Sermon on 2 Samuel 18:4-16, 31-33 - Absalom fights against David
I was told once, by an old seminary preaching professor who was leading a seminar, that the job of the preacher, as you approach the text, is to look at the text and find the Jesus. Where is Jesus in the text? Then, what is getting in the way of that Jesus? Me, as your preacher, your pastor…I have the job of offering up to you Christ. This place here being an extension or precursor of that place there. Me making the most of the Lord for you that you are amazed by what kind of Savior you have.
Now with this text from 2 Samuel, Absalom in rebellion against his own father, I have a hard job. How to find Jesus here? Because my first reaction is to come to this text and be thankful. Thankful that what the Bible is filled with is not the superheroes of the faith. As I keep telling you. These heroes that are supposed to cause me to be a better guy or something. No. It causes me to realize I am not alone.
At VBS on Tuesday night, our text was Jesus getting left behind in the Temple when he was 12 years old. It is one of my favorite stories because it showcases the reality of the world. That even the Mother of God can leave the Savior of mankind behind in a gas station bathroom. It helps me to realize that the mistakes I make as a parent are just as real as they were for Mary.
Let’s take this parental failure and hand it to David for a second. Absalom was the third son of David with his third wife, Maacah. David had at least 7 wives and concubines if not more (So to David, we say “Good Luck.”). Each one with children. Absalom also had a sister named Tamar. The first-born son, according to 1 Chronicles 3 was Amnon, son of Ahinoam. So the half-brother of Absalom. Amnon eventually assaults Tamar, because he wants her, and David does nothing. Absalom takes vengeance for his sister and kills Amnon. Absalom gets banished. Eventually welcomed back, and then he takes even more vengeance. Angry with David for how he has been treated, and how he sees his father the king not performing justice, Absalom conspires and undermines his father’s rule. Absalom eventually crowns himself king in Hebron, where David was crowned king of Judah. David fears for his life and flees from Jerusalem. Eventually this battle happens in our reading, and Absalom is killed. You want to see disfunction in a family, here you go. At least my kids haven't tried to kill me yet.
In psychological circles we have different personality tests. We have the Myers-Briggs test, right? I’m an ISTJ if you are wondering. Introverted, sensing, thinking, judgement. You can Google it. I’ve been told that makes for a bad pastor, so...I’m sorry
There is also the Enneagram, which I love a lot more than the Myers-Briggs. Myers-Briggs looks at who you are, the Enneagram looks at whom you’ve become. It takes into consideration your family, your life, your history to figure out exactly how your personality adapts to various situations and how you relate to others based on your past. A nature vs. nurture difference.
If we take this Enneagram and apply it to David’s family, Absalom and Amnon had seen their father take Bathsheba. So Amnon takes Tamar, and Absalom lives out what he sees. He grows up in a culture of warlords and conflict. Seeing that justice is the best when it is done by us in the ways we want it meted out, he does exactly that, in much the same as we see done in our lives, the way of the world around us. What we have experienced becoming our experience, for lack of a better phrase. The world we create. How we react in the life we now live.
The amazing thing, though, is the extent to which David does the opposite. As a parent, basically I want peace and quiet. If my child were to live like Absalom, Lord knows the discipline and punishment that would come. But what do we see of David here? He desires mercy for an enemy. To his son. Some say it is because Absalom is David’s son. But Absalom is also a rebel. A leader of a revolution. A usurper. He assaults his father’s concubines in broad daylight. He seeks to kill his own dad. Yet what is David’s response? He tells his commanders not to harm Absalom. To have mercy. You want the Jesus here? How about that? Where we would seek justice, David asks for mercy. Eventually David sheds tears and mourns as though his only child died. He didn’t do that with Amnon or Tamar. He didn’t do that with the loss of his infant son. Mercy and grief is his response. Christ being seen there as one who extends mercy to us. Who grieves for us. Who forgives us even from the cross where he has taken on our sin and knows our hearts. Nails driven in and he says father forgive them.
The allegory of this account of David’s life fits well with how I like to talk about sin. Sin as rebellion vs sin as behavior. Sin as not so much the lying, or theft, or murder or adultery, which those are sins, but rebellion. We don’t like God so we rebel. We don’t like how God has forgiven our enemies, or maybe told us “No,” and so we rebel. Sin becoming the seeking after another God, because we think this God, especially Jesus, is not worth it. Nevermind the notion of mercy. Mercy? Who likes mercy?
I remember watching comedian and political commentator Bill Maher after the election in 2016, and I heard a political operative say, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to win?” I thought, what a perfect example of sin in our lives? How often would we rather win at all costs, than find our righteousness not in us?
You have an example in Absalom going against David. Us, seeing the way God is working in his Kingdom, and we don’t like it. All this forgiveness everywhere. No justice or vengeance for us, so we make ourselves the savior or the judge.
Or, think of Joab versus Absalom as us versus them. Sent as soldiers into a war that needs to be won at all costs. Fighting other sinners, and I need to see them lose before me. Killing the sinner rather than fulfilling the requirements of the king. David says to be merciful, but Joab can’t stand the notion of mercy and so he kills Absalom while he is defenseless. Hanging in the tree. Already having won the battle, Joab finishes him off against the rules.
I know some of you love Micah 6:8. What is required, O man, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. I usually hear people quote this in response to social needs. Loving the justice part of Micah 6:8, but never really thinking much of the mercy part, let alone the humble part. Joab was a soldier doing his job, and yet in Christ the war is to kill sin rather than the sinner. Here in David we have tears abound because he wanted the sinner saved and the sin brought to an end.
With all that Absalom does to David, we hear – My son, my son, if only I were killed instead of you. Merciful tears of David wept like the tears of God for us. Christ’s tears in the garden, or his tears upon approaching Jerusalem – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones the messengers sent to you. How I have longed to gather you under my wings as a hen gathers her brood and you were not willing. Or God, in Ezekiel 33, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live.
Mike Spry noticed at Men’s group on Wednesday the fact that Paul says in our Ephesians reading, do not grieve the Holy Spirit. Giving the Spirit the personhood she deserves. When we, who have been sealed by the Spirit, live as though we have not, how much does it grieve God. Like a parent who finds their child caught in that which they are not supposed to do. Grief and pain. But this grief from God’s standpoint is the One begging our hearts to be reborn and seeing our sins as the catalyst for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Sometimes we are Absalom. Sometimes we are Joab. Sometimes we are David. But the truth is that we are never Christ. Christ becoming the one who pours himself out for us, knowing we cannot be him. Nothing even remotely like him. Which is why we need him. Always being bathed in his Word, fed by his blood poured out for your sin, washed in the waters of his baptism over us, covered by his Spirit to live as his children. Rebellions never last forever. In Christ, the joy of the whole story is that they come to an end. He wins. Sin loses. Death dies. You receive mercy. Thanks be to God. Amen