Friday, August 5, 2022
The Second Book Of Samuel. Day 51, Reunited But Not Reconciled
Absalom has been back in Jerusalem for two years but David has refused to see him. Twice Absalom has sent for his cousin Joab, who has access to David's court, to ask him to help him see the king or get a message to the king but Joab wouldn't come to his house. In desperation Absalom did something in yesterday's passage that was guaranteed to get Joab's attention: he ordered his servants to set fire to Joab's barley field.
"Then Joab did go to Absalom's house, and he said to him, 'Why have your servants set my field on fire?' Absalom said to Joab, 'Look, I sent word to you and said, 'Come here so I can send you to the king to ask, 'Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!' Now then, I want to see the king's face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.'" (2 Samuel 14:31-32)
Absalom assumed he had been pardoned for killing his brother Amnon when David agreed to let him return to Jerusalem. He also assumed this meant he would be restored to his position in David's court and would be regarded as the heir-apparent to the throne, since his eldest brother Amnon is dead and David's second born son, Kileab the son of Abigail, is either dead or had a serious disability that prevented him from being considered for the crown. (Kileab is never mentioned again after his birth in 2 Samuel 3). But instead Absalom's life has pretty much come to a standstill. He was better off living with his grandfather, the king of Geshur, where he was treated like a royal prince and greeted with honor and respect everywhere he went. His status in Jerusalem is ambiguous. Will he ever be reunited with his father or not? Is he still next in line for the throne or not? If he is no longer considered a viable political candidate, will he ever have any role at all in David's government? Can he even serve in the army of Israel? Absalom wants these matters settled and he wants them settled now. He cannot take any more of this doubt and confusion.
We talked yesterday about how if David was going to pardon Absalom's crime he should not have thereafter shunned him. This is not how the Lord treats us when He pardons us from sin. However, the Lord pardons for sin upon our repentance for that sin and we have no clear evidence that Absalom is sorry for his sin. Still, if David is willing to set aside the law for his son, he should be willing to deal with his son to make it clear what his future holds in Jerusalem. Instead of pretending he isn't even there, David should explain what is expected of Absalom and tell him whether or not he will ever be accepted back into the family fold and back into a political role. David has not truly pardoned him if he is using silence and estrangement to further punish him. It could be, however, that David isn't shunning his son as a method of punishment but that he is simply trying to ignore the problem. This isn't the first time he's ignored serious problems with his children, for he did nothing when Amnon sexually assaulted Tamar. But whether or not Absalom is sorry for killing Amnon, David agreed to let him come home and not put him to death for premeditated murder, and David owes it to him to explain the conditions of his pardon, if there are any.
Absalom says to Joab, "If I am guilty of anything, let the king put me to death." Does this mean he thinks he was justified for killing Amnon? That's a strong possibility. It's also possible that he's saying, "Did the king pardon me or not? If the king has not pardoned me, let him get on with sentencing me and executing me. I can't stand another day of this stressful silence. I can't go on not knowing what to expect for my future here. Sometimes I think I'd be better off dead than living like this!"
Joab takes his message to David. "So Joab went to the king and told him this. Then the king summoned Absalom, and he came in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king. And the king kissed Absalom." (2 Samuel 14:33) Everything will be okay now, won't it? Sadly, no. Too much time has passed. Too much damage has been done. David and Absalom are reunited but Absalom does not feel reconciled to his father. The distance between them cannot be bridged, for his heart is bitter. He has stewed in anger and resentment for so long that he either doesn't want to let go of it or doesn't know how to let go of it.
Absalom's position in David's court is restored. His access to the family wealth is apparently restored too, as we'll see momentarily. His position as crown prince seems to be confirmed. But he does not want to wait until his father's death to assume the throne. He wants to steal the affections of the people away from his father and gain their support for dethroning David and putting him in his place. "In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and fifty men to run ahead of him." (2 Samuel 15:1) He's living the high life again and considers himself so important that he hires fifty men to run ahead of him wherever he goes so that people will stop what they're doing to come and stand by the roadside to watch him pass by. He wants people to take notice of him wherever he goes. He wants to make an impressive appearance so that everyone considers him the obvious successor to David. Having created that expectation in everyone's minds, he then goes a step further. He causes many of them to begin considering him not as David's successor when David dies but as David's replacement while David still lives. Absalom begins running for election. He begins actively campaigning against his father.
"He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came by with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, 'What town are you from?' He would answer, 'Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.' Then Absalom would say to him, 'Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.' And Absalom would add, 'If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.' Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel." (2 Samuel 15:2-6) Absalom is working hard to convince the people he would be a better king than David, and in yesterday's text we read that the people really liked and admired Absalom and that he was the handsomest man in Israel. It's funny how good looks can really open doors for a person, isn't it? It's a common human error to assume that someone who is beautiful on the outside is beautiful on the inside as well. But that's not always the case. It wasn't the case with King Saul who was the tallest and best looking man his fellow citizens had ever laid eyes on. And it isn't the case with Absalom.
You'll recall that the prophet Nathan warned David that because he interfered with another man's happy home, the sword would never depart from his own household for the rest of his life. Nathan's words began coming true when Amnon sexually assaulted his half-sister Tamar and when Absalom killed Amnon for raping Tamar. They will continue coming true as we continue on with our chapter this weekend and find Absalom attempting to have his father dethroned so he can take his place.