“The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.” (II Samuel 18:5)
Things had not been going in David’s kingdom – not at all! Absalom, David’s son, had moved and maneuvered himself in position to try to take over David’s kingship. And since David was not ready to “throw in the crown”, a battle ensued. Part of the kingdom backed David and part of the kingdom backed Absalom. Armies were gathered together and sent out. As they left David hoped and said aloud that that he wanted Absalom to survive.
“So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.” (Verses 6 – 8)
And as in all battles, there were winners and losers. David’s army was victories over Absalom’s forces. King David had to wait back at his home (the palace in the city) for news of the battle. Absalom, however, was out in the thick of things.
“Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.” (Verse 9)
The RCL skips over some of the details of when Absalom was found by David’s army hanging from the tree. He was found by a common foot soldier who reported this to Joab, but this foot soldier took no action, remembering King David’s wish that Absalom be dealt with gently. Joab (yes, the same Joab who allowed the death of Uriah the Hittite) was not inclined to be gentle however, and struck Absalom in the heart and . . .
“And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.” (Verse 15)
The news was then carried to King David, in the typical fashion of good news from the battle field.
“Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.” (Verses 31 & 32)
Well, what did King David expect? The people of Israel had told God and Samuel that wanted a king like the other nations. And Samuel had tried to warn them of what a king was like. David saw what happened to King Saul and all of his family (well, most all). David himself was quite ruthless on some occasions. Absalom also made his choice, raising up against his father, David.
I do not mean to be harsh and cruel, beloved reader. But tragedy comes to those who place themselves in the ways of aggression and war.
“The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (Verse 33)
However, another truth is that tragedy comes to those who resist and turn aside from aggression and war too. There is no safe harbor when violence and war goes marching out. I am sure David never thought when he was just a shepherd boy defending his flock that such misery and loss would come into his life.
This is the last installment that the RCL has from King’s David’s life. As I am sure you know, this was not the last tragic event in David’s life. He remained, as much as he was able, a man of God. And is honored as such. But his life also teaches us important lessons.
There are many ways of following God; or more correctly stated, people have attempted to follow God in many ways. We can see and read the choices they have made, and the outcomes. May you, beloved reader, chose carefully how you will follow God. Test your intentions against the Holy Spirit, and against the word of God as it is interpreted to you. Shalom and selah!