By Debbonnaire Kovacs, Aug 5, 2015 One of the most sorrowful stories in the Bible has to be the death of Absalom, told in 2 Samuel 18. I don’t have the courage to try to write about it in the first person, but perhaps if we just consider the story for a few minutes, we can gain personal insights for ourselves.
It is difficult for us to imagine, in these “enlightened” ages, what David’s life was like—or the life of any king in that era. He started as a shepherd boy, expecting to live out a quiet and unknown life with his sheep. To his astonishment, he was chosen and anointed as the next king-to-be, then went from palace favorite to wanted fugitive in short order. Over the next years, the godly shepherd boy became a bloody-handed warrior, and finally king.
David married several women in order to forge alliances. Who knows which, if any, he truly loved, or even if he knew what deep and trustful love meant? The ones he had weren’t enough. Along with his bloody-handedness, he had grown to be a lustful man, even going so far as to have another man’s wife “brought to him,” quite possibly against her will. That crime was hateful enough, but when David’s underhanded plans to cover it up didn’t work, he made the deliberate choice to have her husband killed in battle.
And Joab, his commander, obeyed without apparent question. Then David oh-so-kindly made Bathsheba his wife.
Fortunately, all godliness was not lost in this faulty king’s heart. When Nathan confronted him, David did sincerely recognize himself in the mirror of his own appalling sin, and since David never did anything by halves, we have as good a record of his repentance and forgiveness as of his falls.
He probably wasn’t that surprised to have jealousy and intrigue showing up in his mixed family; in those days it wasn’t uncommon for kings’ sons to rebel against or even kill their fathers. But David’s sons went so far as rape and murder. Try for just a minute to imagine David the father’s true feelings, as opposed to David the king’s actions and judgments. Add in the fact that one of the actors in this sordid family drama was David’s favorite, Absalom.
“Abba’s Shalom,” “father’s peace,” was the son of Maacah or Maachah, the daughter of the king of Geshom. As he grew, he was every young girl’s dream of a Prince Charming. Possibly David thought he would make a good king, since the Bible stories make it appear that it was up to him to choose his successor, rather than the more modern custom of firstborn son automatically inheriting the throne.
Imagine David’s anguish when this favored son turned against him, plotting, whispering, turning on the charm as he knew so well how to do. Try to picture David’s reluctance to send his own spy into Absalom’s household, and then prepare for war against his own son.
Throughout, David was clinging to the hope that he would not lose his son. Perhaps Absalom would yet repent and come to his father. David knew about forgiveness. He would have granted it, though Absalom would certainly forfeit any chance of future kinghood, even if David had had that idea.
When the battle raged, the king ordered his commander, Joab, until now faithful even David’s sinful whims, “Be careful! Watch out for Absalom!”
“The lad, Absalom,” in fact, though Absalom was not that young at this point.
Instead, at the Battle of Ephraim Wood, Absalom’s treasured mane of hair caught him right off his mount, and Joab, finding him helpless, deliberately killed him.
Only those who have lost a beloved child—surely the worst of human losses—can truly relate to David’s anguish when he received the news. How much was his sorrow compounded by the heavy load of knowing himself safer with his son dead? How much by guilt, the knowledge that he had pampered Absalom too much?
And how similar might this grief be (in a small way) to the grief God feels when his children fight, hate, kill each other, and ultimately die of our own pride?
What can we do differently—this very day?
To hear a haunting melody memorializing this moment in David’s life, go here.