I like watching football. Have you ever seen a game in which one team seemed to have all of the momentum going their way? They were getting all the calls, making all the plays, and catching all the breaks. It appeared as if the outcome was settled, and then all of a sudden something happened and the momentum completely shifted. The same team that could do no wrong moments before now couldn’t move the ball, stay set on a snap count, or stop their opponent’s offense. Their composure and poise just vanished, and they fell apart.
This example serves as a fitting comparison to King David’s reign over Israel. He had achieved tremendous military success and subdued most of Israel’s enemies. He had conquered and established Jerusalem as the eternal capital. He had built himself an elaborate house and completed several other building projects throughout the city. He had relocated the Ark of the Covenant, upon which God’s manifest presence dwelt, to a tent in Jerusalem. He was revered and respected by all and everything was going so well - until the night when he saw Bathsheba bathing and did something that he should never have done.
Today’s message is the 20th in our current sermon series titled “The United Church - A Study of Ancient Israel”. Over the next few weeks we are going to read and study passages that describe the hardships and difficulties that David faced during the later part of his kingship. Remember that these problems arose as direct consequences of David’ great sin. The first of these, and our topic today, was the breakdown of his family.
I. RAPE (2 Samuel 13:1-22)
Amnon was David’s first born son. His mother was Ahinoam of Jezreel. Absalom was David’s third born son. His mother was Maacah, the daughter of King Talmai of Geshur. These 2 boys were both born while David was living in the city of Hebron during Israel’s civil war. Thus, they were likely in their mid twenties to early thirties by this point. Tamar was Absalom’s sister, also the child of Maacah and the daughter of David. She was, therefore, Amnon’s half-sister. The exact time and place of her birth is uncertain.
Amnon was infatuated by Tamar’s beauty and lusted deeply for her. He was so distressed that he told his friend Jonadab of his feelings. Jonadab devised a plan in which Amnon could entice Tamar into his bedroom so that he might be alone with her. Amnon pretended to be ill, asked that Tamar come and attend to him, lured her into his chambers under false pretenses, propositioned himself to her, and when she refused forcibly raped her.
Having gratified himself, Amnon’s attitude toward Tamar immediately and dramatically changed. He was filled with hatred for her, and had her thrown out of his house. He had not only violated her sexually, but then also cast her aside and locked her out. Tamar was completely devastated by what had happened to her. The victim of a horrible assault, she felt overwhelmed with grief and unspeakable shame.
Tamar fled in tears to her brother Absalom’s house where she lived in desolation and silence for the next few years. Absalom loathed his half-brother Amnon for what he’d done, and patiently calculated his revenge. When David heard what had transpired, he became angry and upset but apparently took no action. Perhaps he felt as though he didn’t have the moral authority to intervene due to his own past sexual sin with Bathsheba. Whatever the case, David allowed the situation to fester unresolved.
David’s family was in complete turmoil. It was steeped in bitterness and animosity. Some members became so resentful that they wouldn’t even talk to each other. The situation was already dire, but would soon become even worse…
II. RETALIATION (2 Samuel 13:23-39)
After 2 full years had passed with still no punishment of Amnon, Absalom took it upon himself to avenge his sister’s rape. He held a festive celebration in conjunction with the shearing of his sheep and asked his father David and all of his brothers, including Amnon, to come. Though David declined the invitation, all of Absalom’s brothers went.
Absalom commanded his servants to wait until Amnon was merry with wine and then to attack and kill him. This is exactly what they did. When all of the other brothers saw what happened they fled in fear. It was initially reported to David that all of his sons had been killed, but the message was soon corrected to say that only Amnon had been killed.
David’s surviving sons returned to Jerusalem where they joined David and his servants in bitter weeping. Meanwhile, Absalom fled to his mother’s homeland in Geshur. He remained there for 3 years. During all this time David was heartbroken over Absalom and longingly wished for his return. That said, he never made any recorded attempts to go find him and/or bring him home.
An awful sexual sin was followed up by the murder of another person. Sound familiar? Though the circumstances were somewhat different, and some might even argue that Absalom was justified in the killing of Amnon, still the parallels between these events and the sins of David are striking. This is especially true when one considers what God had spoken to David through the prophet Nathan about the consequences that would result from his misconduct.
III. RECALL (2 Samuel 14:1-33)
Joab, David’s military commander, noticed that David was visibly burdened by Absalom’s long absence. He arranged for a woman to come with an elaborate story that might inspire the king to take action. This woman, who was from a nearby village named Tekoa, approached David and told him of her 2 sons. They had fought, and one of them had killed the other. The surviving son then fled to a place of refuge. The woman’s family wanted him returned and executed for his crime. However, she was a widow and wanted her only remaining son to live and carry on the family name. She asked David to ensure his safety and the king agreed.
Then the woman from Tekoa compared her story with David’s situation. She stated that God does not hatefully banish those who offend Him, but rather seeks their restoration. She proposed that David should bring his son own Absalom back to Jerusalem. David smartly figured out that it was Joab who had orchestrated this meeting. Still, he ultimately concluded that both she and Joab were right and ordered that Absalom be recalled.
Joab went to Geshur, found Absalom, and brought him home. However, when Absalom returned and settled in Jerusalem, neither David nor Joab would talk to him for the next 2 years. Though Absalom summoned Joab on multiple occasions, he did not respond. Finally Absalom set Joab’s field on fire in a desperate attempt to get his attention. When Joab confronted Absalom, he explained that he’d only done it so as not to be ignored any longer. Absalom demanded and audience with his father David, and finally the king came and spoke to him.
David felt very strongly about everything that had happened. He was extremely angry that Amnon had raped Tamar. He was deeply saddened that Absalom had murdered Amnon. He was terribly grieved during Absalom’s long stay in Geshur. David was truly heartbroken by everything that had transpired, yet he didn’t actually do much about it. He allowed things to happen without directly addressing them. He barely intervened, but mostly just watched things play out hoping that they’d get better on their own. They rarely do...
While I’m reasonably sure that David prayed for his family (to some extent) during these difficult days, I find it noteworthy that the Bible never actually says that he did anywhere in these 2 chapters. The text explicitly states that David wept, tore his clothes, mourned, and so on but never mentions him crying out to God or praying. Sometimes, especially when dealing with adult children, prayer may be all that you can do for them. Yet prayer seems to be absent from or at least unemphasized in David’s response.
David was the father of his household and therefore bore the God-given responsibility of disciplining and instructing his children. Granted, this can be more difficult to do when they (and you) get older. Still, his silence and inaction led to continued and worsening turmoil in his family. Now I don’t claim to know how fathers and parents can resolve every familial conflict, but I know that David’s approach didn’t work. Feeling bad is not enough - you have to act as the Lord leads.