Sunday, 12 August 2012

the love of the father- 2 Sam 18- David and Absalom-

2 Samuel 18
New International Version (NIV)
David mustered the men who were with him and appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. 2 David sent out his troops, a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The king told the troops, “I myself will surely march out with you.”
3 But the men said, “You must not go out; if we are forced to flee, they won’t care about us. Even if half of us die, they won’t care; but you are worth ten thousand of us.[a] It would be better now for you to give us support from the city.”
4 The king answered, “I will do whatever seems best to you.”
So the king stood beside the gate while all his men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands.

5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.
6 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim.7 There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.
9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

10 When one of the men saw what had happened, he told Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.”
11 Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels[b] of silver and a warrior’s belt. ”
12 But the man replied, “Even if a thousand shekels[c] were weighed out into my hands, I would not lay a hand on the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.[d]’ 13 And if I had put my life in jeopardy[e]—and nothing is hidden from the king —you would have kept your distance from me.”
14 Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. 15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.
16 Then Joab sounded the trumpet, and the troops stopped pursuing Israel, for Joab halted them. 17 They took Absalom, threw him into a big pit in the forest and piled up a large heap of rocks over him. Meanwhile, all the Israelites fled to their homes.
18 During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, “I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.” He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.
David Mourns
19 Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, “Let me run and take the news to the king that the Lord has vindicated him by delivering him from the hand of his enemies. ”
20 “You are not the one to take the news today,” Joab told him. “You may take the news another time, but you must not do so today, because the king’s son is dead.”
21 Then Joab said to a Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed down before Joab and ran off.
22 Ahimaaz son of Zadok again said to Joab, “Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.”
But Joab replied, “My son, why do you want to go? You don’t have any news that will bring you a reward.”
23 He said, “Come what may, I want to run.”
So Joab said, “Run!” Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain[f] and outran the Cushite.
24 While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. 25 The watchman called out to the king and reported it.
The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.” And the runner came closer and closer.
26 Then the watchman saw another runner, and he called down to the gatekeeper, “Look, another man running alone!”
The king said, “He must be bringing good news, too.”
27 The watchman said, “It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.”
“He’s a good man,” the king said. “He comes with good news.”
28 Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, “All is well!” He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, “Praise be to the Lord your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.”
29 The king asked, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
Ahimaaz answered, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.”
30 The king said, “Stand aside and wait here.” So he stepped aside and stood there.
31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”[g]

It's a strange feeling to see yourself in your children. There are certain things my sons do that are very much like me. I think every parent sees a bit of themselves in their children. They might have the same taste for certain foods, or they might have certain talents or skilsl that seems to be from their mom or dad.
          Children inherit all kinds of character traits from their parents. Sometimes that's a good thing, but sometimes they also inherit traits that are less desirable, and it's especially scary to see your children start to take on some of your flaws.
          David's sons inherited his virtues, but they also inherited his vices. David's eldest son, Amnon, seems to have inherited David's lust. The lust we see in David when he brings Bathsheba, one of his soldiers' wives, into his bed is the lust we see in Amnon when he lusts after his half-sister, Tamar, and rapes her. David's son Absalom seems to have inherited David's wrath. The murderous wrath we witness in David's scheming to kill Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, is the wrath we see in Absalom as he plots to kill his brother Amnon. It isn't a hot-headed spur of the moment act. Absalom plans it very coolly. It is very pre-meditated.  
          After Absalom murders his brother Amnon he fled to live with his in-laws. He lived there for three years, fearing his father's wrath. Through the intercession of  David's right hand man, Joab,  Absalom is eventually welcomed back into Jerusalem, but he is only half forgiven. He is allowed to be in the city, but he is not permitted in the king's presence. He is left in a kind of limbo. He is allowed back, but at the same time he isn't quite permitted to leave his exile. And Jerusalem is not a big city at this point. There would have been effort involved in preventing Absalom and David seeing each other. It's a strange situation for Absalom. They are in the same city, but they are not speaking. Perhaps this is some kind of punishment- like getting the silent treatment. Absalom has to know that David is still not happy with Amnon's murder. So Absalom sits in a kind of limbo- Halfway between forgiveness and exile, but not fully in either place.
          This starts to wear on Absalom. Eventually, disgruntled and rejected he begins putting a plan into motion. Absalom has some of David's other traits. He is heroic, good looking, and charismatic.  Absalom uses all these gifts to his advantage and he starts to win the people's hearts. The Bible actually says he stole their hearts.  He listens to their problems, he speaks to them as if they were equals. He becomes the people's prince. Soon he has enough of a following that he can challenge his father's forces. Soon, the land is divided by civil war. Everyone is picking sides. Many side with Absalom as the new up and coming superstar. Some are still supportive of the reign of King Saul and his family and hope there might be some room in the chaos for their own political maneuvering. There are still many who are loyal to David. Suddenly the land that had been unified under David is now being torn into pieces.  
          Absalom has enough muscle that David and his supporters are forced to flee Jerusalem to avoid a blood bath. David goes into the wilderness. This is where David originally learned to be David. This is the David who relies on God, who prays, who sees God working though the events of his life. Here, as David descends into the wilderness, he learns to pray again. He learns about loyalty. He learns who he can trust. He learns humility as a man yells curses at him and he accepts it. David descends. The son has taken his father's throne. The son has become the father's worst enemy. 
          In this situation we see how sin multiplies. Amnon rapes his sister. Though he is furious, we have no indication that David disciplines Amnon for the rape of his half-sister. Perhaps this is grace on David's part.  Absalom, however, seeks revenge and murders Amnon.  David is unwilling to forgive his son Absalom fully and suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of a civil war where 20,000 will lose their lives. Rape, revenge, murder, un-forgiveness- they all twist and turn  and build on one another until we find ourselves in civil war.  
          David still has some allies and he knows how to place people strategically. Soon he has spies and a whole intelligence network helping him to keep ahead of Absalom, who has a serious force of men and some very good counsel on his side. David is in the wilderness attempting to escape his son's sword and trying to regroup and plan. The climax of all of this is a battle between Absalom's forces and David's forces. David's more experiences forces overtake Absalom's. But a strange thing happens as the battle is drawing to a close. Absalom is riding his mule through the forest and suddenly his hair gets tangled in some low-hanging branches. It's very strange, but Absalom hair (which he was very proud of) was stuck and his mule kept right on running, leaving Absalom hanging there helpless to free himself. The soldiers weren't sure what to do because David gave very clear orders to “be gentle with the young man Absalom”. Joab, the general, and his men ignore David's words and kill Absalom.
          The leaders of the army thought it would be best if David stayed behind. They thought it was too risky to have David on the battlefield. So David stayed back and waited for word to be sent. When word finally came it was as if David didn't care at all about who won the battle, he wanted to know about his Son Absalom. When he finds out that Absalom has been killed he enters into profound mourning. He wails and weeps, “O my son Absalom! My Son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you- O Absalom, my son, my son!”. It is one of the saddest and heart rending parts of scripture. It is raw- a father weeping over his dead son. The battle is nowhere in David's mind except the context for Absalom's death. David doesn't seem to care that he has regained his kingdom and re-solidified the country. He doesn't seem to think about all the soldiers who risked their lives, and lost their lives, to win this battle and restore David's reign. ... At this moment David is a father weeping over his son. He is not a king. He is a father in mourning.

 There is a lot we can talk about in this passage. It is an amazing story to read, but it is also filled with profound wisdom. Out of the many things we could talk about I want us to look at David as a father.
          Like most parents, David was sometimes a good parent and sometimes he wasn't. All parents have moments when their parenting gets pretty sloppy. Sometimes we do well and we're proud of how we handled that moment when, say, their pet died. We sort of pat ourselves on the back knowing we handled it well, but then there are moments when we are irritated and short on patience and short on sleep and our parenting suffers and we make bad decisions.
Perhaps if David was closer to his sons he would have seen Amnon's lust for his daughter Tamar. Maybe if David disciplined Amnon after the rape then vengeance wouldn't have been brewing in Absalom's heart. If David was closer to Absalom maybe he could have counseled him in his rage. Maybe David could have welcomed Absalom home from exile and offered him full forgiveness, rather than a half-forgiveness where his fatherly love is still withheld.
          David needed to hear Jesus' story in Luke 15 about a father whose son rejected him and went to a far off land. The father kept searching the horizon hoping to see him come back. Eventually he does. The father, whose son basically spat in his face as he left, would have been completely justified in rejecting the son right back, or giving him the silent treatment until he learned his lesson, but not in Jesus' story. In Jesus' story the father is so overjoyed to have his son back that he runs to him. His son can't even finish saying “I'm sorry” before the father interrupts him and throws a party in his honour. This is not what David does. David's reaction makes sense, but there is a better way- a more loving way, but David doesn't take it.  
          There are plenty of things that David could have done better. But, this lament is exactly what a good parent does. They weep over the suffering and death of their children. David in this moment is a very good father. “O my son Absalom! My Son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you- O Absalom, my son, my son!”. Absalom in this moment isn't that “young man Absalom”, as he says to his general, Joab, as he heads off to battle. Here he is “My son Absalom”. It is more personal. Here David is a good Father. In his lament he speaks directly to his dead son, “If only I had died Instead of you”.  David wishes to switch places with him. He wished he could have died to save his son. This is the heart of a father who loves deeply.
          When Jesus told the story about the father and son in Luke 15, he was talking about God's reaction to us. God's reaction to us wandering children who return home is celebration. When Jesus prayed he called God “Abba”, which might be translated best as “Daddy”, or “poppa”. It is not a formal word. Jesus' experienced of his relationship with God was as a loving Father-Son relationship. Here we see into God's heart. If it is true that God is like a loving Father, then it is also mysteriously true that a loving father is like God. We can learn something about God through looking at David, the loving father.
          In David's weeping we see God's heart. David weeps over a lost child. God too weeps over us and with us. When we suffer, God mysteriously weeps. God weeps over us as we make decisions that alienate us from him. God weeps when we are hurt by others. God weeps with us when we feel broken… because that's what a good father does.
          David also shows us even more deeply into God's heart when he says “ If only I had died instead of you- O Absalom, my son, my son!”. A good father is willing to sacrifice to benefit his child. The good Father wants to take the place of the suffering child. And when we look at Jesus we see God taking the place of suffering humanity in order to save us. “If only I had died instead of you”. That is the purpose of the cross. God, comes to us, as one of us, to feel what we feel, and to take it all on himself.             
            David may not have been a perfect father, but he had moments. His life is a matted mess of sin and virtue, murder and love. David’s life is a messy life, but it is a life with God. There are shining moment, even if sad moments, where we get to see how profound a person David was. We get a chance to see that person God saw. We can see past the messiness and we can see David as a man after God’s own heart.  

Questions for reflecting on 2 Sam 14-18:
1. How did God bring good out of David’s difficult circumstances? How has God used difficult circumstances in your life? See Romans 8:28
2. Reflect on the presence of David’s own vices and virtues in his sons. How are your own virtues and vices in you parents or children? What effect has that had on your life, or on the lives of those around you?
3. Why do you think David behaves towards Absalom as he does? What do you think of his parental strategy? How would you have behaved?

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