There are people who have turned their backs on God. God doesn’t hate them. There are people who mock God and rejoice at insulting and offending and even persecuting those who follow Him. God doesn’t hate them. People may set themselves up as enemies of God, but God does not see it that way. He does see the reality – that some people hate him and have rebelled against him, even as Absalom did to David. But he also looks at each one of them and sees a unique human being whom he loves deeply.
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2 Samuel #18 . 2 Samuel Chapter 18
Second Samuel chapter eighteen records the end of Absalom’s rebellion, and of Absalom himself. If you remember, David fled for his life across the Jordan river and to the city of Mahanaim. This was about ten miles east of the Jordan river, up in the mountains, about halfway between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. It was within the nation Israel at the time (now it is part of Jordan) but a fair distance over rough country from Jerusalem, if you were traveling on foot.
There, David gathered an army of those who were still loyal to him. Six-hundred to one-thousand soldiers had fled with David. The bible doesn’t tell us how many more he found, but the Jewish historian Josephus says that he had four thousand men when he went to fight the army of his son Absalom (I don’t know where Josephus got his information). The bible doesn’t tell us how many men Absalom had either. David ordered his men, devised a battle plan, and prepared to go out. But his men convinced him to stay in the city while they fought on his behalf. This made sense. Absalom had to kill only one man – David – in order to win. David had the humility and wisdom to recognize this, and so he listened to his men and stayed behind. But he gave his three chief commanders clear orders to “deal gently, for my sake, with the young man, Absalom” (2 Samuel 18:5).
Many of those who fought for David were probably veterans of his earlier campaigns. They remain today some of the most famous warriors in history. Certainly David had most of the best military commanders of the nation on his side, even though he was at a disadvantage in numbers. Their strategy had been devised with the help of David himself. It is quite likely that David chose to go to the city of Mahanaim precisely because it was in the Forest of Ephraim. The area is not forested today, but it remains rugged and mountainous, as it was in those times also. In the rough terrain and the forest, the advantage of greater numbers that Absalom had might have been largely neutralized. David’s smaller, more experienced force had a better chance there than in a pitched battle in an open area.
Absalom’s army was out-maneuvered, out-led and out-fought. They were defeated. The scripture records that many men perished in the rough terrain. The text records that 20,000 men perished, more killed by forest than by the battle. In previous teachings I have explained the difficulties of numbers in Hebrew. If you think it would be more realistic if the number was 2,000 men, by all means, go with that. The Hebrew could read either way.
In the defeat, Absalom fled on his mule. He went under the twisted, low-hanging branches of an oak tree, and his head was caught in the branches. The mule kept going, and left him hanging there, unable to touch the ground, and apparently unable to extricate himself from the tree. The text simply says that Absalom was caught by his head. It is the Jewish historian Josephus who claims it was, in particular, Absalom’s beautiful thick hair, about which he was so conceited, that trapped him.
Remember, David wanted his men to deal gently with Absalom. In a pitched battle, that could have been very difficult. If he was well and wielding weapons, and defended by others, it might have been impossible to take him prisoner without severely wounding him or even killing him. But here was the perfect opportunity to bring him back to David whole and unharmed. He was helpless and disarmed, a threat to no one. The first Israelite to discover this, found Joab, David’s chief general, and told him. But Joab, instead of seeing this a stroke of extreme good fortune to capture Absalom without anyone getting hurt, took advantage of his helplessness and attacked him as he hung there. No doubt not wanting to be the only guilty party, he recruited ten young soldiers to assist him, so that the blame was shared. Absalom was struck dead. Now I want to point out that there was probably some bad blood between Absalom and Joab. Joab had apparently had a soft spot for him. He helped Absalom get permission to return to Israel after he had murdered his brother. Joab helped David and Absalom reunite. But Absalom had been arrogant and high-handed with Joab, and it was doubtful he had ever thanked him. So I think it is quite likely that Joab bore special grudge against him, and that he killed him as much for his own sake as for David’s.
David first heard the news that the battle was won, and he was glad. But shortly after that, he heard that his son had been killed. He was overcome by grief and he lamented loudly. As a result, the victorious army marched into the city without the celebration and joy that were normal when the battle was won.
Joab, never deterred, rebuked David. He pointed out, probably correctly, that it was almost an insult to his men. Then Joab expresses what is really on his heart:
6 You love your enemies and hate those who love you! Today you have made it clear that the commanders and soldiers mean nothing to you. In fact, today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead, it would be fine with you!
Joab never understood David’s kindness and love toward those who tried to destroy him: Saul, Abner and Ish-bosheth, to name a few. The world was black and white to Joab – those with us, and those against us. But David was God’s chosen instrument because he had a heart that God could use to show the world what the coming savior was really like. David, expressing God’s heart, saw very few people that he truly hated or called enemies. Even so, David was not a blind idealist. He did what had to be done. So he fought when it was necessary. But he always wished for reconciliation, and the death of those who called themselves his enemies grieved him. In this case, although he still grieved for his son, he was humble enough to recognize that Joab was right, and he was shaming the men who had risked their lives for him. So he went out to them and congratulated them.
I really want us to hear the heart of God through this part of David’s life. There are people who have turned their backs on God. God doesn’t hate them. There are people who mock God and rejoice at insulting and offending and even persecuting those who follow Him. God doesn’t hate them. There are people who have twisted the truth about God into manipulative and evil false religions that oppress millions of people. God doesn’t hate them. People may set themselves up as enemies of God, but God does not see it that way. He does see the reality – that some people hate him and have rebelled against him, even as Absalom did to David. But he also looks at each one of them and sees a unique human being whom he loves deeply.
10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! (Rom 5:10, HCSB)
The bible is clear that some human beings can and do choose their own destruction rather than admit their need for God. God allows them to do that, or else love for God could never be real. But like David, he grieves deeply when people choose their own destruction. It happens, but he is never happy about it.
11 Tell them: As I live” — the declaration of the Lord GOD — “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live. Repent, repent of your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel? (Ezek 33:11, HCSB)
Sometimes when we’ve been wandering away from God, we stay away because we think that God feels about us the way we deserve. Sometimes we think he feels about us the way we have felt against him. The prodigal son went home with a prepared speech, hoping he might be given a place among his father’s servants. But his father saw him from a distance and ran toward him, arms thrown open to welcome him back and to restore him to the family. That is how he is with us.
But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. (Luke 15:20, HCSB)
While Jesus was being tortured to death, he prayed for the people who were killing him, saying, “Father, forgive them!” (Luke 24:34).
Peter betrayed Jesus in his darkest hour. Jesus forgave him and restored him. He welcomed him back into a relationship of trust, even after what Peter did. Paul persecuted those who trusted Jesus. He had them arrested and even executed. But Jesus welcomed him and forgave him when Paul repented. Jesus himself said:
7 I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance. (Luke 15:7, HCSB)
The plan, of course, is that the 99 righteous people, already living in God’s grace, rejoice along with Jesus and the angels of heaven.
David knew that he had been forgiven much. He had sinned horribly and yet, repented and received forgiveness. He hoped for the same thing for Absalom. This is a reflection of Jesus’ hope for us. Jesus sees us as we are, but he loves us anyway. He doesn’t hate you, and he never will. He wants the best for you, and he knows that comes only when you trust him. If you have already returned to him, why don’t you share the good news with others who also may not know