Read 2 Samuel 13 here
Read 2 Samuel 14 here
Read 2 Samuel 15: 1-12 here
David and Absalom Pt. I
- Amnon Rapes Tamar (13:1–22).
- Absalom Murders Amnon, Then Flees to Geshur (13:23–39).
- David Is Reconciled with Absalom (14:1–33).
- Absalom Leads a Treasonous Revolt against David (15:1–12).
Amon Rapes Tamar (13:1-22)
- Amnon, son of David, falls in ‘love’ with his sister, Tamar.
- Amnon contrives to seduce Tamar.
- Tamar refuses; so Amnon rapes her.
- Absalom, Tamar’s brother/David’s son/Amnon’s half-brother, finds out and is furious.
- King David finds out and is furious (but doesn’t seem to do anything to punish Amnon).
Absalom Murders Amnon, Then Flees to Geshur (13:23–39)
- Two years later, Absalom invites David to a feast. David refuses, so Absalom asks that Amnon be sent in David’s stead.
- Absalom orders his men to kill Amnon.
- David is told that all of his sons have been killed by Absalom. This is immediately corrected by Jonadab, son of Shimeah, David’s brother.
- Absalom flees.
- David’s others sons return home, confirming Jonadab’s report. David and his sons mourn (Amnon?)
- Amnon flees (has fled) to Talmai, son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur. He stayed there three years.
- David “longed to go to Absalom,” as he had gotten over (“was consoled concerning”) Amnon’s death.
David Is Reconciled with Absalom (14:1–33)
- Joab contrives to reconcile Absalom to David.
- He sends a wise woman from Tekoa to David and tells her what to say.
- She tells a story of her two (presumably fictional) sons who got into a fight; one killed the other. The remaining son is supposed to be put to death, but asks (essentially) that he be forgiven.
- David agrees; but the woman (essentially) asks three times for the same thing – for assurance.
- The woman then replies (essentially), why then haven’t you forgiven your son?
- David surmises that this is from Joab. He agrees to forgive Absalom.
- Absalom is brought back to Jerusalem; but he is not allowed to see David.
- Absalom is described as exceedingly handsome/favourable.
- Absalom lived in Jerusalem two years. He asks Joab to see David. The first time, Joab refuses. The second time/request, Joab does not come to see Absalom.
- He burns Joab’s field to get his attention, and asks again to see David.
- David agrees and meets with Absalom.
Absalom Leads a Treasonous Revolt against David (15:1–12)
- Absalom’s influence and reputation in Israel grow.
- He asks David for permission to go to Hebron; David agrees.
- Absalom conspires to be declared king of Hebron. [This is also where David was anointed king – 2 Sam. 2]
Today, we are going to begin wrapping up the book of Samuel. Unfortunately, this means that we are going to go through the rest of the book very quickly (probably too quickly). Therefore, we are going to focus on the broad strokes of the story, which means that we will have to skip much of the (important) details. While I hope this is useful for helping us understand the sweep of David’s story, I acknowledge that we are going to skip over some things that are important and some things that are (for some of you) very interesting.
Now by way of extremely brief review, and because it’s been awhile since we discussed the book of Samuel (in part, because of Advent and Christmas), we left off in the story with David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah, and his subsequent judgement. Looking back to the beginning, the book of Samuel begins, appropriately, with the birth of Samuel to Hannah. And we see Samuel, who continues some of the motifs we read in the book of Judges, deliver Israel from the Philistines, and importantly recovering the ark of the covenant. The Israelites then demand a king, like all the other nations of the world. And Saul, being a head taller than everyone else, is chosen as that king. But Saul proves himself to be a poor king, not concerned with God’s kingdom but his own, and is rejected by God. We are then introduced to David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, who is anointed king in Saul’s place. David’s rise in popularity among the Israelites leads to jealousy by Saul, and ultimately his determination to kill David. David, on the run, has a couple of opportunities to kill Saul, but refuses as king Saul is God’s anointed. But in a final battle against his enemies, Saul is defeated and takes his own life.
With Saul dead, David is then placed on the throne over all Israel. David succeeds in defeating Israel’s enemies, and uniting the tribes. It’s at this point, we read the story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah.
And if we remember from that story, David’s judgement is set against the covenant promises he had recently received from God. And what I mean by that is, simply and without digressing too much, David as king receives a covenant promise from God that he will be blessed and that David’s ancestors will always rule on the throne of Israel. It is shortly after this (at least as far as the text is concerned) that David sins against Bathsheba and Uriah. And the judgement relayed by Nathan is that “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you.”
And that brings us up to where we are today. Again, we are looking at some significant sections of the text, so we won’t be able to examine it in detail. But I want to try to give you a general understanding of what’s going on in the story.
In short, what we’re looking at is David’s decline (so to speak) – the decline of David’s kingdom. And this decline is intertwined with his relationship with his son Absalom. We are going to discuss this in two parts – chapter 13 to 15:12, which we will look at today; and chapter 15:13 to 19, which we’ll look at next week.
This part of the narrative begins with a very disturbing story. In brief, one of David’s sons, Amnon, takes a liking to his sister, Tamar. He contrives to have her brought to him and, in short, rapes her. Now the text doesn’t offer comment, but it seems to me that this has shades of similarity with David’s own sin against Bathsheba. The text does tell us that when Absalom, Tamar and Amnon’s half-brother, hears of this, he is furious. The text also tells us that when David hears about Amnon’s sin, he is likewise furious – but oddly, David doesn’t do anything.
Two years pass, and Absalom makes his plans for revenge. Again, the text doesn’t dig into Absalom’s intentions and motivations. But some commentators suspect that he may also have wanted to take revenge against David, presumably for David’s inaction at Amnon’s crime – obviously, this doesn’t happen. But Absalom does succeed in having his brother Amnon murdered. Absalom then flees – presumably from David’s wrath.
So Absalom is, essentially, in exile – in hiding from the repercussions of his fratricide (the murder of his brother). We then read that Joab, David’s commander, makes plans to restore Absalom to his father, David. Again, the text doesn’t tell us why Joab does this, why this is so important to Joab. But what we get is an episode that is somewhat reminiscent of Nathan’s encounter with David after David’s sin. Joab sends a woman to David who tells a story (almost parable-like?) in which David realizes that it is wrong to not forgive and restore Absalom. David guesses that Joab is behind this, but agrees to invite Absalom back home. But David’s forgiveness is not absolute. He decrees that Absalom is allowed back to his home, to his land, but that he is not allowed in David’s presence. David, Absalom’s father, does not want to see Absalom’s face.
In fact, it is another two years, after more contriving by Absalom, that Absalom is allowed to see his father, David.
This leads us to the last part of our story today, the first part of chapter 15. Earlier in the text, it is said that Absalom was an extremely handsome man. We now read that he wasn’t just handsome, but charismatic – Absalom begins to gather the support of the people of Israel. We read that “at the end of four years,” he goes to Hebron and has himself crowned king in Hebron. If we remember, this is the same place that David was first crowned king – before he became king over all of Israel. Absalom’s rebellion against his father is fully formed.
So that’s the story (this part of the story) in brief. Again, there is an awful lot that we’ve glossed over or skipped outright. For example, we could have paid a lot more attention to what’s going on with Joab, and we probably wanted to touch on the person of Jonadab. And we certainly want to spend considerably more time thinking about the passage regarding Absalom’s restoration: the woman sent by Joab, the parable of the two sons, the relationship with the David and Nathan story, and etc. So my apologies for skipping over so much.
But I do want to talk a little bit – to reflect a little bit – on the main characters of Absalom and David. And I say, ‘reflect,’ because the text is often not very explicit. It doesn’t give us much in the way of commentary or explanation – it just tells us what happens, but it rarely tells us why or so what. So really, these are probably better described as questions that arise from the text.
Firstly, just a couple of thoughts about Absalom. Specifically, I wonder what Absalom’s motivations are. It is obvious that all of this is precipitated by Amnon’s rape of Tamar – Absalom is furious. There is no other way that someone could respond at the rape of his sister.
But Absalom’s anger must have been compounded by the inaction of David. When David finds out about Tamar, we read that he too was furious, but we read of no actual consequences to Amnon – no action by David to seek justice for Tamar.
As we continue to read the story, following Absalom’s murder of his brother Amnon, we get the impression that there is shock and anger over the fratricide – this explains Absalom’s exile (or the fact that Absalom’s exile receives no reaction), but no corresponding outrage over Tamar’s rape. In other words, Absalom’s murder of Amnon seems to be a much bigger deal than the reason for the revenge – that is, Tamar’s rape.
Specifically, Absalom’s exclusion from David’s presence seems to confirm that David is still grieving (or at least upset) about Amnon’s murder. And again, there is no corresponding grief over Tamar’s rape – at least none that we’re told. David seems to react as if what Absalom did was worse than what Amnon did. Tamar’s rape does not in any way mitigate Absalom’s punishment.
Now again, the text doesn’t give us any explicit answers to these questions. But keeping these in mind, it may explain why Absalom, at some point, felt like David did not deserve to be king (and here, we’re making an assumption that Absalom’s revolt wasn’t purely a matter of personal ambition – which it could have been).
Now this brings us to the person of David. And the first thing to note is that this entire section should be seen as the working out of the judgement delivered by Nathan following David’s sin. To put it another way, for most of the book of Samuel, we have been reading about David’s faithfulness and David’s rise. Now, after David’s sin, his unfaithfulness, we begin to see his decline (or more specifically, the decline of David’s kingdom).
Remember that Nathan’s judgement (which is from God) included the words:
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you…2 Samuel 12: 7-11
And it’s worth noting that this episode is not the end of David’s judgement, but only the beginning. The beginning of the breaking of David’s household is the beginning of the breaking of Israel.
So some of the questions we might ask of David include:
Why didn’t he punish Amnon? As the king, David is responsible for justice. Amnon’s rape of his sister was obviously a huge crime and sin. Why didn’t David do anything?
Why doesn’t David seem to understand Absalom’s rage? I’m not saying that Absalom should have gotten off scot-free for murdering his brother. But in David’s responses, there doesn’t seem to be any recognition or remembrance of Tamar.
Now this is a bit of a tangent, but some commentators compare David’s receiving back of Absalom (or refusal to receive back Absalom) to the parable of the prodigal son, told by Jesus. And in short, David’s lack of grace in allowing Absalom to come home does not fare well in comparison with the Father’s abundant grace in running to and embracing his lost son.
And lastly, it seems to me (and once again, this is just me) that David seems remarkably passive throughout this entire episode. This may be a bit of a reach, but throughout the Samuel story, we have read about how David continually walks according to faith. We see this in his defeat of Goliath (indeed, in all of David’s military victories), we see this in his refusal to kill a defenseless Saul. But here, things seem to happen to David, as a passive by-stander. Broadly speaking, it seems as if David is not walking in the Lord. And I’m not saying that he’s actively disobeying or rebelling. It’s not as if he’s turned his back on God. I’m simply saying that it feels like (again, to me) he’s not walking in the kind of faith that has characterized his story so far.
Now that’s an awful lot of narrative and an awful lot of (my) assumptions that I’ve thrown at you in a very short period of time. And I want to remind you that we’re actually only halfway through this narrative arc. So it may be premature to draw many conclusions. But what I want to do in closing today’s message is think a little about what’s going on here in the context of the greater story of God.
It may sound like I’ve been a little hard on David and far too easy on Absalom. David is the “main character,” after all – a man after God’s own heart. Isn’t he the one we’re supposed to root for? And Absalom may have suffered injustice, but isn’t he taking things too far by trying to take the kingdom from his father?
Well far be it from me to overly sympathize with Absalom – he’s certainly not characterized as sympathetic in this entire episode. But I want to remind you that what we’re reading here, at this point of the text, can likely be characterized as the decline of David’s kingdom – and that, specifically, as a consequence of his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah. And this doesn’t mean that David has been cast off by God, the promises utterly revoked. But it does mean that there are consequences.
David’s sin leads to the fracturing of his own family, and ultimately to the fracturing of the entire nation of Israel. As we’ve observed numerous times, in the minds of many future Israelites, David’s kingdom is considered the pinnacle of their nation’s history, and the apex to which they long to return. And there are good reasons for this. But the story of David’s reign may just as much be considered one of selfishness, treachery, and failure. Though David is considered a hero of Israel, he is just as much a sinner as the rest of us. The restoration and redemption that God promises does not come through David.
Now this is, of course, not surprising – at least for those of us who sit on the other side of the biblical revelation. God’s promises are not fully fulfilled in David. And David’s decline is a reminder, at least, that all human beings (and thus all human kingdoms) are subject to the taint of sin. Again, this is not surprising. But what may be surprising is the extent to which David’s sin impacts others.
We have seen that the judgement for David’s sin included the pronouncement that the consequences would be worked out in his family. To put it another way, David’s sin extends to his descendants.
And we may accept this intellectually. We are familiar with the verse that says that God punishes the children for the sins of the father to the third and fourth generation (though we may not understand that reference (Exodus 20:5) fully).
But we also understand that sin and salvation are personal. One cannot be saved by the faith of one’s parents. And one cannot repent for another person’s sins – here, I’m thinking about the practice of indulgences – one can only repent for one’s own.
Moreover, we live in an extremely individualistic society. We tend to think in terms of my actions, my rewards, and my consequences. Sin and salvation, we are told, are intensely individualistic or private matters.
But what we see here, and in fact what we see in other places in scripture, is that one person’s sin, and the consequences of one’s sins, are not necessarily restricted to one’s own life. Rather, it seeps out into our families, our communities, and our societies.
In an individualistic society, we tend to think that one’s own sins are nobody’s business but my own. And there is a sense in which this is true, certainly, as we’ve mentioned. But what we see in David’s story is that his sin continues to be worked out, beyond Bathsheba and Uriah, through his children, through his armies, and through his nation. David’s sin is not insulated, it’s not isolated, within his own life. Rather, his sinfulness affect everyone around him.
I want to be careful not to over-state this. This is of course related to the biblical theme that we frequently mention regarding the importance of community. That human beings are fundamentally communal creatures. But I’m not suggesting that my sinful acts make you guilty. I’m not saying that you deserve to be punished for the things that I have done wrong. What I’m saying is more like my sinfulness affects everything that I encounter. My brokenness, my fallenness, is not a purely interior matter. Rather, my brokenness and fallenness makes their way out into the world because I am in the world.
Therefore, I cannot keep my sinfulness from you, from my community, no matter how hard I try. No matter how much I project an air of holiness and goodness, the reality of my sinful nature will reach you. We are a community of sinners because each of us is a sinner.
Now, as a quick aside, this in no way should make anyone think that it is anyone’s job to root out the sinfulness of others. This in no way should make anyone think that we can “fix” the community by “finding the sinner among us.” This is not an excuse to look around us. Rather, it’s a reminder that each of us needs to look inside ourselves.
Now all of this may sound overly-pessimistic. But, on the one hand, it is a reminder that we have to take sin seriously – and not only for our own sake. And also, on the other hand, the collective nature of sin may point to the collective nature of salvation – again, not that we can appropriate the salvation of others; rather that salvation is intrinsically communal. Specifically, what I have in mind is stated in Romans 5:18-19:
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.Romans 5: 18-19
In other words, just as one person’s sin is not merely isolated and insulated, instead working its way through all of creation, the systemic problem of sin is solved through the life and death of one man, Jesus Christ.
There is a lot more to say, both from a biblical theology and systematic theology perspective about this. However, I will leave that to you to think and pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to each of us. So, at this point, I want to wrap up – remembering again that we are only at the mid-point of the narrative of David’s decline.
We are reminded that even David, the paradigmatic hero in the minds of many Israelites, failed to bring about the kingdom of God. Or to put it another way, the true kingdom of God, the true redemption, the true fulfillment of God’s promise was not realized in David – and it wasn’t meant to. Because, after all, David was just another human like the rest of us. And as a sinner like the rest of us, David’s sin echoes the brokenness of all people/creation. So David’s kingdom wasn’t the hope for which the people, the hope for which we, were waiting.
Rather, David’s kingdom merely pointed. It pointed to something greater, something truer, something that was yet to be revealed. So David’s story, and David’s decline, can be a painful reminder of the sinfulness to which we are all subject. It can be a reminder of the dreadful state in which we find ourselves if we are left to ourselves. But it is also a reminder of our great hope. It is a reminder of hope precisely because God doesn’t leave us to ourselves. He doesn’t leave us to the consequences of our sinfulness. Rather, it is God himself that makes salvation possible. It is God Himself who is creating and establishing the kingdom to which we belong. It is not a creation of the imagination and ingenuity of human beings. It is a gift of grace, made possible, made inevitable for all who trust Him, through the true king, the only king, Jesus Christ.