CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT

His Son Absalom

2 Samuel 13


The chastenings, which were the natural fruits of Davidís sins, quickly began to fall upon him. Though God had made with him a covenant "ordered in all things and sure" (2 Sam. 23:5), and though he was the man after His own heart, yet He was far from regarding his sins lightly. The honor of Jehovahís name required that such transgressions as Davidís should be marked by no ordinary tokens of His displeasure. He had "given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (2 Sam. 12:14), and therefore did He proclaim His disapproval more loudly by suffering David to live and pass through one tremendous sorrow after another, than had He slain him instantly after his crime against Uriah. Yet we may also behold therein the faithfulness, wisdom, and grace of God toward His servant by using those very sorrows for the renewing of him in holiness; that this was accomplished appears blessedly in the sequel.

David was now to prove to the full the solemn truth of "Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that My fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts" (Jer. 2:19). It was through those nearest and dearest to himself that David was to experience what "an evil thing and bitter" it is to depart from the Lord. "Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house" (2 Sam. 12:11) the Lord had declared. What must have been the feelings of his poor heart with this dread threat hanging over his family! How often do we moralize upon the wisdom and mercy of God in withholding from us a knowledge of the future: how it would spoil our present peace and comfort if we were acquainted with the trials and sorrows lying ahead of us; the more so if it were now revealed to us the evils which would yet overtake the members of our household. But the case was otherwise with David: he knew that the sore judgments of God were about to fall within his family circle!

One can readily imagine with what trepidation David would now look upon his several children, wondering upon which of them the divine blow would first fall. The death of Bathshebaís infant was but the prelude of the fearful storm which was about to descend upon his loved ones. It seems quite clear from all that follows, one of the family-failings of David was that he had been too easy-going with and indulgent toward his children, allowing his natural affections to override his better judgment, instead of (as it should be) the judgment guiding the affectionsóit is not without reason and meaning that the head is set above the heart in our physical bodies! No doubt the fact that David had several wives made it much more difficult to rule his offspring as duty requiredóhow one wrong leads to another!

As we have seen in earlier chapters, David was a man of strong natural passions, and the deep feelings he cherished for his children was in full accord therewith. The fear of his servants to tell him his infant was dead (2 Sam. 12:18); the advice of Jonadab to Amnon, who had read Davidís disposition aright, to feign himself sick, that "when his father came to see him" (2 Sam. 13:5) he might proffer his requests; his "weeping so sore for the death of his son, and then again, his anguish having subsided, "his soul longing to go forth" to the other son who had slain him (2 Sam. 13:39); and the final instructions to his officers touching the safety of Absalom, even when he was in arms against his fatheró"deal gently, for my sake, with Absalom" (2 Sam. 18:5)óbeing far more concerned with the care of his child than the outcome of the battle; are so many illustrations of this trait.

But that which throws light upon the doting fondness of David for his children, a fondness which caused him to set aside the clamant calls of duty, comes out in his failure to punish Amnon for his crime against Tamar, and his failure to punish Absalom for his murder of Amnon. What light is thrown upon this infirmity of Davidís when, in connection with Adonijahís rebellion, "his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?" (1 Kings 1:6). Little wonder, then, that his own offspring were made a scourge to him. Alas, he followed far too closely the evil example of Eli, the high priest of Israel, of whom it is written, "his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not" (1 Sam. 3:13). Wisely did Thomas Scott say, "Children are always uncertain comforts, but indulged children surely prove trials to pious parents, whose foolish fondness induces them to neglect their duty to God"ówho requires them to duly discipline their offspring.

Yet Davidís children had been preserved from open wickedness in their early years: it was not until their father became guilty of aggravated crimes that the restraining hand of God was removed from them! How this should speak to the hearts of parents today: if they forsake the paths of righteousness, there is good reason to believe that God will chasten them by suffering their offspring to do likewise. Children in their youth naturally consider the evil example of their parents an excuse why they may follow in their steps; and grown up ones too are emboldened and confirmed in sin by the sinful conduct of fathers and mothers. "Let this be a warning to us to watch and pray against temptations, lest by the misconduct of one unguarded hour we should occasion such future consequences to our offspring, and such misery to ourselves throughout our future lives" (Thomas Scott).

It is both deeply instructive and unspeakably solemn to observe the method followed by the Lord in the execution of His awful threatenings through Nathan. It was not that Davidís palace was now burned by fire from heaven or razed to the ground by a cyclone. Nor was it that one of his Sons was killed by a flash of lightning, and another swallowed up by an earthquake. No, that is not Godís customary way: not by physical miracles, but by the operation of moral laws, is the retribution meted out by His government conducted. "God denounced the most grievous afflictions against the house of David on account of his conduct toward Uriah. Those afflictions were all executed in a way of Providence . . . Every part of the divine sentence against David was executed by His providence without a miracle. Who can work like God?" (Alexander Carson). This exceedingly striking and worthy of our closest attention, for it casts much light upon Godís government over the world today.

Yes, the manner in which Godís awful threatenings were fulfilled is most noteworthy: it was done in a way of natural consequence from Davidís own transgressions. The curse which God pronounced upon him corresponded exactly to the character of his iniquities. He had despised the commandment of the Lord (2 Sam. 12:9, namely, "Thou shalt not commit adultery") by taking to himself the wife of another man, and now the women of his own household should he defiled. He had become a man of blood in the butchery of Uriah, and now of blood his own family should be made to drink. He had yielded to his lusts, and by that same baneful passion in others was he to be scourged for the rest of his days. The complexion of his remaining years was set by his own conduct in the palace at Jerusalem! And though David himself was spared from the violent hand of the avenger, yet he was long made the spectacle of righteous suffering before the world.

In marked contrast from the opening of 2 Samuel 11, chapter 12 closes by showing us David occupying again his proper position. There he slighted the post of duty, but here he is seen at the head of his people fighting the battles of the Lord. In the previous case David was made to pay dearly for his fleshly ease, but here God prospered his efforts by delivering Rabbah into his hands. After the victory David and his army returned to Jerusalem, yet only for him to suffer one calamitous grief after another. The chapter which is now to be considered by us chronicles two of the most horrible crimes which ever disrupted the harmony of a family circle. One of Davidís sons now dishonors Davidís daughter, while another of his sons, after biding his time, revenged the outraged honor of his sister by murdering her seducer. Thus, lust and fratricide now desolated the kingís own household.

Davidís children had learned the lesson which the fall of their father had taught them. Tragic indeed was the harvest the king now reaped, for a parent can have no sharper pang than the sight of his own sins reappearing in his children. "David saw the ghastly reflection of his unbridled passion in his eldest sonís foul crime (and even a gleam of it in his unhappy daughter), and of his murderous craft in his second sonís bloody revenge" (Alexander Maclaren). There is little need for us to dwell upon the revolting details. First, Amnon had determined to commit the fearful sin of incest against his half-sister, who was "fair" or beautiful (2 Sam. 13:1). Ah, how many a young woman has grieved because she was not pretty: alas, good looks often prove to be a fatal snare, and those endowed with them need to be doubly cautious.

The most solemn features of this first calamity may be seen in tracing the workings of Godís righteous retribution in it. First, we have the Spiritís time mark in the opening words of our chapter, "and it came to pass after this." which, as we have intimated above, was when the king had returned to Jerusalemówhere his own fearful fall had taken place! Second, Amnon was the kingís oldest son (2 Sam. 3:2) and therefore the one in immediate line for the throne, and probably the one he loved the most. Third, Amnon was at a loss to think of means for the gratification of his base desires, but there was at hand a cunning counselor who promptly devised a plot whereby he succeeded, and that man was a nephew of Davidís (v. 3)! Fourth, the workings of Providence were such that David himself was made an unwilling accessory to his daughterís ravishment. When the king saw Amnon, who pretended to be sick, God not only withheld from him a discernment of his evil designs, but David was the one who sent for Tamar: as poor Uriah had been deceived by him, now he was deceived by his son!

After gross insult (v. 17) had been added to her grievous injury Tamar found a home with Absalom, who was her full brother. His question to her (v. 20) indicates that the character of Amnon was well known, which renders the more excuseless the kingís consenting for his daughter to visit him. Yet "the counsel of the Lord, that must stand" (Prov. 19:21), and though it evidenced His "severity" (Rom. 11:22), nevertheless it was what even this world would designate a case of "poetic justice," so far as David was concerned. The more closely the case be examined the more will appear the righteous retribution which characterizes it. As Joab had been so far from refusing to execute Davidís wicked plan, but had been a willing party to the same (2 Sam. 11:15, 16), so Jonadab instead of recoiling with horror from the vile design of Amnon, helped him to secure it!

"But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth" (v. 21). A severe testing of his character was now presented, for it must be remembered that as king he was the chief magistrate in Israel, and therefore under the highest obligations to see that the law of God was impartially enforced. Merely to be "very wroth" by no means met the requirements of the case: as the head of the nation it was his bounden, though exceedingly painful, duty, to see that his debauched son was punished. The law was express concerning such a case (see Lev. 20:17), yet there is no intimation that David inflicted this penalty. Was it the workings of his own guilty conscience (calling to remembrance his sin), or parental softness toward his offspring which deterred him? Whichever it was, a dangerous precedent was set, for mildness unto transgressors by magistrates only serves to encourage greater evils. But though the king failed in his public duty, later on, the Lord dealt with Amnon, and in such a way as to add greatly to Davidís domestic trials.

"And Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad: for Absalom hated Amnon because he had forced his sister Tamar" (v. 22). The Holy Spirit now introduces to our notice one of the most despicable, vile and God-abandoned characters whose record is chronicled in the Scriptures. The first thing that we learn about Absalom is his antecedents: he issued From a heathenish stock! His mother was a Gentile, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur (2 Sam. 3:3). The Geshurites were a fierce and intractable people, and the strain of their lawlessness passed into his blood. In taking Maacah unto himself David disobeyed a plain command of the Lord: "Neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son" (Deut. 7:3). Need we wonder then that, having sown the wind, David was made to reap the whirlwind? God will not be defied with impugnity.

"To Maacah were born Tamar and Absalom. Both were fair; both attractive. ĎIn all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.í David probably was proud of the attractiveness which adorned his house, and was willing to forget the source from which it sprang. The attractiveness wrought its effects; and as might be expected from the attractiveness of nature, the resulting consequences were sin and sorrow. The beauty of Tamar was the cause of sin and destruction to Amnon, who fell beneath the revengeful hand of Absalom his brother; and the attractiveness of Absalom wrought on the hearts of the men of Israel, till they were drawn away from David and his throne. Such were the results of an attractiveness derived from sources foreign and forbidden to Godís people" (B. W. Newton).

Little wonder that Mr. Newton went on to ask, "Has Christianity profited by the lesson, or has it also formed alliances with the stranger?" Alas, that these questions are so easily answered. One of the chief reasons why poor Christendom is in such a sad condition today is because she has been so largely attracted by that which makes an appeal to the flesh. Nor is this evil by any means restricted to Rome, with its ornate architecture, imposing ritual, appeal to the senses. The same thing, in varied forms, now blights the greater part of Protestantism. The plain exposition of the Scriptures is replaced by the popular topics of the day, congregational singing has been pushed into the background by professional vocalists in the choir, and all sorts of worldly devices are employed to "draw" the young people. All of this is but the present form of Israel being allured by the physical attractions of a godless Absalom.

Singularly enough the meaning of "Absalom" is "the father of peace" but his was the peace of a deceiver. He was the child of him that was a liar and a murderer from the beginning, and he knew no other masteróthere is not a single intimation that God ever had any place in his thoughts. The deceitfulness and treachery of his character appears from the beginning. His words to Tamar were "hold now thy peace, my sister; he (Amnon) is thy brother: regard not this thing. So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalomís house" (v. 20), apparently with no suspicion of his murderous intentions. Meanwhile, "Absalom spake unto his brother neither good nor bad: for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar." The spirit of revenge consumed him, and he only waited his time for a suitable opportunity to exercise it. Absalom was the rod appointed by the Lord for the further chastening of David; a rod, as we have seen, taken out of his own stem, his own child. "The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small!"