2 Samuel 18:24-33
24 While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. 25 The watchman called out to the king and reported it.
The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.” And the runner came closer and closer.
26 Then the watchman saw another runner, and he called down to the gatekeeper, “Look, another man running alone!”
The king said, “He must be bringing good news, too.”
27 The watchman said, “It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.”
“He’s a good man,” the king said. “He comes with good news.”
28 Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, “All is well!” He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, “Praise be to the Lord your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.”
29 The king asked, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
Ahimaaz answered, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.”
30 The king said, “Stand aside and wait here.” So he stepped aside and stood there.
31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
There is something about airplanes that makes an extrovert giddy and an introvert a little bit queasy. Oddly enough, it is the same thing: sitting next to a captive audience for hours at a time.
On a recent flight I sat next to an older woman who was returning from a visit with her grandchildren. From the moment we sat down she went on and on about what they liked, how great they were at sports, their grades, and their career ambitions.
After two hours she must have realized that I was losing interest, so she said, “Well, look at me. I’ve talked the entire trip. Surely you have something that you would like to say. Tell me, what do you think about my grandchildren?”
Perhaps you have been in one of those awkward situations where a proud parent takes you to their refrigerator to show off their child’s most recent artwork, or maybe you have been invited to hear someone’s child sing in a school program and the father corners you afterward and asks rhetorically, “That daughter of mine sure is something, isn’t she?!”
“Yes, that was something, alright.”
There is love, and then there is unconditional love. The kind of love that a parent or grandparent has for their offspring doesn’t depend on how well they can stay within the lines when they color or how well they can kick a soccer ball or sing a song. All that matters is that they are your child, adopted or by birth, they are awesome.
Parents and grandparents see their children with a different set of lenses. And believe me, it isn’t that we don’t get angry or disappointed when they do something that they shouldn’t. But when we love someone unconditionally, we are quick to correct and forgive when our children do wrong.
There are a number of strange stories in the Bible, and this is clearly one of them. You may think that your family has its problems, but if you put your family next to David’s, David’s family will probably make your family look like the Cleavers. Incestuous rape, murder, banishment, and a plot to overthrow the king, who just happens to be the family patriarch. This would make a good soap opera, but it is real life!
What I want you to notice today is that in spite of all the things that David’s children do to one another and to him, he still loves them. As we finish our series today on the life of David and ask one more time How was David a man after God’s own heart, it is clear that we have saved the most important story for last. Because David, like God, shows unconditional love for his children. It is a story that we have heard countless times before, and it is a story that we can never hear enough.
David lived in a different time, and it was normal for a person of wealth and power to have multiple wives (and concubines, but I don’t wish to comment on that now). So David had many children with different women. The children that shared a father, David, yet had different mothers would then be half siblings to one another.
One of David’s sons, Amnon, had a crush on his half-sister, Tamar. He devises a plan to get her into his bed. And after he rapes her, he loses all interest in her.
Now I mentioned that David lived in a different day and that some practices that we consider wrong today were acceptable in his day. Amnon’s actions do not fit that category. What he did was and is wrong on a number of levels. Tamar had been shamed and Amnon had sentenced her to a life as an outcast. It was her full brother, Absalom, who took her in and cared for her.
From that time, Absalom plotted to kill his brother Amnon and it took him two years to actually commit the murder. Absalom then flees from the city, fearful for his own life. And he stayed away for three years before returning to Jerusalem.
Something I find interesting in this text that helps us to understand the mind of David is that even though his daughter is defiled and one son kills another, David never seeks vengeance. He does not look to kill Amnon or Absalom. The text says that he was angry, for sure. He is not happy about what has happened and he is in no way endorsing such behavior. But he does not seek an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The text says that he mourned when Amnon was killed. But we are never told that David was looking for a way to make his children pay for their offenses against one another.
But David’s children do more than just hurt one another. They hurt him as well. We are told that when he returns from his period of exile that Absalom intends to overthrow his father and take his throne. He uses his good looks and his charm to win the hearts of the people, eventually becoming king of Hebron. Absalom then leads a rebellion, a group of people seeking to make Absalom the king of Israel.
What is David’s response? He flees for his life. He runs from his own son. He knows that Absalom is willing to kill him to become the king of Israel. The next couple of chapters involve David running for his life and it reminds me of the way that David had to run from Saul when Saul was trying to kill him. You soon have to wonder if there is something about David’s personality that causes so many people to want him dead. Maybe he just rubs people the wrong way, I don’t know. But I think a better question is why wouldn’t David just fight?
Here is the big, powerful king of Israel, running from his son and a misfit army of rebels. David is no longer the little shepherd boy running from Saul and his big army. David now has the upper hand. But he refuses to fight to hold on to his throne, his crown, and his kingdom.
I believe the fact that David chooses to flee rather than fight shows just how much he really loves his son. David would rather sacrifice his kingdom than lose another child.
Unfortunately for David, the leader of his army, Joab, does not feel the same way. Joab knows that it is his job to protect David and the kingdom. Chapter18 tells us that one day as Absalom was riding his donkey through some thick trees, his hair gets caught in the branches. The donkey kept walking, leaving Absalom hanging from the tree by his hair. He was now held captive by the great oak, and when he was found, he was put to death by Joab.
Our text for today is David receiving the news that Absalom has been killed. It is amazing to me the way that people go out of their way to tell David that his “enemies” have been killed. They want to break the “good news” to him that Saul, Ishbosheth, Abner, and now Absalom have been dealt with. And each time they seem to be surprised because David does not hear their message and begin to rejoice. Each time he mourns the loss of these enemies including Absalom, his son.
In verse 33 we read, “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!’”
Five times in that one verse David refers to Absalom as “my son.” David doesn’t care that the war is now over. It doesn’t matter that Absalom killed one of David’s sons. It isn’t even important that David had to run for his own life out of fear of Absalom. What mattered in that moment is that David’s son was dead. David even states that he wishes that he could take Absalom’s place. That’s love, unconditional love.
So David loved his children, even when they hurt one another, and David loved his children, even when they tried to hurt him. He did not seek revenge; he did not seek to hurt them. And God is at least as loving as David.
We hurt one another. We hurt one another all of the time. Perhaps not to the extent that David’s children hurt one another, but I think it is safe to say that each one of us has been hurt either physically or emotionally by someone. And we have probably all hurt someone else as well. Not only that, we fail to be honest, true, and faithful to God. And what does God do about it? He comes to earth as Jesus to get right in the middle of it all.
I believe that the violence and hatred that we commit against one another makes God mourn just like the violence and hatred that David saw in his own family made him mourn. But neither God nor David chooses to use violence to try to solve violence, hate to solve hate. Instead, God’s plan to solve violence and hate, idolatry and abuse was the incarnation.
And here lies a big difference between David and God. While David says “I wish I could take my son’s place, I wish it was me that had died,” God does die in the place of his children. God died on that cross. 1 Thessalonians 5:10 tells us that he died so that we might have life.
There are two ways to think about this, and I believe that both are correct. God died in the person of Jesus so that we might have eternal life, life in heaven where rust and moth do not destroy. But Jesus also died so that we can have life here and now.
When David said that he wished it was him that died so Absalom could live, he wasn’t saying that he wanted to die so that Absalom could live forever. He simply wanted Absalom to be able to live the best and most fulfilling life possible on earth. This a wish that any of us would have for our children.
Something that I have said before, and is not original to me, is that God is at least as loving as I am. I am a loving person, but I don’t love perfectly. The same could probably be said for the average person you meet walking down the street. We love, but we don’t love as well as God does.
So when I consider the love that I have for my children, I assume that God loves us at least as much as I love my children. When we consider the love that David had for his murdering, treacherous son Absalom, we can assume that if David can love Absalom in spite of all of his issues, then surely God can love me, you, and everyone else in spite of their failures. And like Jesus on the cross, sometimes love requires sacrifice.
My children can make life quite challenging at times. Our three-year-old has recently been going through a stage where he wakes up every night around midnight to go to the bathroom. I really don’t like getting up in the middle of the night, but I also don’t like having to wash the sheets in the morning. I do appreciate a full night’s slumber. So what should I do? Make him sleep in a diaper? Maybe sleep outside in nature? No, we make sacrifices for our children. And believe me, 15 minutes of sleep is nothing compared to some of the sacrifices that others have made for their children. We do these things because love is bigger than sleep.
I have a friend who has had a pretty challenging life, mostly because of his own choices. He is a part of a lovely family with great parents, wonderful grandparents, and super siblings. But about 15 years ago when he was first out of high school, he went through a really rough patch of life. He was abusing alcohol, not working, and looking to obtain money any way that he could.
This friend’s grandfather passed away one summer so he was spending some time with his grandmother in another state, keeping her company during this difficult time. But he “needed” money. One day he found grandma’s checkbook so he took several blank checks and he forged them. He attempted to steal a significant amount of money…from his grandmother…while she was mourning.
Not surprisingly, he was caught when he tried to cash the forged checks and he was arrested. He had to spend the night in jail. But who do you think was there first thing the next morning to bail him out? Grandma. Grandma came down to the police station in her cape dress and head covering to bail out the young man who had just attempted to steal from her.
Oh you better believe that grandma was disappointed, and I am sure that she shared her disappointment with him. But when they got home, they went to the kitchen and cooked lunch together, ate together, and lived together for a few more weeks. And I am glad to say that he turned his life around. Yes, this relationship required some sacrifices on the part of the grandmother. But love is bigger than money.
David mourned the death of his son Absalom. That doesn’t surprise me. But David also mourned the loss of the man who killed his son and tried to kill him. David mourned the death of the person who wanted to overthrow him and take his crown. That’s because no matter what Absalom did to David, he was still David’s son, and David loved him unconditionally. David had to make some sacrifices. He sacrificed his pride, his comfort, and he sacrificed his “right” for revenge. But love is bigger.
If David, a flawed human being, loved his children in such a way, how much more does God love us? Regardless of what you have done to hurt others, God, or yourself, you are loved with an unconditional love. The question then comes back to us, How will I respond to God’s unconditional love?
On this Mother’s Day, as we consider the love that we have for our family, let us remember that God loves us even more. More than our faults and failures. More than our successes and triumphs. Love is bigger.