a-az) the son of Zadok the priest. We should note that it was not the Cushite who was conflicted over the issue of who reported the news- but Ahimaaz definitely had an issue in this.
The Cushite was charged with the responsibility of running the report to the King. However, Ahimaaz would not take no for an answer, and continued to press Joab until he let him run also.
In verse 23 we discover a one word response to Ahimaaz’s pressure to run. That one word response was simply- “Run.”
The rest of the story unfolds at the conclusion of the running- and it is there that we discover what seems to me to be the significance of this detail in the list of all the other vital details of the story.
At the end of the running there is a revelation (and please do not miss the significance of what you just heard); that revelation moves around one simple question: ‘Why are you running?’
The story reveals some obvious differences between the two runners. Ahimaaz was the son of a priest. It would also seem that he was perhaps the runner most often charged with this responsibility. He was very recognisable even from a great distance.
The Cushite on the other hand seemed to be one without any particular significance. In fact many writers suggest that the reason the Cushite was chosen was because he was considered to be more expendable than the son of a priest. It’s not that the run back to the king was so dangerous- although there would existed some danger- but the far greater danger related to the issue of bearing evil tidings to a king in that culture- meaning it could cost the reporter his life.
But the particular difference- which is at the heart of this presentation- is the difference which was revealed when they arrived at and were brought into the presence of the king. That difference had to do with the revelation each of them carried.
To get to the heart of that revelation- to understand the significance of that revelation you have to look deeply into the heart of the king and discover what the burning issue of his heart was. That issue was expressed in the single question that tumbled from the lips of the king: ‘Is it well with the young man Absalom?’
We may be filled with words- the carrier of many messages, but in the end- in the presence of the king- the significance of those words and messages will be measured by one reality- What is their relevance to what is in the heart of the king? I have lived long enough to discover that not everything that seems vitally important to me is of the slightest importance to the King.
And many shall appear before Him in that day, and shall say- “We cast out devils in your name, and in your name did many miraculous signs. And the King shall say- “Depart from me you lawless ones for I do not know you.”
The issue was not what they did- but the motivation of the heart in their doing- and in this case it all came out of a basic attitude of lawlessness of heart.
When the Cushite was commissioned by Joab to run, he was given a specific instruction: “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” He was not told to interpret what he had seen; he was not told to enhance what he had seen; he was not told to add to nor to take away from what he had seen.
And with this we have touched the difference regarding the significance in the running on the part of these two runners.
We need to note that what gets revealed or exposed in the presence of the king is what we have truly seen- not what we think we saw- not what we guess we saw- not what we hoped we saw- not what we wanted to see, and not what another may have seen- but only what we actually, truly and really saw or witnessed.
Ahimaaz gave a generic report on the outcome of the battle. But in essence it didn’t so much as turn the head of the king. It was as if David never even heard his report. His heart was completely filled with another issue- another concern, a totally different focus. And when the heart of the king was exposed in his question regarding his son, something else was exposed as well.
All this first runner could report was- “I saw a great tumult, but I did not know what it was.”
He had no revelation- no understanding of what he had seen. He had nothing to report save a scene of confusion. In that sense he was a man without a real message- he was a man without certainty, without a disciplined communication, a man without clarity.
There was no relevance to his report in relation to the issue in the heart of the king. And immediately upon this discovery the king set this runner aside.
To add all of this up is to arrive at the sad conclusion that there was no real purpose in the running of Ahimaaz.
At this time the Cushite appeared on the scene and reported the same results of the battle. But he had something more- much more- significantly more; he carried the answer to the heart concern, the heart passion, the heart ache of the king. Once again the heart of the king was exposed in his question- and once again the significance or relevance of what this runner carried was likewise exposed.
Even though the message this runner carried broke the heart of the king, it still remains that the truth he brought- the personal witness of what he himself had seen- was judged relevant, vital and significant because it spoke to or addressed what was in the heart of the king.
The lessons in this seem basic enough. The issue is not the superiority of your ability to run. The issue is not speed- your ability to outrun all the others. The issue is not arriving first. The issue is not motion or movement. And yet this seems to be the definition of so much of what the church calls ministry; it’s all about the event- our performance of excellence as judged by the event itself.
The issues I see in the story are these: First, who commissioned you to run? The answer to this question determines whether you are a runner under authority or if you are merely freewheeling in the independence of your own thing.
Example: When I pastored in Nova Scotia there was a small group that appeared one Sunday morning in our service. They did not seem to stand out- except in their sense of isolation- the sense that they were above and beyond where we were. However, after the service ended and most of the people had gone, this little group kicked into gear- pulling out their vials of oil with the intent of anointing the four corners of the church building, because- in their assessment- we had demons running all over the place.
It so happened that one of our elders had stayed behind and discovered their activity. His first question to them was this, ‘Under whose authority are you doing this?’ They responded by referring to a pastor and a fellowship- and in their judgement he would be okay with what they were doing. The elder brought them into the church, sat them down, and picked up the phone. The revelation of the conversation was that they had never been given any such authority to do any such thing- that in fact this was a runaway cell that had a perpetual problem with submission to authority.
Needless to say, that was the end of their anointing campaign.
It may well have been true that there were demons running all over the place- but this much is certain- no demon is ever going to be dislodged by the words and body language of someone who is not under authority. If I am not under authority- I have no real authority regardless of the excellence of my show of running.
Secondly, if someone has told you to run, what is your relationship with that person? Anyone can tell me to run- and early on in the journey I felt compelled to respond to every voice. But not now! The issue now is to know (and not abstractly but relationally and governmentally) who God has appointed as covering to my life within the definition and structure of the governmental order of the Kingdom of God. It may well be that God will speak through others and instruct me to run. That is not the issue; the issue is I will bring that word back to my covering and headship, and there it will be properly judged- and based upon the witness of the Holy Spirit at that point I will start running or I will remain still.
Thirdly (and this must not be overlooked in this story) anytime we push against known instruction and direction as Ahimaaz did we may be granted permission to indulge our persistence- but that permission does not mean Devine approval. The classic example of this truth is contained in the old story of Israel’s insistence that God send them quail in the wilderness. They got what they wanted, only to discover that what they wanted and what God’s best was for them were light years apart.
The only answer Ahimaaz could give to the question, ‘Why are you running?’ would be, ‘I am running for the sake of running.’
Put that same question to the Cushite and the answer would be entirely different. ‘I am running because my covering has commanded me to run. Therefore I am running under authority. Secondly, I am running with purpose and intention, for I have been given a specific charge to deliver a certain and clear message unto the king.’
I look across the face of the church world and conclude there is quite an array of expert runners- very impressive, very fast, always engaged and full of activity- event oriented, event defined and event driven. It is not for me to pass judgment- but it is for me to speak clearly into the pack of runners that there is judgement.
And that judgement comes down to this profound moment in the presence of the King when the revelation of what is in His heart will measure the relevance (or lack of relevance) of what is in our hearts. And that single reality will determine the significance of our running.
1Co 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.
Let me share my personal experience from the prayer concert last Sunday.