Those of us who have lost a child know the grief this brings. The death of a child is a painful experience, but there are other -- more painful -- ways to lose a child. David suffered much loss when it came to his family, especially his children. David lost the first son Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah, bore to him (chapter 12). Some time later, David's daughter Tamar lost her virginity due to rape, rape committed by her half-brother, Amnon. David then lost his son Amnon, because Absalom wanted vengeance for the rape of his sister, Tamar. It seems the most painful loss of all was the loss of Amnon. Eventually, David “lost” Absalom by his death at the hand of Joab and his servants, but David had really “lost” Absalom long before this. He lost him when he killed his brother, Amnon, and then fled to Geshur and the sanctuary offered him by his grandfather, Talmai, King of Geshur and father of his mother, Maacah (2 Samuel 3:3). This loss was never terminated, even though Absalom was allowed to return to Jerusalem, even into the presence of his father. This kind of loss is the most painful for a parent; I say this knowing many of you have experienced such loss.
I am certain those of you who have experienced this loss have also experienced the guilt which often accompanies it. At first glance, our text may appear to add to this guilt. Does it not seem that David brought about much of the pain he experienced? Was David's loss of Absalom not the result of his bad parenting? Was it not David who knew of the rape of Tamar, and though greatly angered, did nothing about it? Was it not David who allowed Absalom to live in Geshur, then only reluctantly allowed him to return, and then not to see his face until virtually pressured into doing so? Is Absalom not the product of a home that failed?
I must confess that at first this was my opinion. I was well on my way to pointing out David's parental failures and suggesting that these failures brought about the downfall and ultimate death of his son, Absalom. I no longer see it quite that way. It is not that David is without sin or failure, but it is clear that Absalom's downfall is the result of his own sin, of his own choices. In the midst of the heartache and pain caused by the “loss” of Absalom, I believe God is graciously ministering to David, drawing him ever more closely to Himself, and making him even more of a man after God's own heart. The story is filled with intrigue and much sorrow, but there is also much comfort and assurance to be found as we heed this inspired account in God's Word.
The story begins long before our text. In 1 Samuel 8, the leaders of the nation Israel confronted Samuel and demanded that he appoint a king to rule over them. This greatly displeased both Samuel and God, for the hearts of the people were not right before God. At God's instruction, Samuel warned the people of the high price of having a king (chapter 8). A little later, Samuel rebuked the people for their sin, reminding them of God's faithfulness in fulfilling His promises, in bringing them into the land, and in giving them possession of it (chapter 12). God made it clear through Samuel that a king would not, and could not, save them; it was He who had saved His people, and He who would continue to do so. If the people and their king trusted God and obeyed Him, God would continue to deliver His people and to bless them. If not, “both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:25b).
Saul was chosen and designated by God to be Israel's first king. By and large, he did his job well (1 Samuel 14:47-48). In some areas, Saul did better than David. So far as we are told, he did not multiply wives, horses, or wealth (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). He is not said to have committed adultery as David did. He did subdue many of the enemies of Israel. His great sins were those of rebellion against God, first in failing to wait for Samuel and in offering sacrifices (1 Samuel 13), then in failing to totally annihilate the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15), and then by seeking guidance from a medium rather than from God (1 Samuel 28).
David was a great king and a man after God's heart. His great sin regarding Uriah and his wife Bathsheba was an exception to the rule, but it was nevertheless a monumental sin (1 Kings 15:5). The key to understanding what is happening in our text is found in the indictment of David by Nathan:
7 Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel, 'It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 'I also gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! 9 'Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' 11 “Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 'Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun”' (2 Samuel 12:7-12).
All the power, riches, and glory of David were given to him by God. The explanation for David's prosperity was not to be found in David's greatness, but in God's grace. God indicated to David that, had he asked, He would have given him “. . . many more things like these.” David wanted more, but rather than obey God and ask Him for more, he took Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and then he took Uriah's life. God graciously “took away” David's sin so that he did not have to die as the law required. Nevertheless, there were certain consequences. The first was the death of David's first son by Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:14-23). The second is the rape of his daughter, Tamar, by his own son (and Tamar's half-brother, Amnon; 2 Samuel 13:1-19). Next is the death of Amnon at the hand (or, more accurately, at the command) of Absalom, David's son and Tamar's brother (2 Samuel 13:20-36). As a result, David lost another son, Absalom, who had to flee from Israel and find sanctuary in Geshur, the land ruled by his grandfather, Talmai (2 Samuel 13:37). Absalom is not literally dead yet, but he is certainly lost to David, and for all intents and purposes will continue to be until, and including, the time of his death at the hand of Joab (2 Samuel 18).
The purpose of this message is to focus on Absalom, upon his character and rebellion against his father, and upon the way God used Absalom to discipline David and to draw him closer to Himself. To do this, we must look back to chapter 13, where Absalom's character is first disclosed.
We studied this text in our previous message, so I will not to go through all the details again here. What I wish to do here is show the early signs of Absalom's rebellion against authority (God's and David's), and the beginnings of a fractured relationship between this son and his father.
We know that Amnon, aided by Jonadab, did a terrible thing to his family, especially to his sister. He deceived his father so that David ordered Tamar to take Amnon “breakfast in bed.” He raped his sister and then refused to do the honorable thing of marrying her. Amnon was not alone in deceiving his father. Absalom was guilty of the same kind of deceit.
It troubled me a great deal to read these words about David:
Now when King David heard of all these matters, he was very angry (2 Samuel 13:21).
I wondered how David could be so angry with Amnon, and yet not do anything. I think I now understand. These words in verse 21 follow not only the account of Amnon's sin, but also of Absalom's interference:
Then Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now keep silent, my sister, he is your brother; do not take this matter to heart.” So Tamar remained and was desolate in her brother Absalom's house (2 Samuel 13:20).
Let's drop back to ponder what biblical justice would have looked like in the case of the rape of Tamar. We might think that Amnon, like his father David, would be deserving of the death penalty. This is not the case, because David committed adultery with a married woman; Amnon raped a virgin. The law was clear about the penalty in such cases:
16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17 “If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins (Exodus 22:16-17).
28 “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).
Tamar begged Amnon to ask David for her as his wife, and Amnon refused. At the very least, Amnon should have married Tamar after he raped her. This was, in fact, what the law prescribed. Only David's refusal of such a marriage would have prevented it.71 Why then did this not happen? Why didn't Amnon marry Tamar? It is clear in the story that he wanted nothing more to do with Tamar. This alone would not have prevented the marriage, for Amnon would have had no choice in the matter. What kept Amnon from marrying Tamar was the interference of Absalom, Tamar's brother.
It is clear to me from our text that Absalom had a different punishment in mind:
Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David's brother, responded, “Do not let my lord suppose they have put to death all the young men, the king's sons, for Amnon alone is dead; because by the intent of Absalom this has been determined since the day that he violated his sister Tamar (13:32).
Absalom hated his half-brother Amnon for what he had done to his sister, Tamar. He had no intention of letting this fellow off as easily as the law would have done. From the day Tamar was raped, Absalom purposed to kill Amnon. It was only a matter of time and opportunity. That is why Absalom acted as reported in verse 20. He told his sister to keep quiet and leave this matter within the family. In other words, she was not to accuse Amnon of this sin. In the legal language of our time, she was not to press charges. She was to leave this matter to Absalom. Furthermore, Absalom took Tamar into his own home, where she remained desolate the rest of her life.72
Absalom's actions paved the way for him to murder Amnon. They prevented Tamar from marriage and children. They prevented David from taking action under the Law of Moses. No wonder David was angry when he heard of all these matters. He was angry because his hands were tied in terms of dealing with Amnon's sin. The rape of Tamar was an unsubstantiated rumor. His hands were tied by Absalom. David, I believe, was angry not only at what Amnon had done, but at what Absalom had done as well.
Absalom's transgressions do not end here. When two years had passed and the opportunity came for Absalom to take Amnon's life, he accomplished this by making David an unwitting accomplice (though somewhat reluctant -- as he smelled a rat in what Absalom proposed, but just couldn't figure out what it was). As Amnon deceived David in getting him to send Tamar to his bedside, so Absalom deceives David by getting him to send Amnon to his ranch.
David's initial response, as you would expect, was grief over the death of Amnon. Since he was dead, David was able and willing to move on in his life. As the author of our text puts it, David “was comforted concerning Amnon, since he was dead” (13:39). David's son Amnon was gone; his son Absalom was alive, but hiding as a fugitive from justice in the kingdom of Geshur, ruled by his grandfather, Talmai (see 2 Samuel 3:3). David loved Absalom and wished he could go to him. (He knew that Absalom could not come to him, since he was a murderer and under sentence of death if he returned to Israel.)
Joab knew this about David and set on a course of action to bring Absalom back to Israel. I am not willing to say Joab's motives were pure. I am willing to say that he, like Absalom, seems intent upon obstructing justice. My reading of this chapter is somewhat related to an assumption that Joab's actions are less than noble, so let me begin by giving my reasons for this conclusion.
Though it might appear so at first glance, this “story,” told by the woman from Tekoa is not the same kind of story that Nathan told David which lead to his repentance. Nathan was a prophet; the woman from Tekoa was not. Nathan was sent to David by God; the woman was sent to David by Joab. The woman seems afraid of Joab and not that eager to do what she is told; Nathan came to David confidently. The woman's story was not true; Nathan's story, though fictional, accurately depicted David's sin. Nathan's story ends and leads to the indictment, “You are the man!” The widow's story does not indict David with sin, but with inconsistency. When Nathan indicted David for his sin, David willingly acknowledged his sin; when the widow reaches the bottom line of Joab's plot, David reluctantly grants Joab's request. Joab seems too grateful for David's consent, as though this was a personal favor to him rather than the decision to do the right thing.
David rightly seems to “smell a rat” as his encounter with the woman from Tekoa comes to a conclusion. That “rat” is Joab. When pressed to tell the “whole truth and nothing but the truth” (that it was Joab), the woman tells David it was all Joab's idea, and that she was reluctant to carry out his plan. She seems almost relieved that the deception is over. She tells David that Joab orchestrated this whole incident in order to “change the appearance of things” (verse 20). That does not sound like she is saying, “I did all this at Joab's instruction, so that you would do what was right.”
Joab's later actions (not to mention some of his earlier ones, like murdering Abner) seem to betray an ulterior motive on his part. David's love for Absalom almost seems to be a weak spot, which Joab seeks to exploit for his own benefit. In Absalom's rebellion against David, we hardly hear of Joab. Absalom made Amasa the commander of Israel's army (that is, the army of those who chose to follow Absalom). When David fought Absalom and his forces, Joab was apparently not acting as the commander of all the army, but as the commander of a third of David's forces (2 Samuel 18:2). Joab was, of course, the one who would kill Absalom, even when David gave orders to “deal gently with him” (18:5, 11-15). When David regained the throne, he replaced Joab with Amasa (19:13), but Joab eventually killed him with the help of his brother Abishai (20:8-10). And finally, when David was old and Adonijah sought to assert himself as David's successor rather than Solomon, Joab joined him, which cost him his life (1 Kings 2:28-33).
Absalom was a murderer and chose political asylum in Geshur with his grandfather. David was not wrong to still love this son and yearn to see him. But it would not have been right for David to pardon him so he could return. It would not even have been right to visit him in Geshur. Using trickery and deception, Joab pursued his own self-serving agenda in seeking to manipulate David into bringing Absalom back to Israel.
The woman from Tekoa came to David, pleading for his help. When David asked her what the trouble was, she told him. Observing the interchange between David and this woman is something like watching a tennis match. Each time the woman “serves” David with a request, David responds, only to have the woman return with another request, until she finally has a commitment from David. After she gets this commitment, she then applies her situation and David's response to David's situation with his son, Absalom.
Woman's first petition: “I am a widow who had two sons. These two sons got into a fight in the field, and there was no one to stop them”73 And so it was that one brother killed the other. If there was no one there to stop them, neither was there anyone present to witness just what happened. The killing could have been self-defense. One could hardly assume it was first degree (pre-meditated) murder. If this case were to be settled in the city gate of a city of refuge, it is hard to believe the surviving son would be handed over to be executed by the avengers of the dead man.
David's response: “Why don't you go home and let me think about this? I'll send you my answer, later.”
Woman's second attempt. “I can see, O king, that this is a difficult situation, and that you would really rather not involve yourself in it. I can understand this, and so I'll just go my way and keep doing what I have been doing (hiding the surviving son), and taking the heat. I'll be the guilty one, and you will be guiltless.”
David's response: “Now wait just a minute! I didn't mean that I would do nothing. I just wanted to think this matter over more carefully. I'll tell you what I will do. If anyone else gives you any grief over this matter, you just bring them to me, and I'll take care of them for you.”
Woman's third response: “Well, that's very kind of the king. But wouldn't it be easier and better if you just made a ruling on this matter, so that you don't have to deal with those who trouble me one at a time? If you declare that no one is to harm the lad, then he will be safe, and I won't have to keep him in hiding. And while you're at it, if you make this ruling with a divine oath, people will know you are really serious about it. (Also, it will probably make this ruling irreversible.)”
David's response: “O.K., you've got the ruling you asked for. 'As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.'“
Woman's fourth response: “I thank you very much, O king, but doesn't your ruling on my behalf pose a problem for you? How can you rule to protect the life of my son and yet not do the same with your son, Absalom? We know that we are all going to die someday, but God does not delight in death. He seeks ways to keep men alive and to bring back those alienated from Him. Why are you not doing the same thing, seeking to find ways to spare the life of Absalom, and to bring him back to Israel?”
David's response: “Whoa! All of a sudden, it is beginning to look as though this entire conversation has more to do with me and my son than with you and yours. This feels very much to me like the kind of thing Joab would do. Tell me the truth, is Joab the one behind all this?”
Woman's fifth response: “O king, who can pull the wool over your eyes? Certainly not me. You are so wise as to see the truth of the matter. Yes, it was Joab who was behind all this. I didn't really want to do this, but I was afraid, especially of Joab. Joab did this to change the appearance of things, in order to look good.”
David's response: “All right, Joab,74 I will grant your request, so deviously made through this woman. Go and bring back my son Absalom.”
I readily admit this is a very loose paraphrase of the dialogue which takes place between David and the woman from Tekoa, but it does seem to convey the sense of what appears to happen here. Carefully, using Joab's words, this woman is able to get David to commit himself to the safety of her son. Finally, David rules with a divine oath that this son is not to be harmed. Now the woman can appeal to the precedent David has just set (which it seems cannot be changed) and press David to deal similarly with his own son (whose guilt is much more clear).
David gives in, reluctantly, to Joab's prodding. He tells Joab that he can bring Absalom back to Israel. The assumption is that he will not allow anyone (any avenger) to take Absalom's life. But somewhere along the line, David considers what he has done and makes a change in plans. Absalom is not to be brought back to Israel as though an innocent man, free to come and go as he pleases. Absalom is to be under “house arrest,” confined to Jerusalem and his own house.75
I may be reading too much into the text, but is there not a kind of poetic justice here, with David confining Absalom to his own house? On the one hand, Absalom is still a murderer who has not been brought to justice. To have him “confined to quarters” is a very practical way of protecting him. It is also a way of keeping him out of circulation. After all, David agreed to his return against his better judgment, it seems. But I am also reminded of the fact that it was Absalom who confined his sister Tamar to quarters. By confining Tamar to his house, Absalom kept her quiet. He also kept her desolate. All of this enabled him to carry out his evil plan to murder Amnon. Now, it somehow seems appropriate that Absalom himself should be confined to the same quarters in which he confined his sister for the rest of her life.
Absalom has a great deal going for him. He is a good looking man, without a single flaw. His hair is his crowning glory, and everybody knows it. He has three sons and a beautiful daughter, who also adds to his standing. He is, so to speak, the Princess Diana of that day. David is becoming the Prince Charles, and all due to Absalom's very careful and deliberate scheme. But more of this in a moment. First we must see how Absalom gains full freedom.
After two years of house arrest, Absalom has had it. He is angry and frustrated. Since he cannot leave his house, Absalom summons Joab and is ignored. After a second attempt to gain an audience with Joab in his home, Absalom takes more extreme measures. He sends his servants out to set Joab's field (which adjoined his own field) ablaze. This certainly gets Joab's attention! He is soon there to confront Absalom, but instead it is Absalom who confronts him. Why is he confined to quarters? If this is all there is for Absalom, he will be better off in Geshur, for there he is a free man. Absalom demands to see the king's face.
It is what Absalom says next which is most troubling to me. “And if there is iniquity in me, let him put me to death” (verse 32). It sounds a little bit like some more familiar words to us: “Give me liberty, or give me death!” But how can Absalom speak this way? Does he really believe he is without guilt? Does he not think himself worthy of the death penalty? It would seem so. And if this is true, then he once again reveals that he has no regard for God's law. He wanted the death penalty for Amnon, though the law did not require it. He thinks the death penalty harsh and inappropriate for him, though he is a murderer under the law. This is a man who manifests absolutely no repentance.
Nevertheless, Joab takes this mandate to king David, who relents and allows Absalom to come into his presence. He kisses Absalom, and no doubt thinks that this should be the end of it all. Now Absalom has access to the king and freedom to go about wherever he may choose. And when he goes about, it is certainly in style. He acquires a chariot and horses and 50 men who serve as runners. (No avenger is going to try to do Absalom in with so many bodyguards around!)
Absalom would have been a great politician. Come to think of it, that is exactly what he was! Every day Absalom would station himself on the road to Jerusalem (just out of sight of the city and his father, no doubt). What an impressive sight he must have been. A strikingly handsome man with a head of hair that women would die for. I would imagine his chariot was parked in sight of all who passed by, along with his 50 runners. Every visual impression smacked of royalty and class.
Absalom would call out to those passing by, asking from where they came and why they had come. He greeted all in a way they would remember. Can you imagine, for example, if you were driving down LBJ freeway and someone waved your car over to a parked limousine? The door opens, and the Vice President of the United States steps out, engaging you in conversation. When you seek to show your respect, he grasps you firmly by the hand and gives you a great big “Okie” (Oklahoma) “hug your neck,” refusing to allow you to honor him. Wow! That would be quite a meeting -- one you would never forget.
But there's more. Not only does Absalom come out looking good, he causes David to come out looking very bad. When Absalom learns that the traveler is coming to Jerusalem to seek justice, he tells the traveler that he is terribly sorry to inform him that the king has made no provisions for judging cases. (This, of course, is a lie, for we just read about David hearing a “widow's” case and ruling in her favor.) Absalom tells the person that it is especially sad because from what he has been told of the case, the judge would have ruled in their favor. They would have won their case, except for the fact that David had no one appointed to hear it. You just couldn't get justice with David on the throne. And then, with great skill, Absalom makes it known that if he were judging in Israel, he would see to it that such people were heard, and that he would rule in their favor. One just couldn't get justice with David; but with Absalom it would be an entirely different matter.
Not only is Absalom a liar (in saying there is no one to hear their case), he is a hypocrite. Just what kind of “justice” would he mete out? The kind of “justice” he was sure that Amnon received? The kind of justice his own sister received? The kind of “justice” he himself got? Absalom is no friend of justice or of the oppressed. He just gets people to think he is their friend. And it works! Absalom wins the hearts of the people. He is now ready to make his move.
After four years76 of running David down and building himself up in the eyes of the people, Absalom was ready to make his move. His plan was to make his debut as king where David did, and where he was born, Hebron (2 Samuel 3:2-3). First, he had to find a way to get there without arousing David's curiosity or suspicion. He went to his father and told him that he had made a vow while he was living in Geshur.77 He vowed that if God ever granted him the privilege of returning to Israel he would pay his vow to the Lord in Hebron. Now, he indicated, was the time to do so. David granted him permission to leave. He sent him away “in peace.” It was most certainly not going to result in “peace.”
Absalom took 200 men from Jerusalem with him to Hebron. These men had no idea what he had in mind. But Absalom had sent word throughout the tribes of Israel that when the trumpet was blown, this was a signal for them to proclaim their allegiance to him, rather than to David. In addition to this, Absalom had managed to recruit Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counselor. Ahithophel was a most gifted man; his counsel was exceedingly wise:
The advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one inquired of the word of God; so was all the advice of Ahithophel regarded by both David and Absalom (2 Samuel 16:23).
The loss of Ahithophel to Absalom was a major blow. One must wonder how a fellow so wise could choose to align himself with Absalom. Nevertheless, God would make use of Ahithophel. He would use his counsel to bring about the fulfillment of prophecy (compare 2 Samuel 12:11-12 and 2 Samuel 16:20-22), and He would thwart his counsel in order to save David from the hand of Absalom (2 Samuel 17:1-14).
How sad to read all this. The author does not pull any punches here. The “trail of tears” began with David's sin concerning Uriah and his wife, Bathsheba. It began with the agony of David's soul, even before he repented and confessed his sin (see Psalm 32:3-4). It continued with the death of the first son born to David and the wife of Uriah. Soon, David's own daughter (Tamar) was raped by one of his sons, and then this son (Amnon) was murdered by yet another son (Absalom). Absalom flees to Gerar, and David yearns to see him, but knows he cannot. Then, manipulated by the deception of Joab, David is compelled to bring Absalom back to Israel. This is not a pleasant experience either. When Absalom gains his freedom, he uses it to undermine David's reputation and standing with the people. Next comes his rebellion, and the division of Israel, and finally the death of Absalom at the hand of Joab. It is, indeed, a trail of tears.
In the midst of all this suffering and adversity, I must once again emphasize that God is not punishing David for his sins here. Nathan made it very clear David would not undergo the (death) penalty for his sin, because the “Lord had taken his sin away” (2 Samuel 12:13) Here is one of the very common errors Christians make; namely, that whenever a person suffers, it is because they are being punished for their sin. Job's friends believed this and continually sought to compel him to repent (see Job 4 and 5). Our Lord's disciples assumed the man born blind was this way because of someone's sin (John 9:1-2). There are those whose suffering is the direct result of their sin (see Deuteronomy 28:15ff.), but this is not always the explanation for suffering. Sometimes the righteous suffer for being righteous (1 Peter 4).
And then there are other times when the saints suffer because they are the “sons of God,” who are being prepared for glory (see Hebrews 12). Even our Lord suffered in order to prepare Him for his glory (see Hebrews 2:10-18; 5:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11). I am not saying here that David's suffering was unrelated to his sin. I am saying that his suffering was not punishment for his sin, but divine discipline, which was designed to draw him closer to God and to cling more loosely to the things of this world (compare 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
One of the things God is doing in the disciplining of David is to allow David to see his sin from a different point of view. Callously, David took Bathsheba, lay with her, and killed her husband. In this he used (or abused) his power as God's king to accomplish his sin. Now God is graciously allowing David to view his sin from a different perspective. Did David abuse his relationship with God, using his power to pursue his own interests? Joab seems to be doing the same thing in our text. Amnon abused his power in taking Tamar, much as I believe David took Bathsheba. Absalom too abused his power, undermining David while seeking to gain his throne. Did David seek to deceive Saul about his absence? Now Absalom deceived David about his absence. Did David seek to deceive Uriah to cover his sin? David is deceived by Amnon, then Absalom, then Joab and the woman from Tekoa. Did David, God's “son” (see 2 Samuel 7:8-17), rebel against God in his sin? Now David's son(s) will rebel against him. Does David abuse his power, oppressing those who were powerless to oppose him? Now David will experience powerlessness as Absalom cuts off all opportunity for David to execute justice, for his daughter Tamar, for Absalom, and even for the people of Israel (2 Samuel 15:2-6). David now is able to see his sin in a different light, as it is replayed by others.
This text has much to say about parenting. Even a cursory reading of the Bible should make it amply clear that there were no perfect parents. Even the most godly men and women failed in their parenting (think of Eli, Samuel, Saul, and now David). We should all purpose before God to be better parents. This is not because “good parenting” guarantees godly children, but because “good parenting” pleases God. We should seek to be good parents because this is what God requires of us.
When our children fail, as they will, we should not heap all kinds of blame and guilt upon ourselves, as though we were entirely the cause of it all. Look at the sons of David we have seen thus far. Amnon was a worthless fellow, a fool. Solomon will be the wisest man who ever lived. Adonijah will seek to usurp the throne from his brother. Absalom will thwart justice, murder his brother, and turn against his father. I am sure that in the case of Absalom, David's failures adversely affected this son. Having said this, I do not believe that our text was written to show us how bad a father David was, but rather to show us how disobedient a son Absalom was. This disobedience was due to the choices Absalom himself made. And this disobedience was used of God to discipline David, to make him a man more after His own heart.
Please do not leave this message or this text feeling like a failure, overcome with guilt, because one of your children has been “lost” to you in some way. Your sins do play a part in your child's life, but that child, like Absalom, has to decide whether or not to trust and obey. If they do not, the guilt is not all yours; it may not be yours at all. But if you are a Christian, then I can assure you that God will use even your child's rebellion to perfect you and to draw you into a more intimate relationship with Him. Sometimes our children are our “god,” and this is one way God has of getting our priorities straight. In the Old Testament in particular I find that family failures are often a part of God's great plan and program for His people. They do not prevent God from doing as He has promised; often they are the means by which God does fulfill His promises.
I think there is a lesson to be learned here about discipline, in this case discipline within the family. David wanted to be restored to fellowship with his son, Absalom. He knew better than to ignore or distort the law in order to facilitate such a reunion. David was tricked into allowing his son to return, even though he knew better. We may think that David was cold and uncaring when he refused to allow Absalom to see his face. I do not agree. I think David understood that reconciliation can only follow repentance, and that it cannot precede it. David was angered, not only by Amnon's rape of Tamar, but by Absalom's obstruction of justice and murder of Amnon. David could not be reconciled to Absalom until Absalom had repented, and until David's anger had been “propitiated” (a fancy theological term for having his anger appeased or satisfied). When Joab tricked David into letting Absalom return, he did so in a way that did not facilitate repentance or reconciliation. If we are going to blame anyone for Absalom’s sin (other than Absalom, who bears the primary responsibility), it would have to be Joab rather than David, because Joab sought to bring about reconciliation without repentance.
I am reminded of the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph's brothers had sinned against him greatly by kidnapping him and selling him into slavery. We know from the story of Joseph that he loved his brothers, and he yearned to be reconciled with them. But he could not do so until they had repented. And so we see the prolonged saga of these men's two trips to Egypt, culminating in their genuine repentance. It was then that Joseph revealed his identity. They had repented, and Joseph had forgiven them. Now reconciliation was possible. So it was required in David's relationship with Absalom, but Joab's efforts only tended to hinder reconciliation rather than facilitate it.
I know many parents who so desperately yearn for a relationship with their children that they refuse to discipline them. And when they have rebelled, they are so eager to get them back they welcome their children with open arms, when there has been no repentance, and thus there can be no real reconciliation. The same is true in the church. If there is to be true unity in the church, genuine fellowship among the saints, then there must be rebuke, discipline, and repentance before there can be reconciliation and reunion.
David's son Absalom has something to teach us. It is a lesson in what true submission is and is not. I think we can agree that Absalom is a man who “bites the hand that feeds him.” Absalom lacks any sense of debt to his father, and there is no evidence of gratitude on his part. But more than this, there is absolutely no true submission to his father-king. Like Satan of old, Absalom sees himself as “next in line” for the throne. He does not submit himself to his father. Instead he uses his position and power to undermine his father's authority and to disrupt his kingdom. Behind his father's back, he speaks ill of his father, making him look bad in the eyes of others. And all of this is done to “get ahead.”
How many of us do the same thing in the workplace? How many of us talk about the boss to our fellow employees, behind his back? How many of us try to make our superiors look bad and to make ourselves look good? How many wives undermine the authority and dignity of their husbands with their children? How many husbands do the same with their wives (talking to their children or their peers about their wife's failures, real or contrived)? How often the same thing happens in the church. Those who have exposure and visibility cast doubt on the church leaders' ability, on their decisions, on their leadership, while at the same time making it known that they would do much better if they were at the helm? Absalom is a warning to us all about submission and its counterpart, rebellion.
Finally, as I conclude this lesson I would like to leave you with this thought: The very thing that David was willing to do -- but could not do -- to save his son Absalom, is that which God has done through His Son, and in so doing, has made many “sons.” In chapter 18 and verse 33, David expresses his wish that he could have died in Absalom's place. It could not be so, and even if it were so, it would not have benefited Absalom. David could not save his son Absalom any more than we can save our children. But God has accomplished what man cannot accomplish. God gave up His sinless Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die on the cross of Calvary, as the payment for the guilt of our sins. He gave up His beloved Son so that our sins might be forgiven, and so that we might become His sons. What no man can do (save their loved ones), God can do. God has provided the forgiveness of sins and sonship which we desperately need. He has provided this through only one means, the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. If you would be reconciled to God, you must acknowledge your sin, your rebellion against God, and accept the free gift of the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life which He offers to you. I pray that you have received this gift, and that if you have not, you will.
71 There is, of course, the matter of Tamar being Amnon’s half-sister. This presents a problem, but if they had married, she would have been to Amnon exactly what Sarah was to Abraham, a wife who was also a half-sister. For our purposes, however, I will set this question aside and assume that a marriage was possible, as Tamar assumed.
72 Initially I thought Absalom did what he did for his sister’s benefit. The more I read the story, the more I am convinced that Absalom sacrificed the interests of his sister for his own interest of getting revenge.
73 My friend informed me that in the Middle East, it is assumed that the fight must continue until someone intervenes to stop it. Sometimes a fight begins and one or both parties hopes for an intervention so they can cease fighting with honor. If there is no one to stop them, they must fight to the death. Such could be the case in our text.
74 One has the distinct impression that Joab has been there, beside the woman from Tekoa, prompting her as she recited her script. The text does not say that David sent for Joab, but that he spoke to Joab. From this text, I would gather that Joab was there the whole time the woman was speaking to David.
75 This may seem to be a bit of a reach on my part at first, but consider the following. David instructed Absalom to turn to his own house (verse 24). Absalom was not to see David’s face, which certainly could have happened if both freely visited about Jerusalem and elsewhere. Absalom got very tired of this situation, but he had to summon Joab to his house; he did not go to Joab or David. I think this is because he could not leave his house. But when full freedom is given to Absalom, he makes his comings and goings very conspicuous, with a chariot and 50 runners before him.
76 You will note the footnote in the NASB, which indicates that while the Hebrew text seems to indicate “forty,” there are other manuscripts which indicate “four,” which certainly appears to be required in the context.
77 I may very well be reading too much into this, but it does seem quite a coincidence that Absalom would explain his absence from the king (David) with nearly the same excuse David gave for his absence from his king (Saul; see 1 Samuel 20:1-34). Is it possible that God did not deal with David about his deception until now, when he could see, once again, how it felt to be on the receiving end of the same sin?