This is the next sermon in my series on Old Testament stories and characters.
“Sunday School Stories: David and Absalom” 2 Samuel 13-18 July 14/15, 2012
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today I am continuing my sermon series on Sunday School Stories- those Old Testament stories that you might remember from your Sunday School days or children’s books but you don’t really think about them anymore. In fact, as I was recording people for the video this week, many of them commented on how long it’s been since they have thought about these stories. Some of you even commented that you were inspired to look up and read some of these stories in the Bible. I tell you, that just warms a pastor’s heart right there.
This week’s story is from 2 Samuel chapters 13-18. It is the story of King David and his son, Absalom. Before we dive into the story, I want to remind all of you about the principle of interpretation that Jesus gives us in Luke 24. Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection and says that everything written in the Old Testament is really about him. “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” So when you read and hear these Bible stories, always have this question in the back of your mind: “How does this point to Jesus?” When you ask this question, you will be able to draw greater meaning and significance from these stories for your own life today because everything Jesus did, he did for you.
2 Samuel 13-18 contains a story that really isn’t suitable for children! You’d have to edit a lot of it out. This story reveals the wickedness and depravity of mankind- even those chosen by God to be his special people. These are people set apart by God to be a light to the nations and an example to rest of the world. Yet this story contains the people of God committing acts of incest, rape, injustice, murder, scheming, rebellion, overthrow, war, and more murder.
The story of David and Absalom follows directly on the heels of the story of David and Bathsheba. You probably remember a little bit about this story as well. David lusts after another man’s wife, schemes to kill her husband, and takes Bathsheba as his own. The prophet Nathan confronts David in his sin. David confesses and receives forgiveness. God still punishes David by taking the life of the child conceived by Bathsheba. You could make the argument that the trouble that David will soon have with Absalom is further punishment for his sin. However, you could also just say that this story is evidence of the fallen, sinful world that we live in.
King David had 19 sons, but he also had more than one wife. So these sons had different mothers. The son who was in line to be king as the firstborn was Amnon. David also had one daughter named Tamar who is described as very beautiful. David’s son Absalom and daughter Tamar had the same mother. Amnon had a different mother. Amnon lusted after his half-sister Tamar. He was consumed by his passion for her. So he faked being sick to that he could be cared for by Tamar. When he was alone with her, he invited her into his bed. When she resisted, he forced himself onto her and violated her. Then he sent her away to make it seem like she was the one who is in the wrong. Tamar’s reputation was ruined. She tore the long robe that she wore which indicated that she was a virgin daughter of the king and had to go live in her brother Absalom’s house in grief and shame.
Now when King David heard of this, he was very angry, but he did nothing to punish Amnon. Perhaps the thought of punishing the future king would have been embarrassing, but no matter the reason, David really dropped the ball here by not pursuing justice for Tamar. Absalom was furious at Amnon for what he did and angry at David for doing nothing. For two years, Absalom hated and plotted against Amnon. You see, David’s lack of justice had another consequence. Absalom felt that he had to take the law into his own hands, and eventually, Absalom had Amnon murdered. Then Absalom fled and exiled himself. What a mess!
Jump ahead 3 years and one chapter. Joab, the captain of King David’s army, convinces David to bring back Absalom because he can tell that David misses him. So Absalom returns to Jerusalem, however, he was not allowed to go into the royal court.
One of the questions in the video (I’ve been doing an introductory video with these sermons by interviewing members of the congregation to see what they remember about these Bible stories.) was “How does the Bible describe Absalom?” The answer was extremely handsome. Here is the actual description from 14:25-27. Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. 26 And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight. Now apparently Absalom was not only good looking, but he seemed to have a way with people as well. Chapter 15 describes Absalom’s conspiracy to take over the throne of Israel. Obviously he still had unresolved conflict with his father.
Absalom would stand at the city gate where the people of Israel would come with their grievances and complaints to get a judgment. It was a courtroom setting basically. So a person would come with a case and Absalom would intercept them. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” 3 Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4 Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” 5 And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.
Absalom did this for 4 years. Finally, Absalom made up an excuse to leave Jerusalem just so his absence wouldn’t seem suspicious. Then he sent secret messengers throughout the kingdom who said, As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, “Absalom is king at Hebron!” The rebellion had begun! All that work paid off because the people with Absalom kept increasing.
When David heard about the rebellion, he decided to leave Jerusalem. He had a couple of reasons for this. He wasn’t necessarily running scared. He was one of the greatest military kings. So by leaving the city David could choose where, when and how he would fight. In addition, he could determine who his true servants and loyal supporters were. Plus, the innocents in the city of Jerusalem would be spared a siege.
With David gone, Absalom triumphantly entered into Jerusalem and assumed the throne. But he still had to deal with David. Meanwhile, David had amassed a great army for himself because many remained loyal to him. As battle drew near, Joab urged David to stay behind at the city gate where they had headquartered. But David instructed his army before they left: Deal gently for my sake with my son, Absalom. In other words, spare his life. Why? Perhaps because David knew that much of the current situation was the result of his sin, yet the Lord forgave him and spared his life. David wanted to do the same for Absalom.
I’m going to read the story of the battle from 2 Samuel 18:6-15. So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. 7 And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword. 9 And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 10 And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” 11 Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” 12 But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king’s son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ 13 On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” 14 Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak.
Eventually, they send a messenger back to David who is waiting anxiously for news. The messenger reported: “Good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the messenger, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the messenger answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” 33 And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Here ends this tragic story.
So now that we have reviewed this story, what does the story of Absalom teach us today and how does it point to Jesus?
First of all, it would be right for you to acknowledge your own sinfulness as you reflect on this story and identify yourselves with the person of Absalom. But Pastor! You might object. I am not that bad! I have never murdered anyone or incited rebellion or anything like that! You might think that the only thing you have in common with Absalom is your good looks, but while we look at outward actions, God looks at your heart. And in your heart, you are just as rotten and sinful and rebellious as Absalom, as Amnon, as David, and as Joab. Jesus tells us in Matthew 15:19- For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander. These are what defile a person.
Like Amnon, you have uncontrollable lust and desire for things that do not belong to you or that God has forbid you to have. Like Absalom, you have harbored hateful thoughts about others which Jesus says is the same as murder. Like David, you have failed to carry out justice in your home. Like Joab, you have disobeyed your king’s commands because you thought you knew better. Like Absalom, you rebel against your father, your heavenly Father, each and every day as you try to satisfy your own selfish desires and attempt to run your own life and put yourself on the throne of your heart.
We tend to shake our heads at these wicked, immoral people in the Old Testament or even those around us today whom we perceive to be much worse sinners than us. But we fail to realize and admit our own sin and depravity. But brothers and sisters, we have to confront our own sin. Stop looking around confessing the sins of others and confess that you continue to be a poor, miserable sinner.
You need to confess along with Paul, who as he grew in his faith, said that he was the chief of sinners. You need to admit along with John that if you say you have no sin, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you. Identify yourself with Absalom who deserved death for his rebellion. God identified Absalom as someone who was cursed for his sin by allowing him to hang from that tree. For it says in Deuteronomy 21, A hanged man is cursed by God. You deserve the same punishment for your rebellion. Because of your sin, you are cursed and should expect the wrath of God.
So I plead with you today, repent! Confess your many daily sins for if you confess your sins God is faithful and just and will forgive you for all your unrighteousness.
Why will God forgive you? Because like David, God is a merciful king who does not want you to die, despite your rebellion against Him. For you, God cries out like David, “O my children, my children! Would I had died instead of you, O my children!” But in God’s case, He carried out the substitution that David could only hope for. In order to save you from the curse of death, God willingly gave up His only Son. God’s Son became a human being, the Son of David- the true Son of David in whom no sin or rebellion could be found.
Jesus is the true and greater Absalom because even though he had done no wrong, Jesus still hung from a tree- the cross. Jesus did not deserve death but he hung from a tree for your sake, and a spear was thrust into him. Paul refers back to Deuteronomy 21 in Galatians 3:13 where he writes, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs from a tree.” Jesus became cursed for you. He died the death you deserved. He who knew no sin became sin for you so that you would receive forgiveness from your heavenly Father and King.
The story of David and Absalom points you to Jesus and His death on a tree. This story urges you to examine your hearts and lives, to confess your sin and rebellion day after day. The more you see your sin, the greater your Savior appears to be. You need to readily admit that you are a sinner because, my friends, Christ only dwells in sinners. This story urges you to confess your sins and cling to the forgiveness found in the One who hung from a tree in your place, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray: This prayer is from the hymn “Upon the Cross Extended.”
Who is it, Lord, that bruised You?
Who has so sore abused You
And caused You all Your woe?
We all must make confession
Of sin and dire transgression
While You no ways of evil know.
I caused Your grief and sighing
By evils multiplying
As countless as the sands.
I caused the woes unnumbered
With which Your soul is cumbered,
Your sorrows raised by wicked hands.
Your soul in griefs unbounded,
Your head with thorns surrounded,
You died to ransom me.
The cross for me enduring,
The crown for me securing,
You healed my wounds and set me free. In Jesus’ name, Amen.