The 20th Sunday After Pentecost October 18, 2009
2 Samuel 18:9-17,33
324(1-5), 141, 331, 324(8)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then Absalom met the servants of David. Absalom rode on a mule. The mule went under the thick boughs of a great terebinth tree, and his head caught in the terebinth; so he was left hanging between heaven and earth. And the mule which was under him went on. Now a certain man saw it and told Joab, and said, “I just saw Absalom hanging in a terebinth tree!” So Joab said to the man who told him, “You just saw him! And why did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have given you ten shekels of silver and a belt.” But the man said to Joab, “Though I were to receive a thousand shekels of silver in my hand, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son. For in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying, ‘Beware lest anyone touch the young man Absalom!’ Otherwise I would have dealt falsely against my own life. For there is nothing hidden from the king, and you yourself would have set yourself against me.” Then Joab said, “I cannot linger with you.” And he took three spears in his hand and thrust them through Absalom’s heart, while he was still alive in the midst of the terebinth tree. And ten young men who bore Joab’s armor surrounded Absalom, and struck and killed him. So Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing Israel. For Joab held back the people. And they took Absalom and cast him into a large pit in the woods, and laid a very large heap of stones over him. Then all Israel fled, everyone to his tent. . .Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”
When a murderer is sentenced to death, the state sometimes invites the family members of the victim to come and watch the execution. For some there seems to be a certain pleasure in watching others “get what they deserve.” They feel that if they can just watch the criminal die they will have “closure” and feel better. The government does have authority from God to exercise capital punishment, but why is it that some people are glad at the death of the wicked?
The fact is, there’s a part of us that likes to see other people “get it.” This is especially true if they’ve done something hurtful to us. It is then that our sinful flesh rises up and says, “Boy, I hope they really get hammered!” But there’s something a little off about that attitude, isn’t there? There’s something not quite right about delighting in someone else’s trouble, about being secretly happy when the consequences of someone’s sin come back to hurt them.
Today, we learn of King David who did not take pleasure in the death of his wicked son Absalom. We also are reminded of the heart of God who also is not happy when a sinner dies in unbelief, but would rather that he turn from his wicked ways and live.
King David was the greatest king of Israel, a humble shepherd boy who had been anointed by the Lord to hold the highest position in the land. David had sons also and it was said of David’s son Absalom that “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head…he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard (about five pounds)” (2 Samuel 14:25-26 NIV).
But there was a darker side to Absalom. Although handsome on the outside, his thoughts and plans were full of wickedness. He had in mind to tear the kingdom from his father’s hands. Gradually, he built up support among the people, slowly undermining David’s leadership. Absalom would get up early in the morning, take a chariot and horses along with 50 men and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate of Jerusalem. When people came to see the king about their problems, Absalom would intervene saying “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you…If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who had a complaint or case could come to see me and I would see that he gets justice” (2 Samuel 15:3-4 NIV).
After four years, Absalom had rallied enough support to try to overthrow his own father and take the throne for himself. He gathered an army of men from throughout Israel to go against David. Treason against God’s chosen king and a plot to murder his own father—this was in Absalom’s thinking.
David became wise to Absalom’s plan and mustered his own men. Yet as wicked as Absalom had been toward God and toward God’s king, David gave the order “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake” (2 Samuel 18:5 NIV). He would not delight to see Absalom lose his life. As the day went on, King David and his men defeated the armies of Israel and 20,000 died.
As for Absalom and his five pounds of hair, he rode under an oak tree and it became tangled in the branches. His animal shot out from under him and he was left hanging there in the tree until one of David’s soldiers found him. The soldier respected the king’s order to spare Absalom, but his commander did not. Joab took three javelins and drove them through Absalom’s heart.
What was David’s reaction? Did he rejoice when he heard that his enemy was dead? Did he say, “Hooray for the oak tree which has destroyed wicked Absalom!”? No, instead we are told that “The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” [v.33] David felt tremendous grief, even wishing that he could have given his own life for that of his wicked son.
When we observe the death of the wicked, when we see people bringing trouble on themselves by their own sins, it should not delight us. At times, David himself called for the defeat and destruction of the Lord’s enemies, praying for evil to be put down, but it was never a joyful call. We don’t stand there with a little smile on our face when we see the wicked overturned. We ought not be happy when people are condemned to eternal death in Hell.
The temptation for us is to gloat when the wicked suffer, thinking, “Well, he sure got what was coming to him! At least I’m not like that!”—as if we have not been as sinful or are somehow less deserving of God’s wrath.
We should not find joy and pleasure in the misery of our enemies, nor be excited to see them get what we think they deserve. When we observe someone like wicked Absalom, it causes us to remember that were it not for the grace of God, we too would be lost in our sin. For we too are born with wicked hearts, inclined to evil as Psalm 51:5 says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV).
We know and understand that we are not perfect toward God in our thoughts, words, and actions. Were it not for our Lord Jesus Christ, we would be headed down a similar road as that of wicked Absalom. But Jesus has gone before the gavel of God’s justice. He has gone before the heavenly throne and offered Himself as our substitute. Taking our place, He accepted all the wrath and punishment of the Father while He hung on the cross. He endured the pains of eternal suffering so we could go free.
Were it not for the Son of God, Jesus Christ, we too would be lost in our sins. The person who trusts in Jesus has all the benefits of His saving death and can look forward to life everlasting.
God doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked. It was God who devised a plan whereby the wicked could be cleansed of their guilt and saved. It was God who provided a means of escape for the wicked plunging toward the depths. God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel saying, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23 NIV) And in 1 Timothy 2:4 we learn that God our Savior “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
In the heart of King David toward his dead son Absalom, we are reminded of God’s heart toward the sinner. David did not delight at the loss of Absalom, nor does God delight when people turn from Christ’s salvation to their own destruction. He doesn’t rejoice when they despise the forgiveness of sins won by the Savior on the cross. Again through Ezekiel the Lord said, “As surely as I live…I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11 NIV).
This is how our God has treated us. When we were in deepest need, He did not delight to see us suffer eternally, so He sent His Son to die for us.
This is how we too can view the wicked who oppress us. Those people at work that we can’t stand. The relatives who say mean and hurtful things to us. The enemies who rise up against us. Do we squeal with secret delight when people like these are brought down, or do we pray for them that God will open their eyes to the truth so that they also might know of the great sacrifice Jesus made on their behalf too? Do we pray that by the power of the Spirit they might repent of sins and their hearts might be won over to be confident in what Christ did for them on the cross?
When we look upon other sinners, we want to try to be helpful rather than hateful. We use the Law of God as a mirror to reveal to them their transgression. We tell them of Christ’s love and forgiveness at the cross and urge them to turn from their evil—to put behind them the sins for which Jesus has already died. If they repent of their sin and trust in the Lord, we are glad. If they do not repent, we are sad.
Sometimes in our weakness we think like commander Joab and just want to stick the javelins into those who hate us. So as we remember David’s reaction to Absalom’s death and God’s reaction to our own guilt, let us instead make use of any opportunities we have to help bring others to repentance and faith that they might know the forgiveness that we know. After all, Jesus came to call sinners to repentance that they might turn from their evil ways and live. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.