The sin which David committed with Bathsheba was unequivocally forgiven but  it was to change his life forever.

Forgiveness yet consequences

The words of Nathan the prophet, which conveyed  God’s forgiveness also included his condemnation of the sin and informed David of the consequences  to follow. The words were “Yahweh also hath put  away thy sin” (2 Sam 12:13). However, they had  been preceded by a list of consequences, including  the one which would bring him most grief – “the  sword shall never depart from thine house” (v10).  The story of Absalom demonstrates so well how  this worked out in David’s life.

All sin in the end is against Yahweh Himself,  although it may affect others as well, such as  Bathsheba and Uriah in this case. Twice Nathan  pressed this point in the words from Yahweh. Firstly,  “Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment  of Yahweh?” (v9), and again, “because thou hast  despised me” (v10). We learn a valuable lesson  from this. To despise the commandments of God  is to despise God Himself. We know that David  later recognised this because he wrote in Psalm 51,  which concerns the sin with Bathsheba, “Against  thee, thee only have I sinned.” Consequences of  sin are unavoidable and this is illustrated in the  narrative itself as two of the following chapters  begin with the words, “And it came to pass after  this…”. The very next chapter after the record of  David’s sin deals with the appalling incident of  Amnon’s illicit lust for his half-sister Tamar. This  in turn led to Absalom’s vengeful and cunningly  contrived murder of Amnon two years later (2 Sam  13:20–29). Unbridled lust followed by murder would have reminded David of his own sin and it  appears to have left him paralysed, no doubt smitten  in conscience and unable to act against Absalom.  Later again, chapter 15 starts with the same words,  “And it came to pass after this …”, and deals with  Absalom’s bid to seize his father’s throne, once  again executed with a cunningly devised plan.

The narrative is very dramatic and the lessons  for us tumble one upon the other. Lust, harbouring  of grudges, desire for revenge, ambition, vanity, and cunning intrigue are all on display and we are  reminded that Yahweh hates these characteristics.  On the other hand, David’s inability to act decisively  or to correct his children are lessons for us as well.  David’s multiplication of wives complicated his life.  The fact that Tamar and Absalom were both from the  same mother, Maacah the daughter of the king of  Geshur in Syria, whilst Amnon was David’s firstborn,  whose mother was Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, helps  to explain the events of chapter 13.

Indecision and intrigue

Absalom fled to his maternal grandfather in  Geshur to escape any consequences, where  he would remain for three years. David pined  away for Absalom seemingly unconcerned with  administering justice in the matter of Amnon’s  murder. Joab was loyal and admiring of David, the  national hero and king, but could never understand  the weakened and indecisive man that he now saw.  David’s warfare was now within himself and his  spirituality developed a new dimension, blossoming  out into a deeper relationship with his God.

Joab plotted Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, but David refused to see him for two full years (2 Sam  14:28). In so doing David falls into another error. Most parents know that in the case of a rebellious  child, it is better to try and maintain some level of communication and pray for a change in them.  Absalom became impatient with Joab’s failure to persuade David to see him and burned Joab’s  barley crop to the ground. How many have had their ‘fingers burnt’ in taking up the cause of the  Absaloms of this world. Sometimes, even in the ecclesia at times, we see this happen. Careful  discernment in such cases is necessary for the common good and the care for others, and hopefully  to effect a change in the offender.

Absalom was the perfect example of vanity, ambition, pride and physical prowess, yet was  unlikely to respond or to change his ways. He was  a perfect physical specimen, “from the sole of his  foot even to the crown of his head there was no  blemish in him” (2 Sam 14:25). He cut his massive  mane of hair once a year and this appears to have  been a public affair. This emphasis on ‘masculine  beauty’ is prominent in the world around us, where  men are becoming effeminate and spend as much  time on physical adornment and their appearance as  women. We should guard the ecclesia against such  trends and the moral aberrations which sometimes  accompany them. The Absaloms of this world will  not be in God’s Kingdom (1 Cor 6:9).

Absalom begins to make his move to seize the  throne by imitating the trappings of royalty and  gathering to himself chariots and horses and fifty  men to run before him. Many years later Adonijah,  another son of David who tried to usurp the throne  above Solomon, used the same devices. He also had  never been rebuked or even questioned by his father  about his activities (1 Kings 1:5,6). Absalom then  stood by the gate of the city and “stole the hearts of  the men of Israel” by promising them prompt and  fair judgment if he were made king (2 Sam 15:1–6).  All of this under the very nose of David, as it were,  and still no action from the king!

After a further four years Absalom decided the  time had come to make his move and his plan was  cleverly crafted. He approached his father with a  plausible and even scripturally based request. He  said he had made a vow whilst in Syria to go to  Hebron to fulfil the vow, if he returned to Jerusalem.  The words recorded in 2 Samuel 15:7 and 8 are  reminiscent of the words of Jacob’s vow which he  made at Bethel when he too fled to Syria to escape  the wrath of Esau (Gen 28:20–22). David was  deceived and gave him leave to go to Hebron in  peace. Words, especially when couched in scriptural  terms, can be plausible but actions demonstrate true  spirituality. “By their fruits ye shall know them” is  the sound advice of the Lord (Matt 7:20).

Things moved rapidly in the record from this  point. Absalom’s inner cohort of supporters were  two hundred men from Jerusalem who “went in  their simplicity, and they knew not anything” (2  Sam 15:11). What a lesson for our young people as  we see the world around us, ignorant of God’s ways,  and where foolish young men (and women) gather  in rebellious packs bent on mischief and violence.  Our friends should not be simpletons knowing nothing like Absalom’s supporters, but should share  a love of the Scriptures with us.

David’s darkest hours

Ironically the revolt begins at Hebron (which means  “fellowship”), where David first became king over  Judah. Absalom’s name provides further irony as it  means “father of peace” and he was anything but  that. We read of Ahithophel, David’s counsellor and  friend, but also Bathsheba’s offended grandfather,  joining Absalom (v12). Some Hebrew scholars say  the verse should read, “Absalom sent Ahithophel …  from his city.” This would seem to be correct when  we read Psalm 41 which was written by David about  this time. It suggests that Ahithophel was sent to spy  out David’s condition who, it would appear, had  fallen seriously ill. Some of the words of Psalm 41  are, “Mine enemies speak evil of me, ‘When shall  he die, and his name perish?’ And if he come to see  me he speaketh vanity: his heart gathereth iniquity to  itself; when he goeth abroad, he telleth it. All that hate  me whisper together against me: against me do they  devise my hurt. ‘An evil disease’, say they, ‘cleaveth  fast unto him: and now that he lieth he shall rise up  no more’. Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I  trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his  heel against me” (Psa 41:5–9). Other Psalms written  around this time of David’s darkest hour express his  trust in Yahweh, and his constant remembrance of his  sin, the consequences of which he was now enduring  (see Psa 55:12–14; 109:18–22,27).

David left the city to spare it any devastation  by war and now the full measure of his calamity  weighed upon him as he went weeping across the  Kidron and up the ascent of Olivet. He followed a  course later trod by his greater son, our Lord Jesus  Christ who, on his way to Gethsemane, also wept  and prayed that his battle against sin might be  won (John 18:1 specifically mentions Jesus going  over the Kidron). A group of Psalms beginning at  Psalm 3 preserve David’s thoughts at this time,  as he camped at Mahanaim on the East of Jordan  surrounded by his faithful mighty men and other  supporters. The drama is further accentuated when  we follow the narrative of 2 Samuel 16 and 17.  At this time back in Jerusalem, Ahithophel was  counselling Absalom to rapidly pursue David that  night, whilst David’s faithful friend Hushai was  frustrating that counsel by warning of the risks and  the uninviting prospect of running into an ambush  set by the mighty men of David at night (see 2 Sam  15:31–37). In particular we note David’s prayer as  he settles down to sleep at Mahanaim, “I laid me  down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained  me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people,  that have set themselves against me round about  (Psa 3:5–6). And again, “But know that the Lord  hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord  will hear when I call unto him … I will both lay  me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only  makest me dwell in safety (Psa 4:3,8).

What consolation we can gain from the drama of  this record. Here is a man suffering the consequences  of sin, although forgiven; heavy of heart yet beloved  of God. He has faithful friends about him, though  betrayed by some, but his trust in Yahweh is  unshaken. Many in ecclesial life or personal life have  found themselves in such circumstances, and have  been sustained by David’s words, which have been  preserved by our loving God for just that purpose.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ the merciful kindness  of the Father endures for ever and we are wise to seek  it daily through him.

Lament for a recalcitrant son

The final battle with Absalom ends in tragedy.  In an instance of poetic justice Absalom became  entangled in a tree by his extravagant hair, which  had been a symbol of his pride. His mule deserts  him and leaves him to the vengeance of the cruel  Joab and his soldiers. Contemptuously disregarding  David’s specific instructions to spare Absalom’s  life, Joab cleverly implicates ten of his men in the  final massacre of Absalom (2 Sam 18:14,15). Like  Achan, another “troubler of Israel”, Absalom is  buried in a pit covered with a heap of stones (Josh  7:26). Pride and rebellion had run its course, as it  will for all who would emulate Absalom.

David’s obsessive love for Absalom, and his public  lament for him, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son  Absalom! would God I had died for thee”, was an  embarrassment to the people. He showed no leadership  until Joab chastened him and reminded him to place his  people above his personal loss and go and speak “to  the heart” of his servants (2 Sam 19:6,7 mrg). David’s  actions had turned victory into mourning (v2), and his  disregard for his men and their valour had caused shame  and confusion (v3,5). Some had gone home to their tents  (v8) and strife and eventually civil war broke out (v9).  Through God’s mercy the kingdom was saved through  the events of Chapter 20.

We have sometimes seen this scenario played  out in ecclesial life, when parents or relatives have  defended recalcitrant children at the expense of  ecclesial peace and harmony. If a man like David  could be so devoid of judgment in this matter we  ought to think very carefully when it comes to  choices made between the ecclesia and our families.  Jesus himself had to make this choice several times  during his ministry and his duty to his Father always  came first (see Matt 10:37; Luke 8:19–21). In the  end Jesus won his family to the Truth! (Acts 1:14).  Our kinsfolk cannot give us eternal life as much as  we might love them!

The ends of two dissimilar sons of David

We, who are the brethren and sisters of our Lord  Jesus Christ, now come to remember him who was  the absolute opposite of Absalom. Though they  were both sons of David and they both hung upon  “a tree” it was for totally opposite reasons and with  totally different results.

We have chosen to follow David’s greater son,  our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we now remember in  the bread and wine.