Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Because He Was Worth It (2 Sam 18)

 The revolt and death of Absalom. What a story. As in, what a mess. What an absolutely human mess.

And in this squalid tale of treachery, war crime and rebellion - so many resonances to other aspects of the Bible.

As David's armies and Absolom's play hide-and-seek, the Wood of Ephraim becomes a kind of evil Eden, devouring those that wander. Absalom - maybe inspiring his half-brother's "vanity of vanities" line in Ecclesiastes - gets his wonderful hair caught in a tree.

In one sense, Absalom is like Adam - trying to snatch power from the one to whom it should belong. And yet, this utter wombat is also Cain, the brother-killer. Then, as he hangs there from a tree suspended between heaven and hell - who do we think of? Is it Judas, the betrayer? Or is it Jesus, the redeemer? Certainly nothing in this story resembles Jesus. And yet - "cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree".

And then Joab - disobeyer of orders, frustrated and demoted general - who was previously in charge but is now one of three - or embodiment of the Avenger of Blood? Getting his avenging angels to remove the usurper and - he hopes - bring some stability back.

David's humiliation is really complete by now. The great fighter, who has been told by his people to stay at home so the professionals can deal with it. The man whose weakness in managing his family led to all of this. He should have punished Amnon. He should not have let Absolom back. He certainly shouldn't have let Absalom get in between him and the people, playing the one who got them justice. He's misplayed everything. And he's whinging about his son when he should be the one looking after his people.

And do you know what, David makes me so angry. He's so desperate that his son should live. Despite the murder, the trouble, the stress, the rebellion. David is so pathetic and Absalom is so terribly set on his path of self-destruction that I suddenly realise, as I call David a pathetic weak father incapable of managing his family and demand to know why he hadn't thought it would be better to look after the kingdom and not his useless wastrel offspring... And why he didn't actually tell Joab, get in there and kill him and get this over with.

Do you remember when Nathan tricks David with the story of the ewe lamb, and David gets so angry he declares a sentence of death on himself?

 And do you know, I've just realised who Absalom is most like. And as I say it's kind of Adam or Eve, and kind of Cain. But most of all - the rebellious child whose father tries to keep in the right way, whose father will do anything to make the path back, will forgive anything, will suffer anything...

I've just realised that Absalom is most like me.

And I've just declared a sentence of death on myself.

And when David, this weak, loving, desperate father, declares, "would God I had died for thee", I suddenly realise that for Absalom - suspended between heaven and hell by his hair - the chance had passed and he had gone place the point of no return.

But for me, I can be the prodigal, the one that came back, the one that accepted the father's gifts and this time stayed. And the death sentence I pass on myself gets reversed through the one that hung between heaven and hell, smashed out of hell, and lifts me up to heaven.

And if for me, what about you? The God who made the universe was humiliated and hung on a tree, to die for you, to bring you back. This God doesn't drive you to hell - you can only take yourself there. But this God does accept you as a child.

Don't be an Absalom.

1 comment :

  1. Fascinating. David, of course, is a famously fallible hero, but I never thought of his relationship with Absalom this way. I think I just looked at the surface - the devoted but ineffectual father and the self-destructive son.


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