Dr Baden Teague

Readings:   2 Samuel 19: 1-15 and Psalm 34: 1-10.

Prayer:      May the words of my lips and the thoughts of all our hearts

be acceptable to Thee, our Lord and our Redeemer.

David and Absalom

Tonight’s reading is about the rebellion of Absalom. It is about his

attempted coup against his father, King David. Over the last two months our Bible Readings have been about the life of David. David became the greatest King of Israel. The 2nd book of Samuel contains the main body of the 101 stories about David. It is a very detailed biography. More is written about David in the Hebrew Scriptures than about anyone else.

Let us then remember the stages in David’s life. He first appears as the shepherd boy who Samuel secretly anointed to be the future king; then as the triumphant victor who slayed the Philistine champion, Goliath; then as the shepherd musician who played the lyre and who wrote poetry, popular songs and eventually many Psalms. While still a teenager he was promoted to be a general in Israel’s army and his victories made him very popular. David was so popular that King Saul became jealous of him and tried to kill him. In his 20’s David was on the run, living on the desert fringes of Judah, as Saul’s army tried to capture him and kill him. David nevertheless had a strong discipline not to retaliate against “the Lord’s anointed”, not to kill the current king.

Hundreds of David’s supporters formed his bodyguard and they took over a Philistine village, Ziklag, where David bided his time until King Saul died. Saul’s death led immediately to David being proclaimed the new King of Judah. He ruled from Hebron and over the next few years David went on to defeat at war the army of the other ten tribes of Israel. Thus David became the king of all the people of Israel. David also established Israel’s extended Empire by defeating at war all of Israel’s neighbours. In particular, David defeated the Jebusites thus winning their strategic fort which became Jerusalem and which David made his new capital. By this time the family of the 12 tribes of Israel had begun its transformation from being a simple agricultural community to becoming a civilisation with a monarchy, city-based traders, art and artisans, a public service paid for by taxes, and (most crucially for the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age) possessed of a very strong army. David was about 40 years old when the foundations of this new Empire had been achieved.

But what was happening to David in his personal life? His first wife, Princess Michal, had been kidnapped by her father, King Saul. Frustrated, David acquired six new wives and all of this happened even before his infamous romance with Bathsheba in Jerusalem and before he established his additional house there of ten concubines! David’s six wives from the Ziklag and Hebron periods had one son each: the first was Amnon, the second Chileab, the third Absalom, the fourth Adonijah, the fifth Shephatiah and the sixth Ithream. But it wasn’t a happy household. Far from it! David’s family comprised rivals at loggerheads with each other. They did not know much about love or justice. Certainly they only knew small bursts of Dad’s love or loyalty. David was always away empire-building. He wore the soldier’s suit. He had no time to kick a footy with the kids. Moreover, when Jerusalem was won, David left them all, under resourced, in Hebron while he flirted with Bathsheba and arranged the murder of her husband, Uriah! David had not given love or justice to his family, and now, aged 40, he abandoned them. They learned from the newspaper headlines that their so-called ‘great father’ was an adulterer and a murderer. Yes, hang your head in shame, David!

And what did these failures do to David himself? One positive aspect was that he had strong and honest advisors such as his nephew, Joab, who commanded David’s Army from the Hebron days on and on for about thirty years. And his spiritual advisor was Nathan the prophet. Joab and Nathan were blunt realists. They did not pull any punches. They were honest. They zeroed in on David’s failures very effectively. And at every turn David responded to their honest criticism by rending his clothes, repenting of his own evil, and accepting what he perceived to be God’s righteous judgement and consequent punishment. The particular story about Nathan’s devastating confrontation with David, which culminated in Nathan’s sharp accusation “Thou art the Man”, is one of the best-known of all Bible stories. Please read 2nd Samuel Chapter 11.

But our reading tonight, which is about the aftermath of Absalom’s rebellion, has its focus on Joab’s similar confrontation with David, when David was so absorbed in self pity that he had completely lost all perspective. Before we come to that, I need to introduce Absalom a little more.

Absalom was David’s 3rd son. He was tall, handsome and confident. He had beautiful long hair. His mother, Maacah, had been the princess of Geshur, a small independent kingdom in the Golan Heights, exactly where now the latest phase of the Syrian civil war has been this year wreaking such terror. David and Maacah also had a daughter and her name was Tamar. Tamar was very beautiful. David’s first son, Amnon, lusted after Tamar. Do read 2nd Samuel chapter 13. It is the cook-me-some-cake story. In brief, Amnon raped Tamar. Tamar was devastated and the shock waves hit everyone in the whole family, indeed everyone in Israel. In due course, Tamar’s brother, Absalom, intent on vengeance organised a feast at his shearing shed. He lured Amnon and all of David’s sons to attend. When Amnon was drunk Absalom had him murdered. All the other sons fled home in terror. Thus the 3rd son eliminated the 1st son to avenge Tamar’s honour, but also to smooth his own claim to be David’s heir. The story has many twists and turns. Absalom then fled north for a couple of years of safety in the house of his grandfather, the King of Geshur.

When the scandal had died down, he returned to Hebron. By this time Absalom is 30 years old and at the height of his strength and ambition. In contrast, Absalom’s father, David, is 60 years old, and has been the King for 30 years but now is beginning to be an old man. The Bible here makes a telling point about Absalom. The Bible says he got a chariot and 50 men to guard himself. The modern equivalent would be that Absalom started driving around in a red Ferari and to hang out with a gang of 50 bikies. Absalom also cozied up to the powerful regional leaders in his father’s Kingdom, then he led the coup which shattered King David’s security. David was forced to flee from Jerusalem, across the Jordan River, and north to Mahanaim, which is almost to modern Syria. Here, David organised his own army of defence led by Joab and Joab’s brother, Abishai. A huge battle ensued near Mahanaim. David’s army won. But 20,000 men were killed.

Now, before this battle had begun, King David instructed Joab and all the commanders towards the winning strategy, but he also clearly told them his one reservation: “Deal gently with Absalom, my son, and do not kill him.” However, towards the end of the battle when Absalom’s remaining warriors were all fleeing the field, Joab found Absalom himself hanging by his long hair from the overhead branches of a tree. Absalom’s horse had run away leaving him stranded. Joab then deliberately disobeyed David’s order. On that spot under that tree he killed Absalom, plunging darts into his heart. During the battle itself, David’s commanders had persuaded David not to be in the field force but to command the gate and fort of Mahanaim, their logistical base. David then was at this gate when the news after the battle arrived. Yes, it was a huge battle. Yes, David’s forces had won. But David sprang immediately to the question: And what about Absalom my son? When told Absalom had been killed, David forgot about the victory. In self pity he wailed, “O Absalom, my son, my son.”

In reality, King David was wailing for his own faults and failures. He knew that he had neglected Absalom. He had not taught him love, nor justice. In self criticism he saw himself as responsible for this coup, for the loss of 20,000 men, and for the death of his son, Absalom. In this distress, David lost the plot completely about everything else. That is, until his army commander, Joab, confronted David with a sharp rebuke. “Listen here David. We have all risked our lives for your kingdom. Pull yourself together. Put Absalom out of your tiny mind. Go and address your forces. Thank them and congratulate them on their decisive victory. Be sure of this, David, if you fail to do this, they will all desert you in the morning and our superb victory will disintegrate into dust.” Joab’s advice was effective. David did it all. David thanked the people. And over the next weeks he returned to Jerusalem with all his court and army. With both justice and compassion he re-established his Government and the security of all the people.

From David, this greatly failing man and then this greatly repenting man, we have much to learn about our own inadequacies. David wrote in Psalm 51:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin….

Create in me a clean heart, O God

And put a new and right spirit within me.

And in tonight’s Psalm, Psalm 34, David wrote:

I will bless the Lord at all times…

I sought the Lord and he answered me

And delivered me from all my fears.

David’s core belief is best expressed in his most loved Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He restores my soul and he leads me in paths of righteousness.

For thou art with me..(and)

With goodness and mercy I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.