If God is so loving, why can’t He just forgive us, no matter what? Why do we have to repent? Why does he require us to believe and to trust him? Absalom shows us the answer to that question.

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The next five chapters of 2 Samuel all relate to David’s son, Absalom. In some ways, even the last chapter (13) was the beginning of his story. If you remember, Absalom’s half-brother, Amnon raped Tamar, who was Absalom’s full sister. Absalom waited, and plotted, and then had Amnon killed – thus taking revenge, and at the same time, becoming the next heir to the throne. However, when it was done, Absalom fled in fear to Geshur, the kingdom of his grandfather Talmai (his mother’s father).

After three years, David finally came to terms with the death of his firstborn son, Amnon. Then he began to realize that he had also lost his next son, Absalom, because of his crime. The scripture says that his heart went out to his son Absalom. Chapter fourteen tells the story of how Absalom was restored to David. But it also shows us that the restoration was not complete on Absalom’s part.

The commander of David’s army’s was Joab. He was also David’s nephew, and companion through most of David’s life. The text says that he observed how David’s heart went out to Absalom. Joab resolved to do something about this. Joab is a complex character, and it is hard to say what his true motivation might have been. He might have been trying get back into David’s good graces. If you remember, since Joab murdered Saul’s old general, Abner, David had distanced himself from him. On the other hand, maybe Joab thought, “David is getting old, and it would be a good idea if the next king felt indebted to me.” Finally, Joab probably had known Absalom since he was a baby, and perhaps the old warrior had a soft spot for the charismatic young prince. Joab had a history of deceptive, manipulative behavior, and perhaps he was even proud of Absalom for murdering his brother Amnon like he did. Finally, it is possible that somehow Absalom contacted Joab in secret and asked for his assistance. In any case, Joab decided to help Absalom.

Notice right away that Joab did not approach David directly. This suggests that the relationship between he and David was indeed under strain. So Joab found a woman who was clever and a good actress, and they set up a scenario. Their approach is actually very similar to that of Nathan the prophet. The woman told David a story about how one of her sons killed the other. Now, everyone wanted to put the living son to death, which would leave her twice bereaved. David, unsuspecting, pronounced judgment, declaring that the surviving son should be protected. The woman even got him to swear by the Lord that he would stand by his judgment. Immediately afterwards, prompted by Joab, she asks David why then, he has not dealt with his own son in the same way. Here, she says something very perceptive.

We will certainly die and be like water poured out on the ground, which can’t be recovered. But God would not take away a life; He would devise plans so that the one banished from Him does not remain banished. (2Sam 14:14, HCSB)

This is actually a kind of prophecy. The woman is right about the heart of God. God did indeed devise a plan to bring back the ones banished from him. As I said last time, this all helps us to understand why Jesus came and died. So, once more, this text is showing us Jesus. I won’t preach the same sermon again, but it is strongly represented again here in this text. Our own sin has cut us off from God. We are banished from his presence. Yet he deeply loves us. So he devised a way to be reconciled to us again. That Way, is Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately for him, the account of Absalom is all about what happens when someone ultimately rejects that reconciliation. David brought him back to Jerusalem. But David is not God. His heart goes out to his son, but he doesn’t know what to do with the sin in his son. So Absalom is allowed to live in Jerusalem, but he is not allowed into the royal presence.

Now, we start to see a little bit of the character of Absalom. There is no record of him ever repenting of his sin of murder. There is no record of him even acknowledging that it was wrong or even a mistake. He certainly did not plead his case with David, or anyone else. Instead the text reveals him as a man who was determined to get what he wanted out of life, and to achieve his own ambitions.

Being allowed to return home was not enough for Absalom. He wanted to be back in David’s favor. Clearly, as we read on in the text, we see that his goal is not to be reconciled to his father, but rather to become the next heir to the throne. He wants to have David’s official approval, so that he can be king after him.

Absalom sends for Joab, to have him intercede on his behalf once more. But Joab stays away. There are several possibilities for Joab’s reaction. Absalom, being who he was, had probably never even thanked Joab for bringing him back from exile. Joab may be upset with him for that. Also, since David had distanced himself from Absalom, perhaps Joab thought it best if he stayed away too, considering the tension that already existed between himself and the king.

The prince (Absalom) had a few alternatives when Joab did not respond to his summons. He could have sent thanks and apologies to him. He could have sent him gifts. He could have at least humbly acknowledged his indebtedness and his ongoing need of Joab. Instead, he set fire to one of Joab’s fields. That tells you something about the character of Absalom. He is too proud to humble himself. He doesn’t care very much about the struggle and suffering of others. He is quick to action, perhaps even arrogant. He never even apologizes to Joab – in fact, he blames him, implying that is was Joab’s own failure to respond that got his barely field burned.

All he cares about is getting what he wants. He wanted Joab’s attention, so he got it – at Joab’s expense. Joab accedes to Absalom’s request, and gets him an audience with the king. David officially forgives his son and restores him to his princely position.

The text tells us something else about Absalom. We know from chapter 13 that his sister was exceptionally beautiful. Now we learn that he names his daughter after her, and she is also very beautiful. And Absalom himself is a flawless physical specimen. In other words, he is just like me. (For those of you who don’t know me well, that was a hilarious joke). Absalom is a beautiful person, from a family of beautiful people. He is rich and famous. The closest I could come with a modern-day analogy would be a member of the Kennedy family.

But like Saul before him, Absalom’s appearance is not a reflection of his inner character. As the subsequent chapters show, Absalom was all about Absalom. Being a “beautiful person” on the outside only hid the ugliness on the inside. For just a small insight into what he was really like, think about this. The text says he shaved his head every year. A year’s growth of his hair weighed five pounds, based on the royal standard (v.26). How did the writer know what it weighed? Because Absalom weighed it himself (same verse). This guy was full of himself.

Now, Absalom’s life was not over at this point. But, just as with Saul, there are some warning signs that he going the wrong direction. Think about it this way. He was not interested in a close relationship with his father. Instead, his main interest was what his father would do for him, and how he could use his father to get the life he wanted.

Sadly, this is how many people relate to God. We want him to forgive our sins so we can go to heaven, not hell. We want him to do certain things for us so that our lives go the way we want them to. We want to use him as a tool, an assistant to help us accomplish our goals. The goal of being close to God is way down the list, if it is even on the list. And we often assume that the best way for us to feel close to him, is for him to bless us.

Absalom could have made the case that what he wanted was good and right. After all, surely his brother Amnon – a rapist – should not have been allowed to become king. And regardless, now that Amnon is dead, it is Absalom’s right and privilege to become David’s heir, and the next king. But he did not trust his father to do what is right – he decided he knew better than the king. He chose to take care of things himself, to put himself in a position to be the crown-prince again, not to humbly wait and receive it as a gift. He was arranging his own life the way he wanted. In this, he was completely the opposite of David, who always waited patiently for God to use him however God wanted.

Sometimes we can be like Absalom. Maybe we feel that what we want for ourselves is good and righteous. Maybe, it even is! Even so, do we try to arrange for it ourselves, or do we put our trust the Lord to do in and through us what he wants to accomplish? Certainly, there is a time for action. But I think if we look inside ourselves, we can tell the difference between when we are responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and when we are stressing and scheming and arranging things so that we get what we want.

There is something else here that is important for us to notice. Absalom’s father, the true king, forgave him for his horrible sin. He restored him to a place of honor. But pay attention – Absalom never did repent. When David was confronted with his sin, he confessed that what he did was wrong. He took responsibility for it. His heart was deeply moved with sorrow for what he had done. He humbly threw himself on the mercy of God and sought forgiveness. Absalom did none of these things.

I’ve often heard people ask something like this: “If God is so loving, why can’t He just forgive us, no matter what? Why do we have to repent? Why does he require us to believe and to trust him?” Absalom shows us the answer to that question. David forgave him, without requiring him to turn away from his sin. He forgave him without making Absalom return to a positive relationship with himself. Ultimately, it did Absalom no good, and in fact, it allowed him to hurt many others until he finally destroyed himself.

Absalom is a living illustration of the fact that when a person receives forgiveness without repenting and trusting, that forgiveness ultimately cannot help him. David’s forgiveness did not require Absalom to change. Certainly, David must have hoped that he would change, but he didn’t require it. As we will see when we read on, because Absalom did not repent and did not change, his relationship with his father remained broken. The forgiveness that David offered him could not save him from the brutal death that he deserved, and in fact, received.

It is the same with the Lord. As the wise woman prophesied, God has made a way to bring back his banished ones. In the person of Jesus, by his torturous death on the cross, God has reconciled both justice and love. Now, through Jesus, he offers that forgiveness to every human being. However, the forgiveness does not help those who refuse to repent. It won’t save those who refuse to admit their real need for forgiveness, who are unwilling to let God restore the broken relationship between them. When we insist upon our own way, as Absalom did, the father sadly allows us to have it, but it brings only destruction upon ourselves and those around us.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.


  1. Sadly, Absalom describes so many Christians today who go to church, participate in activities, and tithe as a means to get something; e.g., forgiveness and a seat in heaven. The Father desires those that want Him, not what He gives. The Father desires those that obey Him out of love, not out of fear of what He will do if they don’t.

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