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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Hymn 3
Psalm 73:1,9 (after the law)
Psalm 3 ("A Psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom")
Reading: 2 Samuel 18:1-19:8
Text: 2 Samuel 18:33-19:8
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
There are movies, stories and songs that have the power to bring just about anyone to tears. I’m sure you can think of a few examples for yourself. There’s this strong pull that brings you into the emotional world of whoever wrote what you’re watching, reading, or hearing. There’s a literary term for that pull: it’s called pathos. Pathos is something that has the ability to create strong emotions, especially sad ones.
Pathos is the word that’s often come to my mind as I read and reflect on David’s grief over the loss of his son Absalom. The author of 2 Samuel pulls us right in to David’s deep sadness. Especially if you’re a parent, it’s hard not to be brought to tears when you can see David breaking down and crying out, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom!” It’s moving.
I think it would move even most unbelievers. But we come to this passage as believers. We come as people who can connect and sympathize with David, but also as those who realize that this passage is not here to give us a good cry, to let it all out. It’s not here just as a good story, but as part of God’s revelation. We need to get to the point where we can ask: what is God revealing here about himself, about his purposes, about his redemption, about his people?
As we do that, we’re reminded of the fact that the man grieving in this passage was not just any man. He was the king of Israel. And not just any king of Israel, he was David, the man after God’s own heart. He was David, the one with whom God had established his covenant in 2 Samuel 7. David, the great fore-runner, the great type of our Lord Jesus. It’s the identity of this king that guides us to the right way to understand and apply this text to our lives today. I preach God’s Word to you then with this theme:
After the bitter victory over his rebellious son, David is summoned back to his royal office
In this text we see:
1. Deep distress
2. A realistic rebuke
I trust that it’s obvious to all of us that this passage is not an isolated incident that occurs all on its own with no background. There is a lot of background, a lot that has happened prior to this that we need to hear about before we can process it. I just mentioned God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7. Long before that, in 1 Samuel 16, Samuel had anointed David king over Israel. But it was not until David was much older that he actually took the throne. In between there were many years of uncertainty and instability as Saul sought to kill David. David had to live on the run. Finally, Saul died and David could take the throne. Then God came to him and made his covenant with David. Things seemed to be well-settled. David was on the up and up.
Until the year that David stayed home while he sent his generals off to war. That was the year that David met Bathsheba. David’s affair with her resulted in the death of her husband and David was responsible. When Nathan confronted David, David repented and sought the forgiveness of the LORD. He was forgiven, but there would still be consequences to his sin. Among those consequences would be that the sword would never depart from his house. Violence and death would plague his family from here on in. It began with the child that Bathsheba was carrying because of her affair with David.
But that was only the beginning. In 2 Samuel 13, David’s children rape and murder one another. Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar and Absalom murders Amnon in revenge. Absalom has to live on the lam for fear of the rest of his family. Eventually, after the passing of some years, he came back to Jerusalem and was forgiven by his father David. Things seemed to be back to normal.
Until...until Absalom hatched his plot to take over the kingdom. He staged a coup. He stole the hearts of the men of Israel by promising them justice. Absalom was a good-looking man, just the kind of person you would expect to be king. And he had charisma, he had a way with people. When the time was right, Absalom made his way to Hebron and from there he would put his plans into action. He called all the people of Israel to himself and many of them came. When David heard about it, he knew that he had to leave Jerusalem. It was too dangerous for him and the rest of his family. They fled to Mahanaim, a fortress probably somewhere east of the Jordan, about half way up its distance between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.
In chapter 18, we read about the battle and how it all unfolded in the forest of Ephraim. Absalom was plodding along on his mule and somehow blundered into David’s men. Absalom was famous for his thick long hair and as he was going under a tree it proved to be his undoing. The mule kept going and Absalom started hanging. You know the rest. David had commanded his men to spare Absalom’s life, but Joab had other ideas.
Two men came running to bring David the news. Ahimaaz the son of Zadok arrived first, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell the king. The second messenger was a Cushite, from around present-day Ethiopia. He had no inhibitions and told David straight out what happened to Absalom.
Then the author of 2 Samuel pulls out nearly every stop to describe David’s grief at this news. One commentator noted that the writer made this description at least 20 times longer than he needed to. Hebrew has a wide selection of words to describe grief and emotional pain and a good number of them are used here in these nine verses. It’s all here in raw and powerful emotion.
David was shaken – he was trembling. This is what happens when you get the unexpected news that someone you love has died. It’s the feeling of not being able to even stand on your feet. The grief knocks the wind out of you.
David went to be by himself in a room over the gateway to the fortress there in Mahanaim. As he climbed the stairs, everyone around could hear his weeping and crying out for his son. “O my son, Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!” I’m going to come back to the words “If only I had died instead of you” in a moment.
The author of 2 Samuel goes on to tell us that David mourned for Absalom – that means that he engaged in the rituals found in that culture when you lose a loved one. Those rituals included things like tearing your clothes, throwing dust into the air, and lying on the ground. Verse 4 speaks of David covering his face and crying out the name of his son repeatedly.
Loved ones, deep distress is obvious here. It’s palpable. Though millennia have passed, you can still hear David’s cry and feel his pain. I almost feel like leaving it at that. To analyze the pain seems too clinical and might take away its weight. But on the other hand, as I mentioned in the introduction, this is the Word of God. These things are told us for a reason. There is instruction for us here and our calling is to discern it and learn from it.
We might be inclined to say that this reveals something of the way that covenant children can break the hearts of their parents with unbelief and rebellion, especially when they die in it. What kind of children would want to cause their parents such deep sadness? We might say that it shows the way a father should love his children, even the children that are rebellious. Even Absalom’s rebellion and treachery doesn’t take away David’s love for him and his grief at his death. What kind of father can be cold-hearted at the cruel death of his own flesh and blood?
But again, while there is some truth in those things, David was not your average Israelite father and Absalom was not your average Israelite son. We need to go back to David’s words, “If only I had died instead of you...” Why would David say that? The words of Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel 12 hung like a dark cloud over David for the rest of his life: “...the sword will never depart from your house...” Nathan went on to describe how someone close to David would take his wives and sleep with them in public. Absalom did that very thing in 2 Samuel 16. The sins of David were visited upon his son. David realizes that. His guilt stokes the fire of his grief. He wishes that he could have died in the place of Absalom. But David cannot. David cannot die in the place of anyone. He has to carry his own griefs and sorrows, bear the consequences of what he has done. As God’s anointed, David was a failure in so many ways. He could not be the promised one who would crush the head of the serpent and bring redemption. “If only I had died instead of you” is a wish that could not be fulfilled. Not by David.
But David’s great son would some day be born. He could be the substitute, because he would be sinless. He could take up our infirmities and carry our sorrows. He would also carry a lament on his lips while he was on the cross: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” but that was not because of his own guilt and the consequences of any sin he had committed, but for us and because of our guilt and our sin. All of that he took willingly on himself. David did not choose to lose his rebellious son. He wanted his life spared. But our Lord Jesus chose the grief that he experienced, he took it willingly on himself, for us. In his desperate state and deep distress, David shows us the contrast between himself and his son Jesus and reminds us to look upward for our redemption.
Our hearts go out to David. We see a man grieving not only because a tragedy has hit his family but because he knows that it’s his fault. We can connect to that. Our sins bring consequences too. How much damage haven’t we done to our children with our failures and our sins, big and small? David’s heart breaks and our hearts break with him. But at the same time, we need to look to the one whose heart broke more than anyone, for us. We need to again fix our eyes on the one who took our sin, all our sin on himself. As we do that, we can know that there is forgiveness, we can also know that in due time he will set things right. Through his Spirit and Word, our Lord Jesus can heal broken and damaged relationships in this world. We know that in the age to come, through his power, there will be no broken and damaged relationships at all. The deep distress that is often felt in this age due to sin and its consequences will some day be turned into rejoicing.
So, David has this deep distress. Then there’s Joab. Joab was the one who put the javelins into Absalom as he hung there from the tree. Joab has no love for Absalom. To Joab, Absalom was the enemy, seeking to destroy the anointed one of God, King David, and his kingdom. It didn’t matter to him that Absalom was David’s flesh and blood; an enemy is an enemy and enemies have to be dispatched and life goes on. Get over it.
Joab gets told about David’s grief and he wasn’t impressed. It should have been a day of celebration, but David’s reaction turned the day upside down. Men who should have been having a victory parade were sneaking back into the city like they’d done something wrong, something shameful like fleeing from battle. There was no joy to be had.
Joab is David’s underling, his subordinate. Joab really has no business telling David what to do. Instead, David is the one who gives the commands. David had commanded Joab to spare Absalom’s life. Shouldn’t Joab cut David a bit of slack here? But no, his heart is like stone. He’s the cold-hearted realist. He did what needed to be done. David wanted to treat the cancer with candy, but Joab realized what was needed was brute amputation. He took care of it and now he has to bring David back to reality.
The reality is that David cannot afford to be just another grieving father in Israel. He is the anointed one of God, appointed to lead Israel as king. He needs to stop the pity party and get back to being a king.
So Joab goes with his brutal frankness. This soldier comes with his rough demeanour and hauls David over the coals like a drill sergeant. David has humiliated the men who put their lives on the line for him and for his family. David seems to put his enemies before his friends and his commanders and soldiers, they appear to mean nothing to him. From the way David is acting it would seem that he’d be happier if everybody under him were dead and Absalom had survived. In other words, it seems that David would be happy to see the coup succeed and for him to lose the throne.
Then Joab issued his ultimatum: get up and go out there and act like a king, or you’ll have nobody with you. And if you think things have been bad up to now, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Notice how he commands David. He orders him to go out and encourage the men. The message is clear: Joab is the one thinking straight here. We might sympathize with David’s heart, but clearly Joab’s mind is on the right track.
Joab’s motivations are not clear. We can’t be sure why exactly he spoke these words of rebuke, whether he understood God’s call for David to be the messianic king or whether he was just looking out for the welfare of his troops. But there’s no denying that he is God’s instrument here to bring David back to reality, to summon him back to his royal office.
The last verse tells us that David got the message. Apparently he didn’t argue with Joab. He knew he was right. David got up and went back to be among the people to encourage them, to speak to their hearts and to provide the royal leadership expected of him.
Now, brothers and sisters, do you see the tension in this passage between David as a father and David as a king? He’s pulled between these two callings. Ultimately, it’s the latter that wins out for him. With the help of Joab’s reality check he gets back on the throne, so to speak.
David can’t keep these two callings in balance here. He has to choose, especially since his son had chosen against him both as father and as king. Here again, we see failure and sin everywhere in the royal office. There’s a victory over the enemy of the king, but it has to be a bitter victory because of the emotional ties, the family ties between the king and his rebellious son.
These tensions find their ultimate resolution in the son of David. He was able to hold all his callings and offices together in harmony and balance. There was never a question of how to balance his commitment to his heavenly Father with his role as our King. He held it all together perfectly, the perfect Son of David. He was committed in the divine family and committed to those placed under his rule, those who would come to submit to his rule and recognize his reign.
Jesus our King rules over us and we share in his anointing. Concretely, I think you know what that means. It means fighting against the devil, the world and our flesh in this age. And sometimes that places us in tension too. It can be difficult to balance our callings as family with our royal calling. For instance, working off our text, what do parents do with older children who are unbelieving and rebellious? How do we resolve these tensions? Where do we place our priorities? Like David, we need to hear the voice of reason and get back to our royal office. We heed the voice of our King Jesus when he said that family relationships have to take a back seat to him. He said it in Matthew 10:37, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me...” Those are hard words to hear! We love our parents and we love our children. But faith leads us to love the Lord Jesus more. Faith leads us to put him before all our family relationships. When the rubber hits the road, Christian parents cannot be indulgent with unbelieving and rebellious children, turning a blind eye to their apostasy and allowing it to continue. Yes, you have patience and grace and charitability, and you give them time to repent and turn. Of course. But ultimately there comes a time where you draw a line and you need to say “no more.” You cannot treat cancer with candy. That can be hard to do, but ultimately it is the most loving thing. When we love God above all, that will be for the best of all those around us.
Loved ones, this is a tough passage in a lot of ways. On the one hand, we easily identify with David and get drawn into the pathos here. That makes us again turn to Christ and continue looking to him for forgiveness and restoration. On the other hand, we see David’s flaws and we want to get beyond them. The way to get beyond them is to look in faith again to David’s son our Lord Jesus, and to entrust ourselves to him. To live out of our union with him, to live out of the anointing that we share with him. We are a “royal priesthood,” Peter says, we are that today, and that brings tensions and difficulties in this age. But the age to come promises the complete resolution. AMEN.
We are deeply grateful to you for our King Jesus. We thank you that he perfectly fulfilled all his offices and callings, doing so for us. We thank you that through him we have forgiveness for all our failings. Father, there are so many of them. As parents, we do regularly fail our children, failing to provide them with godly examples and instruction. Father, please forgive us because of Christ and please help us with the Holy Spirit to do better. Please give us more grace too so that we would always place you above everything else, including our families. Father, we find that so hard to do, that’s why we plead for your grace and help. And also, Father we need your help in fighting against the devil, the world, and our own flesh. Please equip us for this warfare, and help us to see more and more victory. We pray for your kingdom to come, for our Lord Jesus to return and bring about the full resolution of all the conflicts and tensions we face in this age.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
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