Have you ever been banished from somewhere?
Previously, we read of David’s sons: the wickedness of Amnon and the revenge from Absalom. One son committed sexual immorality and lust while the other, the eldest, committed murder. Instead of David’s children being wiser than he, they revealed their own kind of wickedness. We also watched as David stood at a distance and failed to get involved. He failed to intervene, or disciple, or discipline, or rebuke. As Chapter 13 closed, we heard of Absalom putting distance between himself and the kingdom as David wept for the loss of his son Amnon. Absalom was banished from the kingdom without the king even ordering it. We continue to see the story unfold as our beloved king is slow to reconcile.
Read 2 Samuel 14
What did you see? (Observation)
- Joab’s scheme to return Absalom to the kingdom (1-24)
- Absalom’s scheme to return to the kingdom (25-33)
Joab’s scheme to return Absalom to the kingdom (1-24)
“Joab son of Zeruiah…” Remember him from earlier chapters? He was David’s nephew (1 Chronicles 2:16) but the chief of the army (2 Samuel 8:16). He seems to be keen for the kingdom of David even if he’s not keen on the kingdom of God. In this chapter we’ll watch as he acts on what he thinks would be best for the kingdom of David.
“…knew that the king’s heart longed for Absalom.” This is a tricky verse to digest. See, if David longed for Absalom then why does Joab need to go to such lengths to ‘trick’ David into bringing Absalom back and then, when Absalom returns, the king forbids him to see the king face to face. If David longed for Absalom then it would only take a nudge from Joab to go out and get him. This is a translation issue and 2 Samuel 14:1 should read something like, the king’s heart was against Absalom or the king’s heart was upon Absalom (meaning that he thought on him a lot and could just as easily be a negative thought). The reason for the english translations to go the way they do is because of the confusing 2 Samuel 13:39. That verse is a lot trickier (so says John Woodhouse and Dale Ralph Davis in their commentaries. The relationship between Davie and Absalom makes more sense when we see that David did not long to see him but was very mindful of him.
“So Joab sent someone to Tekoa and had a wise woman brought from there.” It is reasonable to imagine that Joab saw the absence of Absalom as a problem for the future of the kingdom. He was the next heir to the throne and so being absent created a weakness in succession. Plus, as we’ll see later in the chapter, Absalom was much liked by the people and so if Absalom remains an outcast (which was really self inflicted) then the kingdom of David has a serious crack in it that needs fixing. So Joab takes charge to trick the king into a decision. He invites a woman from a town about 16km south of Jerusalem. His plan could not be accomplished by anybody but by somebody who could think on their feet, follow the plan and know how to close the deal.
“He said to her, “Pretend…go to the king and speak these words…”” We can recall when Nathan wanted to convict David of sin and needed him to repent. He came to the king with the word of the LORD in his mouth. This woman will go to the king with the ‘words of Joab in her mouth.’ Nathan’s story was quite brief and effective while the plan of Joab’s had three phases involving a dress up performance by the woman. It seems to me like a tip to us that Joab is not doing something that is wise and worthy but something cunning and wise in Joab’s eyes but not perhaps the king’s or God’s.
“She said, “I am a widow; my husband is dead…two sons…one struck the other and killed him.” Like Nathan’s story about the man who had a precious sheep which paralleled secretly the story of David and Uriah’s wife, this story has been manufactured to parallel the death of Amnon by the hand of his brother. The woman is reciting to the king and to the reader the words that were given to her by Joab. We may also recall the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 which resulted in God protecting the murdering brother. That kind of mercy and protection is what the woman will try to get from the king.
“They would put out the only burning coal I have left…” The story hinges on mercy being extended on compassionate grounds. If the woman loses her guilty son then the family name will come to an end.
“The king said…Go home, and I will issue an order in your behalf.” The story has not pulled the king in emotionally and we might hear the king here simpy asking the woman to go and leave it with him. Perhaps he’ll then get someone in charge to go and make it known that this woman and her son should be left alone. End of story. The king can get on with his day and this stranger can leave his room now. But the woman, in her cunningness, wants the king to give her his decision…
“Let my lord the king pardon me and my family, and let the king and his throne be without guilt.” The woman is pushing to get the king’s response right there and then. Remember that it is fake news and she just wants to corner the king into showing mercy in this situation. She may be suggesting that there will be no repercussions coming back to the king with regard to this or she may be suggesting that if he answers now, then he will not be tempted to forget her and not fulfill his word to issue an order.
“As surely as the LORD lives…not one hair of your son’s head will fall to the ground.” The woman has three attempts to get the king to come to a final declaration that the murdering son will be kept safe from all repercussions. He first said something like ‘leave it with me’ (V8). Then he said to the effect of, ‘if you run into problems, let me know about it’ (V10). But finally he declares by an oath to God that the son is safe from punishment. See Numbers 35:12 and 21 on what the ‘avenger of blood’ refers to.
“Let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.” I reckon it’s touch and go whether the king’s patience is getting tested by now. The woman was no doubt introduced to the king by Joab and so the king is being gracious with the meeting. Perhaps the king has come to enjoy this interaction.
“Why then have you devised a thing like this…” Not quite the same power as Nathan saying ‘You are the man!’ But the vibe is the same. The king has not brought back his banished son. Absalom was banished by his own means but the fact remains that David has not sought his return.
“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die.” Cool illustration of death. There is a perminance to death like water spilled on the ground. I recall the proverb that a bent metal cannot be straightened (Eccles 1:15; 7:13). Some things can only travel in one direction. Death is a one way street.
“But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.” God could have resorted to the death penalty for all who have fallen short of his glory but he has devised ways for people to return to him. The sacrificial system communicates to the people that with God there is forgiveness. Even Cain was given protection in the world to not face death before his days were numbered. God’s nature is always to have mercy. This woman speaks a truth that is perhaps beyond her own understanding. Verse 14 is highlighted in my bible. We can talk forever about who is right and wrong but it is great to learn the lesson that God seeks restoration. We have no greater vision of this than the cross of Christ. It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us. Christ came into the world to save sinners.
“…for my lord the king is like an angel of God in discerning good and evil…” For some reason, the woman returns to her story that she is really there to get pardon for her son but used the occasion to push David to restore Absalom also. But she pushes on the king’s ambition to be full of wisdom and discerning between right and wrong, good and evil. This, by the way, is the challenge to all mankind. In the garden we were tested to choose between good and evil. Stupidly we took the fruit thinking that it would teach us the difference between good and evil but it really just gave us the experience of what happens when we choose evil. See also Phil 1:9-11.
“Isn’t the hand of Joab with you in all this?” David has seen through this fiscade now and wants the woman to come out of her disguise so they can talk about the true issue: Absalom.
“…Joab did this to change the present situation.” We get insight into Joab a little here. He is not content with the situation of David’s oldest son living as an outcast to the kingdom. In all of the drama with Amnon and Absalom, we would have loved David to step in and teach Amnon a better way, to send Amnon away for his sin, and so on. The delay in acting has created this situation.
“The king said to Joab…” We see that Joab has been present this whole time. It explains how she was brought to the king’s ear, why he entertained her so long and I can imagine that David looked at Joab when he asked the woman ‘is the hand of Joab in this?’ The woman in the story now disappears and is not mentioned again.
“Joab fell with his face to the ground…the king has granted his servant’s request.” Joab has got what he wanted out of this story – at least he thinks he has. Joab has manipulated David and, instead of being wise coucel and rebuke like Nathan to the king, it was foolish methods and lies in order to coerce the king into doing what seemed wise in Joab’s eyes.
“…he must go to his own house; he must not see my face.” He is allowed back to Jerusalem but he is forbidden from seeing the king’s face. The son of the king remains in a banished state. Joab has not actually got what he wanted. And, we see that David is not actually keen to see Absalom or that he heart longed for him. David is not happy that Absalom killed his brother. There are not good guys and bad guys in the bible. Only those who turn their face to righteousness, failing but trying, and those who do not. People are not two-dimensional. We are all complex and the people in the bible are no different. David and Absalom’s relationship will go through more before the end. But for now, David wants his son to return but not fully.
Absalom’s scheme to return to the kingdom (25-33)
“In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom.” There is a change in scene and mood at Verse 25 so that we have a new episode or sequel to the events of Verses 1-24. We are reminded, though, of what the world and Israel look out for – outward beauty, strength, might and accomplishment. The people once loved Saul because he truly looked the part of a mighty king. But God chose David because he looks at the heart of a person. While Absalom is exiled from seeing the king, his reputation is of one that people like to look at!
“…his hair…was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” This is about 2.6kg. The exact weight is probably not the emphasis but the vanity of the man. This description of Absalom’s hair will be more significant in chapter 18 but brings irony to 2 Sam 14:11!
“…His daughter’s name was Tamar…” Informs us of how much Absalom loved his sister who’s reputation had been taken from her.
“Then he said to his servants…” While Absalom was banished from the king’s presence, he did not live in a dungeon. He had servants. Absalom could not see the king and his attempts to see the king’s chief officer were denied. So he forces Joab to come to him by setting fire to Joab’s field. It seems that Joab has been proactive in this chapter to get his way but was blindsided by David sending Absalom to an isolated part of the kingdom and by Absalom setting fire to his field.
“…Why have I come from Geshur?…I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.” It seems that Absalom finds himself in a bit of limbo. He’s not free of the king to live wherever he wants (like Geshur) but he is not found guilty of a crime. He demands this nowhere-man kinda life to end. Be set free or be condemned. Joab had failed to get Absalom to the king, but Absalom has demanded an ultimatum and it appears that it has put David in the position of making a decision about his son: will he put him to death or will he release him?
“…Absalom…cam in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king.” Absalom’s only grief with the king has been that Amnon’s crime was not dealt with. Absalom is now ready to receive what the king would have for him. Will the king do as he had said to the ‘fake’ woman? Will any hair on this man’s head fall to the ground over this matter?
“And the king kissed Absalom.” The response of the father to the prodigal son comes to mind: Luke 15:20. But David has not been standing on the verandah waiting for the son to come home. Through Chapters 13 and 14 we have seen that David is not in the driver’s seat. But the resolution has finally been that the matter is over. Absalom is back in the kingdom.
What did we learn? (Meaning)
David’s attention has been on the loss of his son, Amnon. His failure to deal with Amnon’s sin has continued over to his failure to deal with the vengeance of Absalom. So, a man of the sword, Joab, acts like the voice of God to direct David by trickery. Absalom, likewise, reverts to trickery in order to get a hearing from Joab and David. The key to understanding this passage is to hear the words of the woman in Verse 14. God’s ways are to seek restoration of relationship. God’s desire is for the sinner to come home and he devises ways so that this can happen. The prodigal son makes a good New Testament improvement on this story. And the restoration of sinners open to us through Christ is where we see God devising the only way for us to be right with him before it is too late – like water spilled on the ground.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: God has devised a plan so that a person does not remain banished. The cross of Christ means that God has made provision for the forgiveness of sins. John 1:12 (a favourite verse of Leanne’s) teaches us that all who receive Christ and believe in his name, they are given the right to become children of God. Absalom had become an alienated son of the king – unpermitted to see the king’s face again. But, by human means and clumsy trickery, David kissed his son and received him home. Not so with God! We are made sons of the living God by his eternal plan to deliver us from evil. God is not distantly waiting for us to live out our days and then see what happens after that. Hebrews 1:3 says that after he had provided purification for sins, then he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Topic B: We must die. The illustration of water being poured out on the ground that cannot be picked up again – that is a vivid picture of finality. Death is (in the common sense of the word without speaking of clinical deaths) a one way trip. Verse 14 reminds us to work out what needs to be done before that event occurs for us. Psalm 2 says, kiss [the] son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction (Ps 2:12). Ecclesiastes instructs us not to avoid thinking of death, “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecc 7:2). And, in passing, Habakuk reminds us that the grave is greedy and death is never satisfied (Habakuk 2:5). We may all have eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3:11) but death awaits all of us and we must be ready for what comes next.Topic C: We will not be sent to purgatory. Absalom was neither cast out nor drawn near. 2 Samuel 14 pictures this as unsatisfactory. The unethical theology of purgatory looks a little like this. Not good enough for the kingdom but not condemned to hell either. The bible does not teach of any such circumstances. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that we all must face death and then, after that, face judgment. Revelation 20 declares that on judgment day anybody whose name is not written in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire (meaning hell). “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7). Many people in this life ignore the warning to make peace with God through Christ and leave their eternity up to chance. There is only one way to be right with God and that is to repent and love the LORD now. After death, it is too late.