Today’s Bible reading
Then Absalom sent a message to Joab asking him to send him to the king, but Joab was not willing to come to him. So he sent a second message to him, but he still was not willing to come. So he said to his servants, “Look, Joab has a portion of field adjacent to mine and he has some barley there. Go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set Joab’s portion of the field on fire.
Then Joab got up and came to Absalom’s house. He said to him, “Why did your servants set my portion of field on fire?” Absalom said to Joab, “Look, I sent a message to you saying, ‘Come here so that I can send you to the king with this message: “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there.”’ Let me now see the face of the king. If I am at fault, let him put me to death!”
So Joab went to the king and informed him. The king summoned Absalom, and he came to the king. Absalom bowed down before the king with his face toward the ground and the king kissed him. – 2 Samuel 14:29-33
More thoughts for meditation
King David’s family system makes you think. He has several wives, neglects his children, the frailties and enmities of the crew regularly boil over. His favorite son, Absalom, kills David’s firstborn son and eventually succeeds in taking over the kingdom for a hot minute. What problems in your family system are cropping up during Covid season?
One of the things that happens in David’s family is the fruit of isolation. Amnon, the oldest, is pining away for his half-sister Tamar until it makes him depressed. Tamar is Absalom’s full sister. She is lured over to Amnon’s quarters, where he rapes her. She goes to lives at Absalom’s house while he plots for two years to get his revenge, which he does by getting Amnon killed. The deceived deceive.
The plotter flees to his maternal grandfather’s territory where he is in exile for years. David pines for him so much he finally lets him back in the country, but he refuses to let him see his face. Finally, Absalom sets his cousin Joab’s field on fire so he can get some attention. Joab is David’s right-hand man and gets him an audience, where he is reinstated.
Absalom uses his restoration to hatch another plot. This time he uses his fabled good looks and charm to win himself followers and undermine his father. Eventually he leads a coup and David has to flee the city. The exiled exile. Absalom’s craftiness is an apple that did not fall too far from the tree, and David’s tricks result in defeat for his son. The poor child ends up alone, hanging from a tree, either by his neck or, famously, by his long, luxuriant, perfect hair. David has told everyone not to kill him, but Joab conveniently forgets and gets his vengeance for a burned field and a shamed king.
In the New Testament Matthew is particularly known for portraying Jesus as the “son of David” (e.g.: Matt. 1:1–17). He is finding parallels. Just as the Lord’s ancestor, King David was betrayed (and expelled from his kingdom) by those closest to him, so too is Jesus. This parallel might be why Matthew portrays Judas’s fate in light of Absalom’s. Jesus is to Judas as David is to Absalom. Or, put differently, if Jesus is a Davidic Messiah, then Judas is an Absalomic betrayer. So, just as Samuel’s narrative leaves Absalom isolated, alone, and hung from a tree by his own self-ambition, so too Matthew’s narrative leaves Judas.
Suggestions for action
The straightforward lesson from the Absalom story is usually: “Watch out or you might be blinded by your ambition!” Even more likely for most of us it is “Watch out for ambitious people who will do you in. You’ll know them by their beauty and smooth talking.” We often don’t learn either lesson and end up grasping for what we want or what we have lost. In the same way, Absalom can’t be content with the good given in his supposed isolation and ends up totally alone.
- He doesn’t let Tamar heal. He makes her issues his problem. For two years she has to listen to him dominate the future with his plot. Then he leaves her alone as he flees to the grandparents. What are people hearing all the time from you, locked up with you in isolation? What is the world hearing from our church?
- He wastes his father’s forgiveness. As soon as he is back in relationship he goes off on his own. It is amazing that, by this time, David has gone through a major public repentance and written Psalm 51, yet so little of it has rubbed off on his favorite son. What is bouncing off your resistance to change while in quarantine? What graces are we wasting as a church?
- He is walled in by his own interests. Everybody likes him. He’s rich, famous, and beautiful but he wants more. It would not be surprising to find out that a man as wily as David had some tricks up his sleeve. But Absalom goes for the throne. Do you think you are settling if you find the goodness in every day you’ve been given and in every person with whom you are presently stuck? Do you not want to be you in your circumstances so much you will destroy as much as possible in retaliation? As a church, are we blind to what we’ve been given because of what we want to be instead?
Pray: Meet me in my strange isolation Lord. Some days I have trouble knowing who I am and what I have been given.
Add to the laments on the page some people are using to pray! We’ll have a book of Covid-19 Lamentations!