What do you do when one of your sons has raped his half-sister and then been murdered by another one of your sons? David finds himself in a difficult spot and Joab steps in to try and help him. Ultimately, the help Joab provides is unsuccessful. This chapter plays out in three acts. In the first act Joab uses a woman pretending to be in a similar circumstance to communicate to David permission to bring Absalom back. In the second act David uncovers Joab’s plan and still partially accepts it. In the third act David’s unwillingness to fully restore Absalom to the household creates an interesting conflict between Joab and Absalom that results in Absalom briefly coming into the presence of the king.
Joab knows David well. He recognizes that David is filled with compassion for the powerless. To communicate his message of reconciliation Joab chooses a woman who pretends to be widowed. This woman claims to have two sons with one having been murdered by the other. If the murderer is executed, then there will be no one to carry on the family name. One verse in the woman’s argument caught my attention.
All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him.2 Samuel 14:14 NLT
Regardless of how someone dies, when they die, they are dead and cannot be returned to life. Taking the life of another will not return the life of the one who caused their death. Sometimes the death penalty is called for, but in the law, God puts a legal buffer in place to ensure that the death of the murderer is executing justice and not simply vengeance. This was the whole purpose of the cities of refuge. For some reason Absalom had not fled to a city of refuge. He fled to a territory across the Jordan that was outside of David’s influence.
More important is understanding that God’s desire is always reconciliation. Absalom’s situation is very much like our own. This chapter illustrates how incredible God’s love is. David loves Absalom, but he cannot think of a way to reconcile to him. Joab tries to devise a way and it helps David get part of the way there but fails to achieve total reconciliation. This story is not a perfect analogy for God’s love expressed to us in Jesus. David makes no sacrifice for Absalom and gives no indication that he is forgiven. Absalom never confesses or repents. He is arrogant and considers himself to be the one who was wronged.
As soon as David discovers that Joab is behind the plot to return Absalom to Jerusalem the woman from Tekoa is no longer needed. Joab appears to be present, and David addresses him directly acknowledging his willingness to do as Joab asks. However, David determines to limit the reconciliation and will not permit Absalom to see him.
24 But the king said, “He must go to his own house; he must not see my face.” So Absalom went to his own house and did not see the face of the king.2 Samuel 14:24 NIV
This is a complex situation made more complex by the fact that David is the king and Absalom is a potential heir to the throne. David’s other sons witnessed Amnon’s murder by Absalom so returning him to the palace will likely create stress that David does not want to deal with. What we will discover is that this partial reconciliation is no reconciliation at all with horrible implications for King David and all of Israel.
Absalom’s appearance and presence threaten David. For two years they coexist in Jerusalem without seeing each other. For Absalom, this is like sitting in prison waiting for his trial to take place. He has not been declared guilty or not guilty and cannot accept this state. If Absalom had not confronted David this situation might have remained unchanged until David’s death. Absalom needs someone to approach David on his behalf and determines that Joab is the perfect ambassador. Only, Joab does not want the job and ignores Absalom’s pleas for help. I would not recommend this, but when Absalom has his servants burn one of Joab’s fields, he finally gets Joab’s attention. Joab goes to the king, delivers the message, and Absalom is allowed to see the king, who kisses him. This scene reminds me of parents telling two fighting siblings to say they are sorry and make up. Sorry gets said, but nothing changes in the feelings of the siblings toward one another. The battle temporarily gets put off until a more opportune moment. This is what is true for David and Absalom. Nothing is resolved and the situation is simply going to go from bad to worse.
32 Absalom said to Joab, “Look, I sent word to you and said, ‘Come here so I can send you to the king to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!”‘ Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.” 33 So Joab went to the king and told him this. Then the king summoned Absalom, and he came in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king. And the king kissed Absalom.2 Samuel 14:32,33 NIV
What about us?
Forgiveness is a personal choice. I can choose to forgive someone regardless of what they choose to do or not do. Reconciliation does not work that way. Restoring a broken relationship requires action on the part of both parties. Often there is a debt to be repaid and reconciliation cannot happen until that debt is removed.
God provides the ultimate example of how reconciliation works and what it costs. We rebelled against God and our relationship with Him was broken. The only way for us to spend eternity with God was to be reconciled to Him. We owed God a debt we could not repay, so the only solution was for God to pay the debt. Jesus came to become the perfect sacrifice and paid the debt. Still, we are not reconciled to God if we do nothing. We must admit that we owed God more than we could ever repay and be willing to accept Jesus’ sacrifice as payment for that debt.
What if the relationship that is broken is with another person? If I desire to be reconciled with that person several things are required of me. I must identify the specifics of the debt or offense that created the break in the relationship. I must then take that to God and give the debt to Him so that I can forgive the offender. Then, and only then, am I in a position to communicate the debt to the other party in the broken relationship. That is all I can do. I cannot control how the other person will respond.
What if the relationship that is broken is with another person and I am the one who caused the break? The first step for me is to accept the truth that I have done wrong and owe a debt to the other person. In many cases there will be no way I can ever repay the debt. It would be wonderful if every broken relationship was due to a financial debt. Money is easy to repay. Trauma, abuse, and other forms of emotional harm can never be repaid. All I can do is own what I have done and confess what I have done to the person I have hurt.
What is next? If both parties are willing to do what God shows us to do, then reconciliation can occur, and positive actions can flow out of the love that exists. If the offended party is unwilling to forgive and the offender is unwilling to accept responsibility, then there is no hope of reconciliation. The next chapter of 2 Samuel will show us what can happen next, and it is not pretty.
David’s advice to us in the Psalms is good advice for us. If only David had followed it.
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.Psalm 34:14 NIV