Save Me, O My Lord!
Preached by Ben Bechtel
In 2013 I sat with many of my friends in the living room of our college dorm with incredible anticipation. We opened up Netflix and were about to experience for the first time, the awful but yet amazing movie Sharknado. Now for those here today that have never seen this movie, it is about what you think it would be. It is an atrocious B-movie that became popular and spawned a five movie franchise for the very reason that it is so bad it is good. One of the reasons it is so bad is that we cannot relate to the characters at all. The main characters perform absurd stunts and save the day but we learn nothing about who they are or why they do what they do. We just see them defeat a tornado of sharks.
Contrast these characters with Frank Underwood, the lead character from Netflix’s wildly successful show House of Cards. Underwood is a senator who attempts to take revenge on all of his political enemies and rise the ranks of political power. Through the course of one episode, you go back and forth between feeling sympathy for him, all out rooting for him, and abhorring him. This is because he is a mixture of evil and good intentions, whose current state of affairs is further complicated by his past evil actions.
We love complex characters like Frank Underwood because we ourselves are complex characters. We all have had to deal with the mess of differing and ulterior motives in our hearts. We all have to deal with the difficult, complicated, and destructive results of our sinful actions. And this is precisely why the Bible as a whole and our chapter for today speak to us so profoundly; they meet us in our messed up, broken lives. As we study 2 Samuel 18 this morning, there is no good guy; only characters having to deal with the terrible reality in which their own sin has placed them. But it is precisely in this story that we see ourselves, and the havoc that our own sinful actions wreak on us and those around us.
2 Samuel 18:1-17; 24-33
1 Then David mustered the men who were with him and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. 2 And David sent out the army, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the men, “I myself will also go out with you.” 3 But the men said, “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.” 4 The king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands. 5 And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom.
6 So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. 7 And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword.
9 And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 10 And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” 11 Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” 12 But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king’s son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ 13 On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” 14 Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. 15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.
16 Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them. 17 And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home. . .
24 Now David was sitting between the two gates, and the watchman went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he lifted up his eyes and looked, he saw a man running alone. 25 The watchman called out and told the king. And the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.” And he drew nearer and nearer. 26 The watchman saw another man running. And the watchman called to the gate and said, “See, another man running alone!” The king said, “He also brings news.” 27 The watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” And the king said, “He is a good man and comes with good news.”
28 Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “All is well.” And he bowed before the king with his face to the earth and said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.” 29 And the king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.” 30 And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still. 31 And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “Good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” 33 And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
This morning we are going to seek to understand this passage by looking at three specific ways in which sin complicates and wreaks destructive havoc in the lives of Absolam and David. First, we will look at the pride of Absolam and then move to discuss the guilt and compromise of David. So, pride, guilt, and compromise are our three points for this morning.
Where we left off last week, we found David repenting of his sin after being confronted by the prophet Nathan. Nathan tells David that God will forgive his sin but he also says that there will be consequences for his sin (12:10-12):
. . . the sword shall never depart from your house . . . Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’”
The very things that David used to destroy others (sex and violence) God is going to bring back upon him as punishment.
This punishment comes largely in the form of David’s son Absolam. In the chapters that follow, we read of how Absolam kills David’s son who was in line for the throne, rises up and takes the kingdom from David, driving him out of Jerusalem into the wilderness, and then of how he takes David’s 10 concubines whom he left in Jerusalem up to the rooftop and sleeps with them one by one in broad daylight. Evil has truly arisen from David’s own house.
Now, what is it that gives rise to Absolam’s overt display of power? Well, it’s complicated. Part of it could be attributed to David’s passivity and bad parenting but it also arose from the proud heart of Absolam. In chapter 14 we read of how Absolam was the best looking guy in the kingdom, with long, wavy hair. There was a buddy of mine in high school who we would always catch flexing in class and checking out his own muscles. Absolam is that guy but blown up. He’s also incredibly influential as it says “he stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (15:6). He was the homecoming king, the most popular and best looking guy in school and he knew it. Absolam is a picture for us of what all pride is. It is setting ourselves up as illegitimate rulers of reality, defining good and evil for ourselves. It is dethroning God’s anointed and enthroning ourselves as king.
Where we see his pride on fullest display however, is in chapter 17. He is plotting with his lead generals about how to take out David and his army so he can have decisive control over the kingdom. Ahithophel, the man who is considered the wisest in the land says, “well, Assassinate David and all of this will be over. Cut off the head of the kingdom and the rest will fall.” But this isn’t good enough for Absolam. He wants the big victory on a big battlefield where he gets the glory. So, he asks if anyone has any better ideas. In walks Hushai, a friend of David who is sent to try and influence Absolam. Hushai puffs up Absolam with flattering language and says how they should gather more troops and prepare an all-out assault on David and his men. This plan would involve way more men, have way more casualties, and would allow David to set the place of attack (a dense forest area). But because of his pride Absolam runs headlong, or should we say hair-long, into the trap.
Notice, it is Absolam’s own sin that is his undoing. This is made clear in the story by his own source of pride, his hair, being the instrument of his downfall. His own sin leads him to his own destruction. However, look at this little detail from 17:14:
And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom.
This is the “Wizard of Oz moment” in this story. The curtain is pulled back. Only behind the curtain of Absolam’s destructive pride we find something more terrifying than that. You see, it is Absolam’s destructive sin that is precisely God’s means of judgment upon him. Absolam’s unchecked sin is the direct way that God brought his judgment upon Absolam. To use the language of Paul in Romans 1, God gave up Absolam to his own pride because he exchanged the truth that God is King for the lie that he is the true king.
Friends, let this be a heart check for us all today. May we not run headlong into our own destruction! May we not continue to pursue our own kingdom for so long that God eventually gives us up to our own sin and uses that as his form of judgment in our lives. Today, if you are caught in a cycle of pride, constantly putting yourself above God, defining what is good and evil for yourself, I pray that you would repent and turn back. Do not run into your own destruction as Absolam does. Acknowledge God as the true King and humbly bow the knee and return to him.
Now, we turn our gaze to David. The consequences of his sin with Bathsheba cause him tremendous guilt. Can you blame him? Think about the crushing weight that he must have felt here at the end of this chapter. Here is David sitting at the gate, anxiously waiting for news from the battle to come to him. Then all of a sudden he sees two men running in the distance. You can almost hear the delusion and desperation in his voice when he says in v. 27, “He is a good man who comes with good news.” The first man comes and doesn’t tell him anything about Absolam. But then the second man comes and says, “May the enemies of . . . the king . . . be like that man.” He’s crushed.
Think about what he must have felt in that moment. In an instant, all of his sin comes flooding back to him. He is haunted by Uriah’s faithfulness in the midst of his betrayal and murder. He is haunted by his unnamed, dead child. He is haunted by his son Amnon who died at the hand of Absolam. He is haunted by his concubines who were raped. And now he is haunted by the death of yet another son. And all this culminates in his cry in verse 33:
“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Grief and guilt so terrible he wishes he had died in the place of his son. This is what sin does. It sucks us into its trap and then condemns us for falling prey.
Rather than press further into his sin, David realizes the depth of his sin and wallows in its terrible destruction. How many of us in here are like David? How many of us know full well the sin we have committed but cannot look beyond it? How many of us are haunted by the people we have hurt and countless terrible decisions and actions that must be taken as a result of our sin? If that is you here this morning, take comfort in knowing that David, the man after God’s own heart, suffered with the same thing. He couldn’t bear what his sins had done. Take comfort in remembering the words God spoke to David in chapter 12, “The Lord . . . has put away your sin.” Take comfort also in your brothers and sisters in Christ sitting around you this morning. Church, let’s bear one another’s burdens. Let’s walk through the guilt caused by our sin together as a body. We don’t have to deal with it alone.
The other way we see David’s sin complicate his life is in his compromise with Absolam. David loves his son Absolam dearly and that makes me sympathize with David in this passage. However, when your son rebels against the kingdom of God, kills your men including one of your other sons, and sleeps with your wives you cannot act as if there is not a serious problem between you two. The reality is that David’s own son has become his enemy and an enemy of God’s people. In Psalm 3:1-2, which was written while David was on the run from Absolam, he recognizes this reality:
O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.”
He clearly states here that Absolam and all those who follow him are his foes.
This is not David’s perspective in our story though. When faced with the potential of Absolam’s demise he orders in 2 Samuel 18:5:
“Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom.
This is an impossible situation to be in. And yet, this complicated, terrible situation is a result of David’s own sin. Rather than doing what would have been the hard and necessary thing, killing his own son in order to save the kingdom of God, he chooses to let him live. Although this is hard for us to see and understand, he compromises in the face of a hard situation. He allows an enemy of God to continue rather than dealing with the evil and rebellion at its source. In the words of one commentator, “David would treat cancer with candy”1 by not dealing with Absolam.
Now, this clearly does not mean that we should act in the same way as David. The New Testament church is not a national kingdom with physical enemies and we are not called to take up the sword. As well, we are not God’s chosen king of his people. However, we recognize that the main enemies of the kingdom of God are sin and death. And these are enemies that must be taken seriously and destroyed.
When we frame it in this way, how many of us are guilty of exactly the same thing as David here? How many of us compromise and refuse to eradicate our sin because it would be uncomfortable or difficult? We let it hang around. We don’t do whatever it takes in order to weed out the sin that so easily entangles us. We continue to fool around with the girl or guy we are dating rather than doing the hard work to stop. We continue to excuse and put up with racism and white supremacy in our society, rather than calling it demonic, rooting it out in our hearts, and seeking reconciliation in our relationships no matter what it costs us. We continue to put up with comparison and envy rather than doing the inconvenient thing of taking a break and being held accountable for our social media habits. Friends, do what is necessary to cut off this evil at its source. Act swiftly. Don’t tolerate it. It is your enemy.
As we conclude, there is one more question I want to raise from this text: why do the consequences of these two men’s sins end so differently? Why is it that, despite his compromise and unrelenting guilt, David is saved from his enemies and set back up as king and Absolam dies a tragic death? David is as passive and helpless as ever here. To use the language of the past two weeks’ sermons, the reason for this is that God sent for David. Or to use the language of 2 Samuel 7, it is because God placed his special covenant love upon David and is faithful to that covenant. Absolam was allowed to run headlong into his sin and suffer the punishment of death because he rebelled against the kingdom of God’s chosen. It was not because David was more deserving than Absolam. In many ways, it was David’s own failures that led to Absolam’s rebellion. However, God chose to place his covenant love upon David in an act of sheer grace.
Friends, this is true of us too if we are united to Jesus Christ by faith. You see, God was faithful to his covenant with David after David was dead and gone. He sent Jesus as the great King to conquer our greatest enemies, sin and death. In his atoning death and life-giving resurrection Jesus defeats the enemies of sin and death forever. If we place our faith in him, this means that the power of sin is broken in our lives and we are given the power of God’s Spirit to resist sin. The love and faithfulness that God gave to David is ours in Christ Jesus, not because of anything we did but because of his sheer grace. Even when we were at our most helpless. Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This gives us hope in the midst of the complicated, sin-ridden lives that we live.
We may struggle with pride like Absolam, setting ourselves up over and above God and defining what is good and evil for ourselves. But God invites us to bow the knee to King Jesus, the greater David. We no longer have to pursue our own kingdom but can live in the freedom of God’s kingdom, submitting to what he knows is best for us
We may struggle with guilt over our past and current failures but God invites all those who are heavy laden to come to Jesus. On the cross Jesus took the guilt incurred by our own sin upon himself and gives to us instead joy and freedom! Although there are real consequences in our lives for our sin we no longer have to beat ourselves up for what we have done or not done. Our great high priest Jesus took that guilt upon himself and daily intercedes for you and me now before God almighty.
We may struggle with compromise, with a failure to take sin seriously. However, Jesus’ death tells us that God took sin so seriously that he sent his Son to die for it. He dealt the death blow to our great enemy. Now we can do the hard, sometimes messy and complicated things we need to do by the power of God’s Spirit in us to confront and destroy our sin. Jesus the prophet speaks the truth from his throne that our sin was a threat to our lives but because of his death and resurrection that it is a vanquished foe!
Jesus is the only person in the story of human history who understands the complexity of living in a sinful world and yet is worthy of the title hero. Jesus Christ, the greater David is our only hope. Even if our life is an absolute wreck. Even if we have to make impossibly hard choices to deal with the terrible consequences of sin in our lives. If we speak the words of David in Psalm 3:7, “Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God!” and throw ourselves on the love and grace of God in Christ displayed for us supremely on the cross can we have relief and hope for our shipwrecked and war torn lives.