Sermon for August 8th

First Reading       2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Second Reading Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Gospel Reading John 6:35, 41-51

Sermon: “Absalom, Oh Absalom!”

Caution: this subject material for this sermon is rated R. R for real and relevant but also rough (and though it doesn’t start with an R) sordid. The story of Absalom and his father David is not for the faint of heart. It is mired in all the human emotions of love, hate, unbridled ambition, vanity. It speaks of family disfunction on a grand scale, it tells of revenge, deceit and betrayal. It speaks to us vividly about the consequences of sin, how our own sin makes it difficult – almost impossible to guide others… and yet there is an element of unconditional love that makes me shake my head in wonder and think of how God must think of us. Before we can get to the good news however, we have a lot of bad news to get through first.

Absalom was the 3rd son of David by Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur. He was born during David’s time in Hebron, before he ever became King of Israel. We don’t know much about his mom other than she was the daughter of an important ally of David during the time of his struggles with Saul’s last remaining son Ish-Boseth and that she also had a beautiful daughter named Tamar. You may recall that the prophet Nathan had warned David of consequences from his adultery with Bathseba and the murder of her Husband Uriah. True God forgave David, he did not die, nor did God remove his Spirit from him as he did with Saul. Still there were to be consequences – normal human consequences – the sort of things that happen when the leader of a country and of his family is thoroughly compromised and unable to issue discipline and make moral judgements.

Nathan laid it all out and we will see it acted out: (2 Samuel 12:10-12 NIV) [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. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. [12] You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ” How did such a thing happen you ask? Well, it all started with David’s oldest son Amnon – half brother to Absalom by Ahinoam. Amnon fell in love with his half sister Tamar. Such a relationship was absolutely forbidden by the laws of Moses of course, but that made no difference to Amnon. He made himself sick with desire. One of his advisors hatched a plan to allow Amnon to have her anyway. He pretended to be physically ill and when his Father David came to see about him he made this request “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.”

Now perhaps David should have known better, but he did as Amnon asked and sent Tamar to him to make him the special bread that he said he wanted. Well, when she came, he seized her and forcibly raped her. Once the deed was done, he found that instead of what he had felt as love, he now hated her and sent her away. Tamar was of course devastated and found shelter in the house of her brother Absalom. Absalom was of course furious over the abuse of his sister, but carefully said nothing to his brother Amnon, perhaps waiting to see what David would do. David also found out and was also furious and did….nothing, nothing at all. Why not? Very likely because he himself had done something similar with Bathsheba. He was morally compromised and chose not to act. It was to be a pattern with David that would cause great harm.

Absolom waited two years and then took justice into his own hands. It was Sheep shearing time – typically a festive time of year. Absalom threw a big party and invited his father and all the royal court to come. David declined, saying it would be too large a crowd, so Absalom craftily asks for Amnon (the eldest and presumably the crown prince) to be David’s representative. David was skeptical knowing their history but gave in to Absalom’s pleading. So it was that Amnon and all the rest of David’s sons came to Absalom’s party. Unaware that it was simply a ploy by Absalom to get Amnon roaring drunk and then to assassinate him. Absalom flees to his grandfather at Geshur and David does… you guessed it… nothing.

It was that way for three years – interestingly although David grieved for Amnon, he quietly longed to reconcile with Absalom anyway. His commander Joab, in an apparent attempt to resolve the conflict before it came to war, sends a woman to David to tell him a sympathetic tale to get him to reconcile with Absalom. David eventually sees through the ploy and knows that Joab is behind it – yet he agrees to let Absalom return to Jerusalem, though he was still banned from the palace. It might have worked out from there as Joab hoped, but Absalom was a vain, ambitious and downright vicious man. The account in 2nd Samuel foreshadows the end of the story when it describes Absalom this way: (2 Samuel 14:25-26 NIV)

[25] In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. [26] Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels (about 5 pounds) by the royal standard.

Well, it went this way – after 2 years of waiting, Absalom sends for Joab to get him back to the palace, but Joab refuses to come. So Absalom being the kind of man his was, had Joab’s field set on fire just before harvest. Of course, Joab shows up to protest and Absalom convinces him to take him to the King. David accepts him back and kisses Absalom. We could wish the story ended there, but of course it doesn’t. Absalom wants the throne for himself. Scripture tells it this way: (2 Samuel 15:1-6 NIV) [1] In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. [2] He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came 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.” [3] Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” [4] 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.” [5] Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. [6] 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.

After 4 years of this treachery, Absalom was ready to make his move. He told David he was going to Hebron (the place where David had first become king) to pay a vow to God in gratitude for coming back to Jerusalem. What he was really doing was going there to declare himself king and start a civil war. Many people accepted Absalom’s claim including one of David’s councilors – Ahithophel (who just happened to be Bathsheba’s grandfather by the way).

When David heard Absalom was coming for him, he does an interesting thing. He leaves Jerusalem with his army, Leaving only 10 concubines behind to take care of the palace. David did not want to bring war to his capital. He tells the priests to stay behind with the Ark, and his oldest senior advisor as well – Hushai. 2 Samuel 15 presents to sad story of David’s retreat from Jerusalem up over the mount of Olives back to the wilderness where he had hid from Saul all those years before.

Absalom soon sweeps into Jerusalem and does exactly what Nathan had foretold – he takes David’s concubines in full view of the public thus declaring himself king. Some of his advisors, Notably Ahithophel, wanted to pursue David immediately and cut off his retreat for a quick and decisive victory and it might have worked, but David’s advisor Hushai pretends to be loyal to Absalom and advises him to wait and gather more forces first. Absalom agreed and so it was that David was able to prepare, be resupplied by his allies and they were ready when Absalom came out to meet him. As you heard in the reading this morning, even after all Absalom had done, his father still loved him and sought to have him spared. Of course Joab saw to it that he was killed, when his famous head of hair became his undoing. David is so grieved by the news that he refuses to acknowledge the victory until Joab tells he that he must come out and visit the victorious troops or risk further mutiny. David comes back to Jerusalem and is

You may be a bit depressed by now and wondering why I have dragged you through this sordid tale. It is for two reasons: The first is simply to illustrate how sins multiply and cause consequences far after the original event. Particularly if they are ignored, remain unconfessed and unaddressed, they fester and breed consequences and rob us of our will to live in God will. God’s moral laws are given for our own good and must be followed if we are to thrive as God intends.

The second reason is quite different. As much a sinner as David was, God stood by him and never gave up on him. God allowed David to reap the consequences of his sin, so that he might learn and not repeat them – and he did not. David loved his sons very much, however he was not able to effectively discipline them, choosing to avoid conflict and embarrassment instead. His love and hope for Absalom in spite of his repeated treachery is at once both sad and thought provoking. It makes me wonder at about the cost of the unfailing love of God for us. We human creatures of God’s creation haven’t turned out so well have we? We lie, and we plot, we war and we rebel against the will of God all the time, just as Absalom did to David. Yet “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will have eternal Life” (John 3:16)

We have a gracious and loving Father in heaven. Eternally better than poor David, but even more steadfast in love and forgiveness. Yes, God disciplines his children – we need it. Yes God allows us to feel the consequences of our sin – it how we learn to be better. But God through the grace of Jesus Christ has made it possible for we sinners to approach the throne of grace in confidence and eternal hope and that is good news indeed!

Thanks be to God who loves us so.