I understand the hurt feelings we can have sometimes when God doesn’t come through the way we think he ought to. I’ve had them myself, frequently. But he is the king. He can do what he wants to. He is wiser than us, and he sees things we don’t. It’s better to trust him and stay engaged.


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2 Samuel #20 . 2 Samuel Chapter 20

Last week we spoke of the political situation at this point in time in Ancient Israel. There are more politics here, but be patient, I think we’ll find some good stuff. After David returned, having reached out the leaders of the tribe of Judah, who were in shame, the leaders of the other tribes were offended. They had not provided the key support of Absalom’s rebellion, like Judah had; they had talked of bringing David back before Judah had. So they were offended that David reached out to Judah and gave them the honor of escorting him back to Jerusalem.

Apparently while David was returning to Jerusalem and all this was being discussed, a man named Sheba, from the tribe of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe), stepped up and said, essentially, “Fine then. If that’s how David wants it, let’s leave.”

He left, and most of the people of the other ten tribes followed him. Now, at this point, as I read this text, they were simply choosing not to escort David to Jerusalem. Most of the leaders of the tribes were willing to express their displeasure with Judah and with David’s forgiveness in this way. So they all went home and left the leaders of Judah to escort David.

But Sheba, the man who instigated the walk-out, wanted to take it one step further. He wanted to immediately start another rebellion. For David, this was one thing after another. However, Sheba was not like Absalom. This was not a carefully laid plot with long preparation. He was only able to get the Berites to join him. The “Berites” were probably citizens of the town of Beeroth in Benjamin; it was almost certainly Sheba’s hometown. So his influence was quite limited.

Even so, David thought it best to stamp out the small rebellion quickly. He didn’t want to give it a chance to spread. So he ordered his new military commander, Amasa, to gather the troops.

When Absalom rebelled, he had chosen Amasa to be his general. After the rebellion failed, one of the ways that David reached out to the tribe of Judah was by promising Amasa that he was forgiven, and that he would command the army in place of Joab. Joab had murdered Abner years before this, and at that point he had David’s tolerance, but never again did David approve of him. More recently, Joab murdered David’s own son, Absalom. Now, I know it was when they were at war with Absalom, but when Joab came upon him, the battle had already been won, and Absalom was alone, unarmed and helpless. Moreover, David had commanded Joab to capture and spare Absalom if he could. Instead, Joab killed him while he hung helpless and trapped in a tree. So Joab was in disgrace, and David wanted no more part of him.

Another reason David made Amasa the new general, was to try and mend the relationships he had with the leaders of the tribe of Judah. It was a peace offering to them, showing them he had forgiven them, restoring them to normal relations. In addition, Amasa, like Joab, was one of David’s nephews. In fact, he was Joab’s cousin.

Amasa took too long to gather the army, so in the meantime, David sent Abishai, Joab’s brother, after the rebel, with David’s personal force of elite warriors. Joab went along. Eventually, Amasa and the army he had raised, met up with David’s forces under Abishai. Joab went up to Amasa. He deliberately allowed his sword to fall out of its sheath as he approached his cousin. He bent down and picked it up, and then, still holding the sword, reached out as if to greet Amasa. Instead, he stabbed him, killing him. This was very similar to what he had done to Abner. Immediately, he took control of the whole army again. He had one his loyal followers cry out

“Whoever favors Joab and whoever is for David, follow Joab! ” (2Sam 20:11, HCSB)

The implication is that if you didn’t follow Joab you were against David and for the rebel that they were pursuing. Eventually, Joab’s flunky hid the body of Amasa, so it wouldn’t distract the soldiers as they marched by.

They pursued Sheba and his followers to the northern borders of Israel, where he took refuge in a walled city. There Joab negotiated with a woman with a reputation for wisdom. She begged Joab not to destroy the city. Joab made it clear that their war was against the rebel, not the city. So the citizens executed Sheba, and thus ended the rebellion, and saved their city from destruction.

Now, what do we make of this? It’s a petty, bloody and gruesome chapter in the history of Israel. What would the Lord say to us through it? Well, let’s remember that the whole bible is about Jesus. This chapter is here to show us something about Jesus, or something about ourselves and how we relate to him.

Let’s start with the people from the ten tribes. They began by insisting how much they wanted to honor David, but ended up snubbing him deliberately because they were offended and hurt by the way he forgave his enemies.

Sometimes we might be tempted to behave this way with Jesus. It’s easy to get disappointed with him when he behaves in ways we don’t expect. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that he loves our enemies as much as he loves us. Sometimes what he does or doesn’t do, or the things he allows to happen in our lives, are difficult to understand. Often we respond by withdrawing from him. Maybe we aren’t overtly rejecting him or rebelling, but we just “go home.” We back off. I understand the hurt feelings we can have sometimes when God doesn’t come through the way we think he ought to. I’ve had them myself, frequently. But he is the king. He can do what he wants to. He is wiser than us, and he sees things we don’t. It’s better to trust him and stay engaged.

Maybe it’s not even Jesus himself, but something he’s doing that he wanted us to be involved in. For example, suppose you feel called to help out with a ministry to the poor. You do, and you truly make a significant difference, but no one recognizes your efforts. In the meantime, they honor people who seem to deserve it less than you. So you back off. I understand backing off a situation like that. But the question is: did the Lord call you to back off, or are you just withdrawing because your feelings were hurt? That can be tough, but the way of maturity in Jesus is to listen to him more than your emotions.

What about Joab? Joab comes across as someone who was always loyal to David, even though David did things he didn’t like. But was it really loyalty? He was loyal when he agreed with David. But we see now, for at least the third time, that when Joab had different ideas, he chose his own way. He did what he wanted, no matter what the king commanded. Loyalty and submission to leadership are only really revealed in hardship and especially in disagreement. But whenever there was disagreement, Joab chose himself over David.

By and large, Joab looked like a loyal and faithful servant. And, throughout his life, he did a lot for David. But ultimately, he did not buy into who David was and what he was all about. He was offended by David’s compassion and forgiveness. He liked the part where they got to kill their enemies together. He didn’t like the forgiveness part, so he didn’t do that, and he did not let David’s will thwart his own designs. Joab was aligned with the right side. But his heart was all about Joab and what he felt and what he wanted. He did not actually accept David’s wisdom and judgment if it was different from his own.

Sometimes Christians can be that way with Jesus. Usually, these days, it is the reverse of Joab. We like the love and forgiveness stuff. But when it comes to giving up our favorite sins, we choose our own way. Or maybe we’re fine to go to church and sing songs. But when it comes to forgiving someone who has hurt us badly, we hold on to the right to nurse our grudges. We like to be perceived by others as believers, but we won’t listen to the Spirit’s call to be intimately involved in the lives of other believers, or to study the bible. Jesus said something very scary in Matthew chapter seven:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord! ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name? ’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matt 7:21-23, HCSB)

You can look like a Christian, act like a Christian and talk like one, but not really allow Jesus to change your life. You can even do things for Jesus, but those things won’t count if you don’t really receive him as your savior and king. Joab looked like a friend, but his actions revealed him here as someone completely separated from David and his values. We see how terrible and ugly that was in Joab. We see that the fruit of it was pure evil. The same is true for us: the fruit of our own self-will when it is asserted as better than the will of Jesus, is never good.

Finally, consider the wise woman in the town of Abel. At first, they probably received Sheba into their town willingly. But when the realized the destruction he would bring and that there was no righteousness to his cause, they were willing to get rid of him in a very final way.

This also reminds me of something Jesus said:

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell! (Matt 5:29-30, HCSB)

The people of Abel realized that they had something in their midst that would lead to their downfall. They got rid of it with awful finality. Sometimes maybe we need to something similar. Maybe you have a habit of going out after work and having a few drinks before you head home. Maybe you fudge the numbers a little bit at work. Perhaps you have some activity or habit that seems OK at first, and you like it, but Jesus has made you aware that this is a problem in your life. The time to get rid of it is right now, with finality. The people of Abel were considered wise for choosing to get rid of the rebel rather than having their town destroyed. We too, sometimes need to make a wise choice that is hard, even drastic.

Let the Spirit speak to you through the text today.



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.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

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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.