Grief and the Gospel Part 3

Unwilling to discipline his sons, David now found himself at the center of a parent’s nightmare. His son Amnon had been murdered. Worse still, it had been his son Absalom who had committed the murder.

Notice something about Absalom’s behavior immediately following his brother’s crime.

2 Samuel 13:21-22
When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated his sister Tamar.

passive-aggressiveAbsalom behaved in a passive-aggressive manner towards his brother.   Perhaps you have encountered someone like this, or even perhaps you are someone like this.   Someone offends you, and so in an effort to get even with them you behave passively towards them by aggressively ignoring them.   They say good morning and you just walk right on past them as though they hadn’t said anything.  They ask you a question and you give you the shortest, curtest answer possible, before you quickly turn away to go do something else.  It’s as though you are trying to get even with them by showing them you want nothing to do with them.  Well, this was how Absalom behaved, as well.

Absalom’s passive aggressive behavior continued until it became a full blown need to murder. This can happen to people who behave in a passive aggressive manner. This is because each passive-aggressive encounter with the person they hate is an act of revenge. Put together enough acts of revenge and eventually the need to passively avenge turns into the need to murder.   As for Absalom, he engaged in this passive aggressive manner for two full years, before he acted out in murder.

2 Samuel 13:23-28
After two full years, Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons. And Absalom came to the king and said, “Behold your servant has sheepshearers. Please let the king and his servants go with your servant.” But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son let us not all go, lest we be burdensome to you.” He pressed him, but he would not go but gave him his blessing. Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said, “Why should he go with you?” But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him. Then Absalom commanded his servants, “Mark when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Do not fear, have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.”

David suspected something the moment Absalom asked for Amnon to go. Even then David knew what his son was really like.   Nevertheless, against his better judgment he buries the truth beneath a hope that his son has indeed made peace with Amnon.

We know how Absalom had behaved towards his brother’s crime, but what about David? Notice very carefully that God’s law demanded Amnon marry Tamar, or else Amnon be punished. David refused to do either though. Instead, he ignored God’s law, and then contented himself with hoping the matter would go away on its own. Why?

We are not told exactly why David sinned here, but might it have had something to do with David’s own adulterous affair some years previous?   Consider, for instance, that David had committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba. Actually, to be quite honest, he had raped her. And then in an attempt to conceal his sin, he had her husband murdered. According to God’s law, there was no forgiveness for either adultery or murder. God’s law instead demanded the death penalty for adultery, as well as murder. And yet the prophet Nathan had told David that “this sin is not unto death.”

David understood why his sin was not unto death. It was because God had not reckoned (imputed) David’s sin to David’s account. David acknowledges this in his thirty-second psalm.

Psalm 32:1-2
Blessed is the one whose
transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the
Lord counts no iniquity
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

But even though God did not impute the guilt for David’s sin to David, David and also the people nevertheless still carried the memory of his sin. Did David fear the accusations of hypocrisy that he would surely endure were he to punish Amnon for doing very near to the same thing he himself had done not but a few years previous? Or perhaps more to the point, David had hoped that God would not count Amnon’s sin against Amnon the same as God had not counted David’s sin against himself?

In either case, David disobeyed God by not carrying out the sentence required by God’s law. This sin too would not be laid to his account, but he would still suffer tremendously in this life for it.

Absalom murders his brother and then flees Jerusalem. Though overwhelmed with grief, David’s heart never ceases to go out after his son, Absalom. David’s commander, Joab, eventually tires of seeing the king sulk, so he conspires with a woman he finds on the streets. He sends the woman in to see David, and speaking the words Joab gave her to speak, she convinces David of the wisdom of letting Absalom return to Jerusalem. David agrees and Absalom returns.

But Absalom’s hatred has not been quenched. Though he has satisfied his lust for revenge where Amnon was concerned, he has not yet gotten even with his father. David had failed to punish Amnon. Absalom would now see to it that David paid for his failure to satisfy justice.

2 Samuel 15:1-6
After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you? And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.

We’ve all known people like this.  They grumble and complain about the way the boss does things, and absalomimagethey assure everyone who will listen that things would be a lot better if they were the one in charge.  It is the attitude that splinters churches and divides fellowships. It is the grumbling attitude of the rebellious spirit, and here we see the Scripture showing us plainly that it is born of bitterness and a desire for revenge.  Absalom would not have been out there trying to steal the hearts of the men of Israel had he not sought revenge against his father.  Absalom’s heart is bitter, and bitter men make better grumblers.

2 Samuel 15:7-12
7 And at the end of four years Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron.8 For your servant vowed a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram, saying, ‘If the Lord will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to the Lord.’”9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron.10 But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, ‘Absalom is king at Hebron!’”11 With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem who were invited guests, and they went in their innocence and knew nothing.12 And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.

The conspiracy grew strong. David should have known. He wasn’t stupid. He knew what his son was capable of, yet he continued to ignore all the signs, hoping and praying instead.

But eventually Absalom gathers enough men to his side to fulfill his plan. He starts for Jerusalem with an army, committed to overthrowing his father and seizing the throne for himself. David is caught stupidly unaware. I say stupidly, because I say again, he should have known. But because he loved his son, he continued to ignore all the signs that were plain before him.

2 Samuel 15:13-17
13 And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.”14 Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.”15 And the king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.”16 So the king went out, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house.17 And the king went out, and all the people after him. And they halted at the last house.

David knows what his son is, and he can no longer hide it. Absalom is a cold and calculating murderer. The full realization hits him. If Absalom enters the city while he is still there, then he and every one of his servants will pay the price with the loss of their lives.

2 Samuel 15:18-31
18 And all his servants passed by him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king.19 Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home.20 You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.”21 But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.”22 And David said to Ittai, “Go then, pass on.” So Ittai the Gittite passed on with all his men and all the little ones who were with him.23 And all the land wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness.

24 And Abiathar came up, and behold, Zadok came also with all the Levites, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God until the people had all passed out of the city.25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place.26 But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.”27 The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Go back to the city in peace, with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar.28 See, I will wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.”29 So Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem, and they remained there.

30 But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went.31 And it was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O Lord, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”

David_flees_Jerusalem_1407-81What a tragic image; David trudging up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. But even here he never loses his faith. Listen to his answer again after someone comments about the Ark. “If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me back and let me see both it and His dwelling place.” God is still sovereign, and David acknowledges it. It is God who ordained all this. But even so, David knows that while Absalom meant it for revenge, God means it for good.

(Note: Ahithophel was none other than Bathsheba’s grandfather!)
(2 Samuel 11:3, 2 Samuel 23:34)

Absalom captures Jerusalem. He means to have his revenge both upon God, and also the man who refused him justice after his brother had defiled his sister. He gathers the men of Israel and then crosses the Jordan to meet David’s army in battle. Having crossed the Jordan and then encamped in the land of Gilead, Absalom rides out with his army into the forest of Ephraim to do battle with David’s commanders.

2 Samuel 18
Then David mustered the men who were with him and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds.2 And David sent out the army, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the men, “I myself will also go out with you.”3 But the men said, “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.”4 The king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands.5 And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom.

6 So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim.7 And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.8 The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword.

9 And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the absalom_hangingmule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.10 And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.”11 Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.”12 But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king’s son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’13 On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.”14 Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak.15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.

Joab_AbsalomJoab is almost a story unto himself. A cruel man, cold and calculating himself, even while bearing the relentless sword of government. But we do well to save that for another day. In the meanwhile . . .

16 Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them.17 And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home.18 Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom’s monument to this day.

19 Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadoksaid, “Let me run and carry news to the king that the Lord has delivered him from the hand of his enemies.”20 And Joab said to him, “You are not to carry news today. You may carry news another day, but today you shall carry no news, because the king’s son is dead.”21 Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed before Joab, and ran.22 Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite.” And Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?”23 “Come what may,” he said, “I will run.” So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.

24 Now David was sitting between the two gates, and the watchman went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he lifted up his eyes and looked, he saw a man running alone.25 The watchman called out and told the king. And the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.” And he drew nearer and nearer.26 The watchman saw another man running. And the watchman called to the gate and said, “See, another man running alone!” The king said, “He also brings news.”27 The watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” And the king said, “He is a good man and comes with good news.”

28 Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “All is well.” And he bowed before the king with his face to the earth and said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.”29 And the king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.”30 And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still.

31 And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “Good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.”32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.”33 And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

It is the cry of an agony so deep that no words can do it justice. It is the cry of a man who had been bullied by his brothers in his youth, who had all but been ignored by his father, who had been later hunted down like a dog by his demonized father-in-law, who had lost his best friend to war, who had tried all his life to do what is right by God’s law but had failed miserably time and again, who had himself committed adultery and murder, who had lost a son due to his own failure as a father, and now has lost yet another son due to the same failure. Oh my son, Absalom, my son, my son, would to God that I had died instead of you.

It’s my fault. I did this. It’s all my fault.

Two people in profile. One blames himself, while the other blames everyone else. With the details now in mind, it is time to examine the profiles.

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About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church http://www.gospeldefense.com/about.html
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One Response to Grief and the Gospel Part 3

  1. Daniel says:

    Thank you very much for writing this. I’ve been researching a lot on the story of Absalom. A sad story indeed and I guess it just shows the full disclosure of the Bible. Futhermore, I believe the first time I read this story was my very first year of high school and ever since then I don’t know why but I can’t stop thinking about it. To me it’s just one of those stories you can’t just read it and walk away untouched. Nonetheless, your article has been a valuable resource and proved to me what I felt in my heart more accurate than that of some renowned commentaries. In all, I absolutely loved the way you brought out everything in your posts.

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