Though relatively unknown, some Old Testament characters have quite a story to tell. You may have never heard of Ittai, but take a few moments to learn from the life of this man who lived during the days of David, King of Israel.
People of character, who are totally trustworthy, and have our best interests at heart, are few and far between. Contrariwise, some whom we may have deemed to be trustworthy have “stabbed us in the back.” It was no different with King David. His own son, Absalom, rebelled against his father, while an unknown man, Ittai, showed unusual loyalty to David. Ittai the Gittite was a native of Gath who appeared before David during this revolt about 1023 B.C. It is possible that Ittai was a Philistine and that the Philistines may have made life difficult due to the attachment he felt toward David, and that this is what occasioned his defection to David (2 Sam. 15:20).
Were Absalom, David’s son, still with us today, he would have made a powerful politician. He was a handsome fellow with “personality and charm” (2 Sam. 14:25), had a glib tongue, and was adept at making promises (2 Sam. 15:4). Evidently he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted, including treachery, deceit, and a total lack of integrity.
David’s trusted friend and advisor, Ahithophel, turned traitor and joined Absalom in his effort to wrest the throne from his father, David. One wonders if Ahithophel, Bathsheba’s grandfather, still was upset at David for his actions with his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. Ahithophel thought it was time for a new king, and that Absalom could well fit that role.
These were dark days for David. With his own son leading the rebellion, and desiring to wrest the kingship from his father, David warned his men to flee, for “we shall not escape from Absalom” (2 Sam. 15:14); and that he (Absalom) would use the sword against the inhabitants of Jerusalem. David’s aides pledged loyalty to him, and said they would do whatever David thought was best.
As David prepared to flee, he watched as his army and other loyal followers filed past him, including the 600 men in his band who had been with him during his wanderings in Judah as he fled from Saul, the first King of Israel. Ittai, though not an Israelite (2 Sam. 15:19), was now the leader of these brave 600 men. Later we learn that he is listed as one of three of David’s generals (2 Sam. 18:2).
During this procession before David, Ittai makes his appearance, accompanied by his family. David urged Ittai to forget about joining up with him for a couple of reasons: (1) Ittai had only recently come to David, and (2) David, a fugitive from his own son, had no desire to make this “foreigner and exile” suffer from his (David’s) problems. David was asking why would you even think about participating in my cause which has such a doubtful outcome at the present time? But the answer given to David tells us volumes about the character of this man: “…as my lord the king lives, surely in whatever place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also your servant will be.” (cf. Ruth 1:16). Regardless of the hardships involved, Ittai was going to cast his lot with David, and he would not be persuaded by David’s urgings to escape while he could.
Ittai was not deceived by Absalom’s persuasive speech (2 Sam. 15:13), a refreshing thought indeed. There are always those in every generation who are easily influenced, going in whatever direction the wind blows. This is the very reason why the term “spin” has taken on a bad connotation; politicians know that the world has many shallow people, and they will try to get their votes by putting their “spin” on the real facts in order to make themselves more attractive to voters.
After Absalom’s death, Ittai vanishes from the historical record, and we are made to forever wonder what happened in the life of this loyal servant of David. Ittai should ever be remembered for his devotion and fidelity to King David for whom he had the utmost respect.