This has been an interesting chapter to work through. While writing my comments I noticed that I assumed motives for the characters that are never described in the text. I am certain that most of us do this most of the time when reading scripture. As you read through the text and this blog notice how your response to the characters and their actions is colored by things outside the text.
After receiving a kiss from the king Absalom immediately recognizes weakness in the king and an opportunity to enhance his personal position. He sets himself up as a judge and steadily works on building a following among the people of Israel. Absalom demonstrates great patience and after four years has developed enough of a following to make his next move. We are not told how often David and Absalom have contact during these four years. The next interaction recorded follows a familiar pattern. Absalom makes a request to David to go to Hebron to pay a vow.
It is interesting that at this point I want to assume that Absalom is lying to David, but I do not know that. Absalom could be telling the truth. I am judging him based on his evil objective rather than on his words or the text. Regardless of how David regards the request he gives Absalom permission and his blessing.
David is vulnerable. He loves his children, especially his sons and seems incapable of saying no to them. This seems especially to be the case when the request has something to do with religious expression.
Absalom observes religious practices and knows how to use them to his advantage. David trusts God and because he does attempts to believe the best about his own children. David places himself in the hands of God while Absalom decides to write his own story.
Absalom does go and offer sacrifices but makes clear his intent in the next verses.
10 Then Absalom sent agents throughout the tribes of Israel with this message: “When you hear the sound of the ram’s horn, you are to say, ‘Absalom has become king in Hebron!’ ”Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), 2 Sa 15:10.
An informer comes and tells David what Absalom has done. When Absalom makes his request to go and pay a vow David assumes the best and gives him permission to go. Now that Absalom has declared himself king, David assumes the worst and takes immediate action to protect his family and the city of Jerusalem. David, his wives and children, and his bodyguards flee Jerusalem.
What would you grab if you were making an emergency evacuation? Zadok the priest grabs the most important thing he can think of. He removes the Ark of the Covenant from its place intending to take it with David wherever he goes. David orders Zadok to return the Ark to its place and to remain in the city. He is asking Zadok to become a spy.
24 Zadok was also there, and all the Levites with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set the ark of God down, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until the people had finished marching past. 25 Then the king instructed Zadok, “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor with the LORD, he will bring me back and allow me to see both it and its dwelling place. 26 However, if he should say, ‘I do not delight in you,’ then here I am—he can do with me whatever pleases him.”,Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), 2 Sa 15:24–26.
David perceives this coup as a judgement from God. He trusts God and assumes that the outcome of this conflict will be determined by Him. David has been a fighter all his life, but in this case, he determines that the best course of action is to flee.
What about us?
I think that Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians is relevant to our understanding of this passage. Based on the whole story of Absalom in 2 Samuel I have no question that he is an evil person with evil intent. The question to me is whether we find David’s example in this passage a positive one to emulate or a negative one to avoid.
Love never gives up.Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), 1 Co 13:4–7.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
I think David provides us with two examples to consider. The first is his response to Absalom’s request to go to Hebron to pay a vow. David grants his permission and tells Absalom to go in peace when we know that Absalom is going to prepare his forces for war. It is possible that David’s affection for his son overrides common sense and is ultimately a demonstration of weakness. I think that David should have known that Absalom was preparing for a coup and should have declined his request. To protect the kingdom, I think David should have sent Absalom into exile or placed him under house arrest.
What if instead David is providing us with an example of what love looks like. What if David’s complete trust in God enables him to believe the best about Absalom in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Believing the best about others makes us vulnerable. People being people, this approach to life guarantees that at some point we will be hurt, maybe severely. In David’s case, the nation descends into civil war and many die, including Absalom.
In the second example David commands Zadok the priest to return the Ark to its place in Jerusalem. David leaves the Ark and the throne in Jerusalem expressing a trust in God to determine whether David’s reign will continue. We see in the exit from Jerusalem that many remain loyal to David and will do anything to preserve his life and his reign. It isn’t that David does nothing. He uses deceit to place spies in Absalom’s court, but he does not strike first or allow Jerusalem to be placed under siege.
In this situation, David is showing us what faith looks like. David knows that he is a sinner and that he does not deserve to remain king. Yet, in spite of all his sin his desire is for God and what God desires, so he places himself and the people of Israel in God’s hands.
I am still not sure that in the first example David did the wisest thing. Are you as challenged as I am by the fact that Jesus is the best example of the love described in 1 Corinthians and His love led Him to the cross to suffer and die for me? I am convinced that all my relationships would be better if I practiced more love and less self-protection.
This is where the second example becomes helpful. I am sure that David did the wisest thing when he returned the Ark to its place in Jerusalem. When we humbly accept difficult circumstances rather than attempting to take everything into our own hands, we leave room for God to work.