Pastor Sherry’s message for August/8/2021,
Scriptures: 2 Sam 18:1-33; Ps 130; Eph 4:25-5:2; Jn 6:35, 41-51
When I studied the readings for this Sunday, I realized pretty quickly that our Lord was speaking to me. As a friend of mine from Tallahassee would say, “He had His thumb on my spine!” You know that happens to us when we hear the Scripture passages read on Sunday, or there is something in the sermon that seems directly meant for me/us. Back in the mid-80’s, when I was just coming to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it was hard to get myself to church on Sundays. It was my only morning to sleep in. But, often, when I would make myself go anyway, there was always something that spoke directly to me. I realized that Satan tries to keep us from church. The very time we think we just can’t go is the exact time that God has something special for us to hear or to learn.
In our Old Testament lesson, 2 Sam 18:5-33, God really spoke to me this week, so I want to spend our time together this morning examining it. This is one of those passages where the LORD does not sugar-coat the truth. We see David, a man after God’s own heart, a mighty warrior and a great King, as a very imperfect father. The context of the reading is Civil War. Our passage opens with King David telling his army commanders to take it easy with the young man Absalom. Why? What’s the deal? To find out we have to hit rewind:
Some years prior, Amnon, the eldest of David’s sons, (born to David’s 3rd wife, Ahimnoan) raped his half-sister, the beautiful Tamar. David was angry about this, but did not avenge Tamar. (The patriarch, Jacob/Israel was going to allow the rapist of his daughter to marry her.) This enraged his sons who then perpetrated vigilante justice toward the guy. We don’t know why these two fathers did not bring their daughter’s rapists to justice. Perhaps King David was still feeling guilty about his own sexual immorality with Bathsheba. Perhaps he thought, “Who am I to punish him for actions I also took?” Or maybe he realized this is part of the playing out of the consequences of his past sin: The prophet Nathan had told him—even though God had forgiven him– Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house (2 Samuel 12:10). Or perhaps David feared taking any punishing action would bring about some sort of bloodshed. So, even though he could have insisted Amnon marry Tamar, David did not. This apparent inability of King David to discipline his wayward son incensed Absalom, Tamar’s full brother (both children of David’s 4th wife, Maaca). Absalom plotted revenge against Amnon—slyly, covertly– for 2 years. He did not have the teaching of Paul in our Ephesians 4:26-27 lesson to guide him: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry; and do not give the devil a foothold. So he invited Amnon, together with his father’s other sons, to a sheep-shearing festival at his country home. Absalom got Amnon drunk, then had him killed. Now, just as David had Uriah killed so he could marry the pregnant Bathsheba, David must realize Absalom’s murder of his eldest son mirrors his own homicidal act.
Knowing he has committed murder, punishable by death, Absalom hits the road and is separated—in exile– from his father for 3 years. Scripture tells us that, all that time, David longed to see Absalom and mourned his absence (2 Samuel 13). Curiously, though, he does not send for him. Absalom is as good as banished. David has now lost his 2 eldest sons-1 dead, one exiled.
in a complicated maneuver, Joab, David’s cousin and general, manipulates David into calling his Absolom home (2 Samuel 14). David agrees, but does not allow Absalom into his presence. Another 2 years go by and Absalom grows embarrassed, embittered. Again, he has a long time to nurse a grudge against his father.
Notice that David is uncharacteristically unforgiving! God has forgiven him of massive sins, but he has taken and nursed an offense toward his son. The King has to be urged by his cousin to recall Absalom to Jerusalem. Then, 2 years later, he has to be again urged by his cousin to reconcile with his son.
So, 5 years after Absalom has killed Amnon (7 years after the rape of Absalom’s sister), David finally summons him. He greets him with a kiss, but it is too little, too late. The damage to their relationship has been compounded. Many cultures in the ancient Near East then, as now, were “Shame-based cultures” (Honor bound). A son, even a prince, did not shame his father. By taking a father’s right to discipline Amnon, Absalom has shamed the King. David had exhibited his corresponding displeasure by not inviting his son back home. Contrast this with God’s example in the Prodigal Son story. Privately David loves him and misses him, but publically his pride has taken a hit, and he harbors an offense against Absalom—he nurses a grudge. He has built up a wall in his heart. He has emotionally abandoned his son.
For his part, Absolom is no better. After having been exiled for 3 years, then waiting on his father to invite him back into his presence another 2, Absalom has grown embittered. Like Father, like son. He too has registered a hit to the pride, to the heart. He too has taken offense and held onto it. He too has established walls in his heart against his father. From there, it’s a simple step to betraying his father.
So Chapter 15 describes how he campaigns—over the next 4 years–to win over his countrymen. He was exceedingly handsome, and we know from very robust Social Psychology research, that “pretty people” are often thought of more highly than they may actually deserve. Though he had slain his ½ brother at his own table (a huge violation of ancient Near Eastern hospitality rules), he is now nice as can be to everyone. It’s a presidential campaign! He is kissing babies, promising tax cuts, and making promises he has no intention of keeping. If he had had TV, he would have been giving interviews on cable news, and funding political ads, trying to displace his aging father in the public eye. Then, before David even suspects what is happening, Absalom launches a coup. And so we find ourselves in the current chapter: Civil War, between father and son!
David, the seasoned warrior, flees the city. He has his experienced and loyal, professional army with him (like our Navy Seals, Special Forces, or trained military snipers). They beg David not to go to battle with them due to his age (mid-50’s or 60’s?); they fear that if he were captured, it would mean certain defeat. So David sees them off and asks them to spare the life of Absalom.
But Absalom is not a warrior (he is instead a shrewd politico). He takes time to call in Israelite citizens to bear arms in his name. These may be like our national guard, having some training, but lacking the experience of life-long soldiers. The armies encounter each other in a large forest—never a good place for a battle. Trees, hills, cliffs, and lakes appear to have impeded troop movements. David’s veterans overcome the larger, inexperienced forces. Absalom may have been trying to retreat, when his marvelous hair entraps him (He was known for his good looks and his long, thick, beautiful hair). Even though Joab, David’s cousin (Absolom’s 2nd cousin), had been told to capture, not kill the rebel prince, Joab kills him anyway and buries his body in a pit. Perhaps Joab reasoned that Absalom’s implacable hate would never soften into forgiveness, and that he would always present a threat to David’s throne. Whatever his reason, he ruthlessly brings a sad chapter to an end: A second cousin kills a second cousin; the predicted sword has clearly become embedded in David’s house.
All that is left now is the duty of telling the king. In an strange little sidebar, two men compete to bring the news. Oddly, the priest’s son, Ahimaaz—a speedy runner—wants to bring David the bad news. But cousin Joab insists on sending a foreign slave, a nimble, fleet-footed Ethiopian. Ahimaaz beats the Cushite to David, but finds he cannot tell the King his son is dead; neither really can the slave. They both answer the King obliquely, but David guesses the truth. David is bereft! Oh my son, Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! Many commentators call this the most moving scene of a father’s grief in all of literature! David’s heart appears to be broken. In spite of all that Absalom had done to hurt him, in spite of having to again flee from a rival king set on killing him, David grieves the loss of his son.
What might God be saying to us today through this ancient account?
1.) What do we do when people we care about take offense? We cannot hang on to offenses, nurse grudges, or harbor hurt feelings. They expand over time. As we see in this account, they harden into bitterness. They shrivel our hearts and separate us from God. We must recognize and take responsibility for our own sins of pride—who are we to hold onto resentments when Jesus Christ forgave His murderers from the Cross? We must forgive the offense, pray for the person who offended us, and attempt to make amends. From the perspective of time and distance, we can see where either Absalom or David could have mended the breach.
2.) Isn’t it true that we reap what we sow? David killed a man so he could have that man’s wife. In the very next generation one son is sexually immoral, ravaging a woman who was not his wife. The second son kills the first. God forgives us of our sins—if we just humble ourselves and ask it of Him. But He often lets us live with the fruit/the consequences of our mistakes, either in our own lives, or in our children’s or grandchildren’s generations.
3.) Forgive, before it’s too late. I picture King David wailing, keening his grief, sobbing with regret, wishing he had handled Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom differently–three children’s lives ruined. David must have been so sorry that he had not been as competent a father as he had been a king. What if he had sought out God in his parenting, as he did in so many other facets of his life? In Psalm 130:1 the psalmist laments, Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. In parenting, in all things, let us call upon the Lord…for wisdom to respond to our children in a righteous way; for assistance in not taking offense (or holding onto one); and for the grace to forgive as we have been forgiven. Amen! May it be so.
©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams