When God is left out of the picture, troubled relationships keep getting worse.
2 Samuel 14:23-33
23 Then Joab went to Geshur and brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. 24 But the king said, ‘He must go to his own house; he must not see my face.’ So Absalom went to his own house and did not see the face of the king.
25 In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. 26 Whenever he cut the hair of his head – he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him – he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels[a] by the royal standard.
27 Three sons and a daughter were born to Absalom. His daughter’s name was Tamar, and she became a beautiful woman.
28 Absalom lived for two years in Jerusalem without seeing the king’s face. 29 Then Absalom sent for Joab in order to send him to the king, but Joab refused to come to him. So he sent a second time, but he refused to come. 30 Then he said to his servants, ‘Look, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there. Go and set it on fire.’ So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire.
31 Then Joab did go to Absalom’s house, and he said to him, ‘Why have your servants set my field on fire?’
32 Absalom said to Joab, ‘Look, I sent word to you and said, “Come here so that I can send you to the king to ask, ‘Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!’” Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.’
33 So Joab went to the king and told him this. Then the king summoned Absalom, and he came in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king. And the king kissed Absalom.
For decades, Australians have been able to turn on the TV each evening and watch soap operas. These shows have casts of colourful characters. They also have plane crashes, exploding shops, cars whose brakes have been tampered with, various limbs being burnt off, bullet wounds, murder, lust, betrayal, revenge, heartache, broken relationships, supposedly deceased people returning from hiding, lies, lies, and more lies. TV networks adore coming up with every extreme and unbelievable scenario on the planet to force upon the hapless characters. The viewers are left shaking their heads – these things so rarely happen to us, if they happen at all! And that’s the appeal, perhaps – the emotions that come with high drama, coupled with an absurdity that keeps it all distinct from real life. Because life isn’t like that, right?
Reading today’s passage, one can’t help but feel that this part the 2 Samuel story is a bit like this. David’s son Absalom has returned to Jerusalem with the king’s permission, after being in exile for taking revenge. But David refuses to see him. Frustrated after two years of this cold shoulder treatment, he sets on fire the field of David’s advisor, Joab. Then David agrees to see Absalom and kisses his son. It a remarkable tale – truth is stranger than fiction.
Unfortunately, the dramatic tale that surrounds this, before and after, is also all too real and very, very grim. It tells of terrible events that include rape, murder, a coup, death, and ongoing chaos. It may be tempting to read it all as if it is just another soap opera, but that would downplay these incidents and do injustice to those who suffer similarly. God wants the horror to rest upon us, so that we feel compassion for those who through the ages, and today, have been the victims of evil.
One can’t help but think parts of this family tragedy have come about, or gotten worse, because David (and others) have not dealt with one another in a frank, honest, just and loving way. David has taken a hands-off approach to dealing with the evil actions and attitudes in his family, turning his head away and ignoring what’s really going on. And rather than calling on God, Absalom (and others, at various times) take matters into their own hands.
So, the troubles multiply, relatives become estranged, and the family and the kingdom spiral out of control. Absalom has returned to Jerusalem in today’s passage, but he’s not ‘home’ in any meaningful sense of that word. More trouble is coming. The promise of David’s kingship and the promise of his family have evaporated, and Israel is left waiting for a real king to fulfil God’s promise.
How about us? We have the privilege of living in the days after God’s true king, Jesus, has lived on earth and taught and died and risen. And we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts. And yet we still can live like David and Absalom, in a sense – making a mess, trying to fix it ourselves, and retreating from one another in fear and hurt and anger. When we do that, the price is resentment and isolation, and ongoing pain. The result is that we don’t shine the light and love of Jesus into one another’s lives. But healing is possible with Jesus, as we can see in the story of Onesimus, told by Paul (Philemon 1, Colossians 4v9). It’s the same healing that flows through us when we keep in step with the Spirit and follow the lead of Jesus.
Head: Do you think that the pain of real life and relationships has fundamentally changed since the time of David and Absalom? What do we have in common with the people we’re reading about? What is different?
Heart: God promises to change our hearts through the work of Jesus and his spirit living in us. What positive changes have you seen in your life and relationships since the Holy Spirit moved in? What things do you still need to work on together?
Hands: Are there some messy or painful situations that you need to sort out with your brothers or sisters in Christ? How will you come together, as followers of Jesus, to do this?
Prayer: Heavenly father, we are amazed and saddened that life is often a mess. Sometimes we blame others when actually we are to blame. Sometimes we hide from our own sin and don’t even admit it to ourselves. Sometimes we have been genuinely wronged by another, but we don’t know how to respond rightly. Sometimes we can’t really sort out who is to blame for what, in the difficult relationships of our lives. We acknowledge that Jesus came to establish a new way where things can be set right forever. As we wait for this to fully take effect, please help us to relate to each other with the love and humility of Jesus. Amen.
A song to listen to: What love my god
Geoff Pryde and Maddie Pryde
Living Church Creek Road