Copyright © 2008, American Journal of Biblical Theology
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Chapter 13 of 2 Samuel describes the experiences within the house of King David following his sin against Uriah the Hittite when David murdered Uriah after an adulterous affair with his wife. David compounded the sin as he continually worked to cover it, resulting in what would be a seminal moment in his life and in the life of the nation of Israel. David and his family would never be free from the consequences of his sin.
It is clear that David found forgiveness from God, even for the acts of adultery and murder. When God forgives sin, He forgives it completely. When we go before the LORD, guilty of our transgressions, forgiveness is always found when the petition for grace is accompanied by repentance and faith. However, though the sin has been forgiven and heavenly consequences are atoned, the earthly consequences of that sin can linger. Those consequences can fully shape the experience of an individual even after forgiveness from the LORD has been found. This was the situation for David and his family following his acts against Bathsheba and Uriah.
When we look at the sins of adultery and murder, we probably list them at the top of the worst sins, transgressions that do not deserve forgiveness. It may help to understand that during the time of King David, people had little regard for one another, and Kings were expected to take whatever they desired since they were the legitimate owners of everyone and everything within the boundaries of their kingdom. Had the acts of David been exercised by any other king in the region, the events would not have warranted any record in history. However, the conduct of David, king of Israel, is under a higher level of scrutiny than any other since David has professed faith in God. When one has turned to God in faith, their relationship to sin changes. Those who profess sin still sin. However, a person of faith takes a stand with God and a stand against sin. A person without faith takes a stand with sin and stands against God.
King David, even though he was a person of faith, fell away from his calling, ignored the scrutiny of God, and began to stand for sin in the manner of worldly ancient kings. That stand is evident in his failure to teach his children in matters of the faith. The prophet Nathan prophesied that Davidís house would be characterized by violence, and that prophecy proved all too true. David would lose all of the sons born to he and Bathsheba to violence. However, the violence was not limited to those sons alone.
2 Samuel 13:19-20.
And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of divers colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying. 20And Absalom her brother said unto her, Hath Amnon thy brother been with thee? but hold now thy peace, my sister: he is thy brother; regard not this thing. So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalomís house.
Tamar and Absalom are children of David and Bathsheba. Amnon is Tamarís older half-brother, son of Ahinoam, a Jezreelite. David took Ahinoam as his wife prior to his ascension to the throne. Amnon would be the rightful heir to the throne based upon current cultural expectations. The rape of Tamar by Amnon is recorded in the previous verses. Amnonís was an act of violence that left Tamar victimized for the remainder of her days. As a ďdesolateĒ woman, she would never be married, and would live as a widow, quite a contrast to an attended future as a princess of the kingdom. Kicked out of her own home by her mother and family, she went to live with Absalom who opened his home to her.
The intrigue that was taking place within the family is illustrated in Absalomís response. As we observe Absalom, we might be well reminded that Absalom sees his older brother Amnon standing between himself and an opportunity to take the throne of the king. ďHold nowĒ refers to his asking Tamar to withhold any pursuit of justice for a season. The implication is that Absalom (again, Tamarís full brother) will attend to the need for justice himself. One can easily conclude Absalomís intentions.
2 Samuel 13:21-22.
But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth. 22And Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad: for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.
Davidís response to the matter is predictable. He was extremely angry with Amnon, but at the same time David had to be reminded of his own sin with Bathsheba. His attempts at covering that sin only added to it. Any personal judgment he would exact upon Amnon would expose his own hypocrisy. He was also powerless to affect any appropriate legal judgment upon Amnon. The penalty for this sin was fifty shekels of silver, a large sum for a commoner, but a trifle to this prince. It is apparent that David did not take any considerable action to come to the aid of Tamar, leaving Amnon unpunished.
Absalom also left Amnon alone. It would appear that Absalom did not speak to Amnon about this matter. Absalom had other plans for this brother who he now hated, this brother who stood between him and the throne. If culpability in a crime is defined as means, motive, and opportunity, Absalom had both the means and the motive. Now all he needed was an opportunity.
2 Samuel 13:23-27.
And it came to pass after two full years, that Absalom had sheepshearers in Baalhazor, which is beside Ephraim: and Absalom invited all the kingís sons. 24And Absalom came to the king, and said, Behold now, thy servant hath sheepshearers; let the king, I beseech thee, and his servants go with thy servant. 25And the king said to Absalom, Nay, my son, let us not all now go, lest we be chargeable unto thee. And he pressed him: howbeit he would not go, but blessed him. 26Then said Absalom, If not, I pray thee, let my brother Amnon go with us. And the king said unto him, Why should he go with thee? 27But Absalom pressed him, that he let Amnon and all the kingís sons go with him.
Absalom waited two years before executing his plan to avenge the rape of Tamar. The shearing of sheep took place at the spring of the year after the sheep no longer needed their thick winter coat. The shearing of the sheep was a time for celebration, an event that would provide an opportunity for Absalom to kill Amnon. However, Absalomís plan included a calculated gamble. Absalom invited David to the celebration, likely knowing that David would decline the offer. David did decline, stating that he did not want Absalom to be responsible for him and all of his sons. Such a gathering of the entire royal family would be a tremendous temptation for one who would like to stage a coup of the Israeli kingdom. Also, Davidís attendance at the celebration would have diminished Absalomís opportunity for revenge since Amnon would stay close to the king. Absalom was depending on Davidís refusal.
Following the decline of the offer, Absalom then asked if Amnon could go in his place. It was reasonable for the prince to represent the king at special events, so there would be no reason for suspicion regarding this request. However, knowing Absalomís true purpose it is now evident. David just refused to go himself, so he would feel some pressure to relent to Absalomís request and send Amnon in his place. In granting the request, David ordered all of his sons to attend the celebration with Absalom.
Consequently, we find that Absalom deceived David with an elegant plan to gain access to Amnon, a plan that even included the manipulation of Davidís authority.
2 Samuel 13:28-29.
Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnonís heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant. 29And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the kingís sons arose, and every man gat him up upon his mule, and fled.
The story now moves to the celebration at Baal Hazor. We might notice the irony of Absalomís plan. Just as Amnon obtained access to Tamar through a command of David, Absalom obtained access to Amnon through a command of David. Tamar entered the bedchamber of Amnon without any suspicion of Amnonís intentions. Likewise, Amnon now entered the celebration without any suspicion of Absalomís intentions. With the stage set, Absalom assured his recruited assassins that he would accept responsibility for the execution as he gave them the command to kill Amnon. The assassins then attacked the party with the sole purpose of killing Amnon. However, it is evident that no such distinction was evident in the camp since all of the kingís sons fled the attack.
By the time the news reached King David, the message had changed somewhat. The dispersion of the sons apparently led some to believe that all of the sons were killed in the attack. This was the message that was given to David. David and his house together were devastated by the news and expressed their grief by the traditional tearing of their robes and sitting on the ground. Soon afterward the remainder of Davidís sons, with the exception of Absalom, approached Jerusalem from the opposite side of the city, apparently taking a circuitous route to avoid detection. They were also mourning the death of Amnon when they arrived. By this time it was evident that the assassination was ordered by Absalom. Certainly relieved by the surprising entrance of his sons, David still mourned greatly for Amnon, his oldest son.
Certainly, though this experience, David would have been reminded of Nathanís prophecy that his family would be characterized by the same violent nature because of his own violence. Perhaps David was reminded of Mosesí prophecy describing Godís declaration that the sin that separates one from himself continues through to the third and fourth generations, the period of time that the one who sins has influence over his family.
2 Samuel 13:37-39.
But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day. 38So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three years. 39And the soul of king David longed to go forth unto Absalom: for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead.
The situation between Absalom and David now became similar to the situation that David had with Saul. As Israelís next king, David found himself in exile, running from a Israelite King who threatened him to a Philistine king. Absalom ran to Geshur where his own grandfather was the king. David made no open threat towards Absalom, and he certainly understood the stress that Absalom would be experiencing. David forgave Absalom as he continued grieving for his oldest son and yearned to go to him, relieving him of the difficulties of living in exile. However, his attitude of forgiveness was not shared by the rest of the clan, and Davidís acceptance alone would not assure Absalomís safety. David would have to issue a command that Absalom be treated without retribution.
This state continued for three years until Joab, his nephew and the commander of Davidís army, devised a scheme to convince David to issue such an order. As the king of Israel, David also served as the supreme judge, and heard cases needing Godly counsel. Joab sent a woman to David with a fictitious story, declaring that one of her sons killed the other and her clan was threatening to kill her last remaining son, the murderer, the heir of their estate. The story she was relating was closely framed by Cainís murder of Abel. Davidís judgment was to declare amnesty for the older son. She then revealed the ruse and told David of his need to provide the same judgment for his own son. Recognizing that Joab instructed the woman to bring this message to him, David called upon Joab to travel to Geshur and bring Absalom home.
2 Samuel 14:23-24.
So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem. 24And the king said, Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face. So Absalom returned to his own house, and saw not the kingís face.
Just as there were parallels between Absalomís exile and Davidís exile, the reason for this exile parallels Cainís murder of Abel, as revealed by the woman visitor sent by Joab. When Cain was found guilty he was cast from the ďface of the LORD.Ē We find no later occurrence when Cain was in the presence of the LORD. Perhaps David remembered this when he considered the state of Absalom and declared that Absalom could return to his home and possessions in Jerusalem, but he was not allowed to return to the royal court. By murdering Amnon, Absalom surrendered his claim to the throne, much like Cain surrendered his claim to the blessing of the LORD following his murder of Abel.
Though no longer in exile from his country, Absalom found himself exiled from the royal court with no possibility of succeeding his father to the throne, a possibility that he had purposely created by killing his oldest brother. Absalomís desire to take the throne of Israel was not abated by his exile. Just as he had schemed to position himself through the murder of his brother, Absalom now tried to determine ways to be restored to peerage. Joab stood between Absalom and David, and any reconciliation with his father meant that he would have to go through this army commander who was sworn to honor Davidís edict. Absalomís attempts to get to Joab continually failed, so Absalom burned one of Joabís fields. This would force Joab to confront Absalom in order to receive compensation that was due under the law. Absalom was willing to pay this compensation just to be able to speak with Joab. Absalom told Joab that he would rather kill himself than to remain in this status. When Joab took this message to David, David called for Absalom to come to the court and restored his status.
Having accomplished his purpose, Absalom was now firmly placed in succession to the throne. One would think that the difficulties between David and Absalom were concluded. However, though Absalom was restored to the court, he had not repented of any of his actions, despising David, and despising the LORD.
Absalom desired to overthrow David and take the throne as soon as possible. However, he had no status, no army, and no resources with which to stage a coup. However, like Saul, Absalom is described as extremely handsome and attractive to look upon. Absalom used this trait to begin to create a following.
2 Samuel 15:1.
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.
Absalom started by gathering for himself chariots and horses, fulfilling Samuelís prophesy. These were a visible symbol of royalty that were not used by either Saul or David, but was common to the military kings of the regions that were hostile to Israel. Absalom also hired an entourage of fifty men, most likely outfitted as soldiers, to serve him. Now that Absalom had his peerage restored, he was playing the role to excess as he built a public image that was intended to win the favor of the people.
2 Samuel 15:2-4.
And Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate: and it was so, that when any man that had a controversy came to the king for judgment, then Absalom called unto him, and said, Of what city art thou? And he said, Thy servant is of one of the tribes of Israel. 3And Absalom said unto him, See, thy matters are good and right; but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee. 4Absalom said moreover, Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!
Absalom deeply desired to take the throne of David. Without the military force to do so, he devised a treasonous plan to discredit the king and lift himself in the eyes of the people. People came to Jerusalem specifically to obtain civil judgments from the king. Absalom stood outside the city gates early in the morning, prior to the morning sacrifices, so that he could intercept every visitor who was coming to see David. He expressed interest in those who came, and when one revealed that their purpose was to find judgment, Absalom declared that there was no one assigned to assist them. David was implying to these strangers that David was no longer serving as the Judge of Israel, a responsibility of the Israelite leader since Moses, and that he could do a far better job. Absalom sounded somewhat like a modern politician who will say or do anything to get elected.
2 Samuel 15:5-6.
And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took him, and kissed him. 6And on this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment: so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.
Absalom continued his plan to depose his father by ďplaying king.Ē He used his position, his appearance, and his skills to appear to be serving as a surrogate king in Davidís absence, and his plan worked. Little-by-little more and more people began to look to Absalom, not recognizing the powerlessness of this prince who would be a king. His purpose was fully revealed when he amassed more followers, expanded the size of his little army and felt emboldened to proclaim himself King of Israel. In an attempt to take the throne, Absalom chased David out of Jerusalem, and assumed the palace and its concubines. When David and Joab retook Jerusalem, the battle cost the lives of 20,000 soldiers. Joab also killed Absalom against Davidís orders. David had now lost two sons to violence, and would never again have an opportunity for reconciliation.
We see in the experience of David a family that was destroyed by the ravages of sin. We see the lust of David and Amnon. We see the over-the-top pride of David and Absalom. At every opportunity for reconciliation, the family members chose estrangement and retribution. Sin enters our lives every day. How we respond to it makes all of the difference. We can choose to turn to the LORD for His wisdom and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as we discern His purpose in the events of our lives. When we do this, God can deliver us from the sin, remove the temptation, and nullify the power of the sin to destroy us.
However, when we refuse to turn to the LORD, sin can take hold, and once within sinís grasp, the following circumstances are only a downward-falling spiral. Sin serves to separate us from one another, to bring sorrow and misery into our lives, and to separate us from the fellowship of the LORD who desires that our lives be filled with an abundance of peace and joy.
As you look around your family today, is there unresolved conflict that still forces you apart? It may be the right time to set down the sin of pride and self-serving demands and extend a heart of forgiveness and a hand of reconciliation. Such a sincere demonstration of love can stop the downward spiral and completely nullify the power that sin to separate us from one another and from the LORD who desires reconciliation amongst ourselves and with Him.