Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Absalom! (2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33)

It’s easy to see Absalom as a kind of mirror of his father David. Both were charismatic, handsome men with gifts for leadership.

Both started out greatly valued by their respective kings, only to flee when their loyalty was answered with betrayal. Saul became jealous of David and tried to kill him. David, when he was king, did nothing to punish the man who raped Absalom’s sister Tamar because that man was David’s favorite son Amnon. Absalom killed Amnon himself and left Jerusalem for many years.

Eventually, David allowed Absalom to come back to Jerusalem, but he wouldn’t take him back at the palace. Absalom decided to take the throne for himself, and began gathering support for his plans.

David and many of his supporters escaped Jerusalem before Absalom could move. He planted spies to tell him what Absalom was doing and feed his councilors false information. So when the armies fought, David’s army won. Absalom, leaving the battle, got himself somehow stuck in a tree. The Hebrew is weird here, so we don’t know how, exactly. When some of David’s soldiers saw it, they remembered what David had said. “Deal gently with the young man Absalom,” he had asked. So they went to Joab, David’s main military official and the man he’d relied on to help kill Uriah.

Joab’s world is simple. In it, there are two kinds of enemies: Those who have been suitably dealt with and those who are still living. War consists of switching as many of the second group as you can into the first group. So he and his guard go to Absalom and kill him. David is heartbroken – he never fully reconciled with his son, and now he never can.

Why does Absalom’s story end differently that David’s does? I’d suggest it’s because of what Absalom’s story is missing: God.

Absalom never seeks God’s guidance for what he does, never seems to show any thought for God at all. Remember, David knew he would be king after Saul, but because Saul was still God’s anointed king, he wouldn’t attack him. Absalom tries to overthrow his father even though he is God’s anointed king.

None of Absalom’s actions involve God. We may understand his rage and desire to avenge his sister’s rape, but did he ask God if this was the way to deal with Amnon? When he returned to Jerusalem, did he has forgiveness for killing his brother? Remember, God goes on the record pretty early with a not-in-favor-of opinion about brother-killing.

Does Absalom seek God’s guidance before he decides he will have the throne now, thank you very much, and not wait until the old man goes toes-up. Is what he does God’s will or is it his own ambition?

I see him serving his ambition, and not seeking God’s way. I can’t see that Absalom pays any attention to God at all. It’s almost like we’re watching what David’s career would have been like if he hadn’t followed God’s direction and leading before he became king.

Maybe I’m reading the story too simply, but the distinction is there to be drawn. Men who were pretty much equal in abilities and leadership. Men who had similar opportunities and similar circumstances. But one chose the path God laid out for him, and the other didn’t. And one ended up king, and the other ended up dead.

So maybe it’s not our gifts and talents and abilities that make the difference for us in this life. Maybe even if we’ve not got much in the way of talents, what happens to us in life depends on something else. Or Someone Else, I guess, is better.

If I’m on God’s side, then no matter what I’m able to do on my own, I know God’s purpose will be accomplished through me. Which sounds like good news to me.

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