Do you remember last week’s chapter? It was one of those chapters which we almost wish was not in the Bible, because it was one of those chapters which contains a shameful story from the history of Israel. In fact, there were two shameful stories, because firstly there was the story of Amnon, who was David’s firstborn son and heir to the throne, who attacked and abused Tamar, his half-sister. She protested and pleaded with him not to do this wicked thing, but he would not listen to her. And afterwards, his love — which was really lust — turned to hatred and he sent her away. And then secondly there was the story of Absalom, who was Tamar’s brother, and Amnon’s half-brother, and he patiently bided his time until the right time came when he could take revenge on Amnon for what he did to his sister by having Amnon killed.
So, last week’s chapter contained those two shameful stories. And these two stories are a reminder to us that though God’s people at that time were living in the Promised Land they were not yet living in the true Promised Land. And neither are we. Though we have the Spirit of God to help us to resist sin and to walk in the ways of the Lord, we are still sinners and we still live in a fallen, sinful world where sin abounds. And we yearn for the time when Christ our Saviour will come again to make all things new and all of his people will be brought into God’s presence in the true Promised Land, the new heavens and earth, and we’ll be fully and finally freed from all sin and misery and we’ll live with the Lord forever in perfect peace and rest. That’s what we’re yearning for.
After Amnon was killed, Absalom fled and he went to live in this place Geshur, far away from Jerusalem and far away from his father, David. And we were told at the end of chapter 13 that he remained there for three years. Well, in today’s chapter, we see how Joab — who was David’s commander-in-chief and in some ways his fixer — worked out a way to persuade David to let Absalom return to Jerusalem.
I said last week that the last verse of chapter 13 is difficult to translate. The NIV translates the Hebrew by saying that during the three years when Absalom was in Geshur, David’s spirit longed to go to him. In other words, he wanted to see his estranged son, but he was unable to do so. However, the Hebrew word translated ‘to go out’ can be used in a hostile sense. In that case, the narrator is telling us that David’s spirit longed to go out against Absalom. In other words, he wanted to go out and punish him, but he was unable to do so. So, which is it? Did he long to see him or did he long to punish him?
And, in fact, the word translated ‘longed’ by the NIV can also mean ‘ceased’. So, it could be that David’s spirit ceased to go out to Absalom. That is, he had no more love for his son. Or it could be that David’s spirit ceased to go out against Absalom. That is, his anger had come to an end. So, which is it?
The point is that the last verse of chapter 13 is hard to translate. It’s hard to tell from that verse what David thought about Absalom.
What has that got to do with chapter 14? Well, since the NIV assumes that David longed to see his son, it therefore translates verse 1 of chapter 14 along the same lines. It says in verse 1 that Joab knew that the king’s heart longed for his son. So, according to the NIV, Joab knew that David wanted to see Absalom.
But is that really the case? Think about it for a moment. If that were really the case — if David really longed to see his son — why did Joab need to send this woman of Tekoa to convince David to let Absalom return? It makes no sense. Why did Joab have to persuade David if David already wanted to see his son?
The fact is that the Hebrew of verse 1 doesn’t contain the word ‘longed’. A more literal translation of verse 1 is that Joab knew that the king’s heart was either ‘on’ or ‘against’ Absalom. And given what we read in the rest of this chapter, it makes more sense to say that David’s spirit was ‘against’ Absalom. He was still angry with him because of what he had done to his half-brother. So, David didn’t want Absalom to return to Jerusalem. However, Joab wanted Absalom to return. And therefore, Joab came up with a way to convince David to let his son return. Joab is trying to get David to do something he doesn’t want to do.
So, why would Joab want Absalom to return to Jerusalem? We don’t really know. The text doesn’t tell us. The commentators speculate that he’s thinking about the future of the kingdom. David is getting old. One day he will die. Since Amnon, David’s firstborn son, is now dead, it seems to Joab that Absalom is the next best candidate to take over the throne when the time comes. As far as Joab is concerned, Absalom has what it takes to be king. Therefore, we better get him back to Jerusalem to avoid any problems when it’s time to appoint a successor to David. And so, Joab came up with the cunning plan.
Verses 2 to 7
According to verse 2, he sent someone to fetch this wise woman from Tekoa. The word translated ‘wise’ was used in the previous chapter to describe Jonadab. And I said last week that it can also be translated ‘crafty’ or ‘sneaky’ even. So, was this woman a wise woman or was she a crafty and sneaky woman? Were Joab and this woman displaying godly wisdom or were they displaying sneakiness? That’s something for you to think about.
Joab told her to pretend to be a widow in mourning and to act as if she’s been grieving for the dead for many days. And go and see the king and I’ll tell you exactly what to say. And so, she went before the king and began with the words, ‘Help me!’ Well, David’s the king. And here’s this sad, sorrowful woman who needs help. He’s not going to turn her away. And she tells the king her story. She’s a widow. Her two sons were in the field. They got into a fight. There was no-one there to separate them. One struck the other and killed him. From what she says, it seems that this was a case of manslaughter and not murder. The law of Moses distinguished between manslaughter and murder. The penalty for murder was death. Life for life. But whoever committed manslaughter could flee to a city of refuge where he was to be kept safe.
So, the law protected those who were guilty of manslaughter. And if that’s what he had done, then what happens next is very disturbing, because the woman went on to say that the whole family clan had risen up against her and they wanted her to hand over her one remaining son, so that they could him to death for what he had done. And she adds the little detail in the middle of verse 7 about how her one remaining son was the heir. And so, by killing him they would get rid of him. That means, the woman would lose the family farm. Her land would go to someone else. And she would lose her means of support. And if both her sons were killed, then her husband’s family name would be forgotten.
Verses 8 to 20
That’s the story she told. ‘Leave it with me’, David says in verse 8. But she won’t leave it at that. According to verse 11, she wants the king to take an oath to protect her son. And David agrees and he takes the oath:
As surely as the Lord lives, not one hair of your son’s head will fall to the ground.
And presumably after that, David is expecting the woman to thank him and leave. But she won’t leave. She’s about to spring her trap, because, unknown to David, she’s been laying a trap for him. Remember: she’s making the story up. She’s not a widow. She didn’t have two sons who fought in the field. She made it up — or Joab made it up — because the story Joab told her to tell the king was a kind of parable to represent the king and his two sons, Amnon and Absalom. So, how was her story related to what David was doing? Well, the dead son in her story represents Amnon who is now dead. And the son in her story who was guilty of manslaughter represents Absalom. And since David was willing to show mercy to her son, why won’t he show mercy to Absalom and let him return to Jerusalem? That’s the point of her story. And so, she suggests to David in verse 13 that his own words concerning her case convict him concerning his own case. His own words and his willingness to show mercy to her son convict him of his unwillingness to show mercy to his own son.
And then she added:
We must all die.
Yes, Amnon died. And it’s tragic. But like water that is spilt on the ground and can’t be recovered, so we can’t bring back the dead. Nothing you do, David, will bring Amnon back. And then, to put the finishing touches to her trap, she added a little theology. She said: God does not take life. Instead he devises ways so that the banished person may not remain estranged from him. So, since God allows the banished person to return, why won’t you, David, let your banished son return?
And having said all of that, she goes back to her own made-up story in verse 15 and she flatters David by saying he’s like an angel of God in being able to discern good and evil.
But David has finally figured it out. He knows this woman is not what she appears to be. And so, he asks her in verse 19:
Isn’t the hand of Joab with you in all this?
In other words: Joab is behind this, isn’t he? And she confessed that he was and that he had told her to come to the king and say what she said in order to change the present situation.
Verses 21 to 24
In verse 21 David speaks to Joab. Presumably between verse 20 and verse 21 David summoned him to appear before him. And David said to Joab:
Very well, I will do it. Go, bring back the young man Absalom.
And Joab fell with his face to the ground and honoured the king. He’s delighted, because it seems to him that he’s got his way and that the king has granted his request. And he headed off to Geshur to bring Absalom back.
But did Absalom really get his way? Did David really grant his request? Well, in one sense, he did, because Absalom was allowed to return to Jerusalem. But in another sense he didn’t, because David gave the order that Absalom must remain in his own house and he must not be allowed to see David. He was back in the city, but David did not want to see him. He was back, but there was no reconciliation between them.
Before we move on, think back to the woman’s made-up story and how it compares to the true story of Amnon and Absalom. Were the two stories the same? Well, they weren’t. In the made-up story, it’s possible — as I’ve already said — that the one remaining son was guilty of manslaughter, not murder. And whereas the penalty for murder was death, those who committed manslaughter were to be spared. And so, if that’s the case, the family clan in her made-up story had no right to kill the widow’s remaining son. And when David swore an oath to protect him, he was upholding the law.
However, Absalom was definitely guilty of murder. And the penalty for murder was death. Life for life. David should have sentenced his son to death. But what this woman wanted — and what Joab wanted — was for David to disregard the law of the Lord. They wanted David to say that the law doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what God says in his law. And it doesn’t matter that Absalom was guilty of murder. It doesn’t matter really. We can forget what the law says.
But we can’t forget what the law says, because the law is God’s law. And since it’s God’s law, then David and everyone else in Israel was duty bound to receive it and to believe it and to obey it, because it is the word of God.
And then, remember what the woman said about God? She said God does not take away life and instead he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. Is that true? Does God not take away life? Well, God does take away life, because the wages of sin is death. In the beginning, the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden represented God’s promise to Adam that he and his descendants would live forever in the presence of God so long as Adam obeyed the word of the Lord. But since Adam disobeyed God, then he and all his descendants became liable to death. And in Genesis 5, you have that long list of Adam’s descendants and the words ‘And then he died’ are repeated over and over and over again. And then he died. And then he died. And then he died. And then he died. The wages of sin is death; and therefore we all die, because all of us are sinners.
But in another sense, what the woman said was true — whether she realised it or not — because the Lord has devised a way so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. Think of Adam after he sinned: God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and he put that angel at the entrance to the Garden to prevent them from returning. And all of us — because we’re sinners — deserve to be banished from the presence of God forever. When the day of judgment comes, all of us will stand before his judgment seat to give an account of ourselves. And because all of us are sinners, then we all deserve to be condemned and sent away from his presence to be punished forever for all that we have done wrong. That’s what we all deserve, because all of us are sinners who have sinned against him continually and we’ve fallen short of doing his will. But God has devised a way so that those who deserve to be banished from his presence can be reconciled to him and can come into his presence in the life to come.
But the way he has devised isn’t to disregard our sin and guilt. That’s what the woman and Joab were asking David to do. Yes, Absalom is a murderer, but forget about it. Don’t think about it. But God will not do that about our sin and guilt and all the things we have done wrong. He will not disregard what we have done, because he is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably just. He always does what is just and right. And it would not be just, it would not be right, for him to ignore what we have done wrong. It would not be just or right for him to disregard what we have done wrong. If a human judge shrugged his shoulders and let a guilty person go free, we would be angry about it and we would want the judge removed, because the judge must uphold the law and see that justice is done so that the guilty are punished. That’s the right thing for a judge to do. And God, who is the judge of all, must uphold his own law and see that justice is done. So, he can’t disregard what you have done wrong. Justice must be done.
But God has devised a way so that those who deserve to be banished from his presence can be reconciled to him and can come into his presence in the life to come. And the way he has devised demonstrates his mercy, because he’s able to pardon the guilty. And the way he has devised demonstrates his justice too, because while he pardons the guilty, he’s still able to satisfy his justice in full.
What is the way that he has devised? The way he has devised was to send his one and only Son into the world as one of us. And his one and only Son, who is Jesus Christ the Lord, was prepared to take the blame for all that we have done wrong and to suffer in our place the punishment we deserve so that everyone who trusts in him as the only Saviour of the world is pardoned and accepted by God and receives the free gift of eternal life, so that though we die and our bodies are laid in the ground, the day will come when we will be raised from the dead and are brought into the presence of God to live with him forever in that new and better world to come. Though you deserve to be banished from the presence of God forever, nevertheless if you’re trusting in Christ, then God will bring you into his presence for the sake of Christ who gave up his life to pay for all that you have done wrong and to make peace for you with God. God remains just, because Christ has paid for your sins in full on your behalf. And God is able to show you mercy, by pardoning and accepting you, even though you do not deserve it.
And so, this is why we’re all to trust in Christ as the only Saviour of the world. And we’re to keep trusting in him. And this is why we should be humble people, because we do not deserve whatever good we receive from God, because what we deserve is his wrath and curse for a lifetime of sin and shame. But instead of treating us as our sins deserve, he deals with us according to his mercy.
Verses 25 to 27
We haven’t yet reached the end of the chapter. Dd you notice in verses 25 to 27 that we’re told about Absalom’s handsome appearance and his hair. That’s a signal to us that Absalom is the wrong person to become king. Back in 1 Samuel, we were told how impressive looking Saul was. But despite his good looks, Saul was not the right person to be king. And Absalom may have looked the part. He was handsome. He had all this hair. No doubt woman fancied him and men admired him. But he was not the right person to be king.
Verses 28 to 33
And then in the final part of the chapter, we read that Absalom lived in Jerusalem for two years without seeing his father. Absalom sent for Joab, because he wanted Joab to persuade the king to see him. Joab ignored him at first until Absalom took drastic action and set Joab’s field on fire. That got Joab’s attention. And finally Joab was able to arrange a meeting between these two men. But it’s hardly a reconciliation, is it? It all seems very formal, as if they’re going through the motions. Absalom approached David as a servant coming before his king, and not as a son coming to his father.
And, you see, while these two men are in the same room, Absalom’s guilt is still there, coming between them. It hasn’t been sorted out and dealt with. Perhaps they’ve chosen to ignore it, but it’s still there.
But how wonderful. Because when we come before God here in church, one of the first things we do is we confess our sins and our shortcomings, the things we have done wrong this past week and the ways we have fallen short. And afterwards, we hear the words of assurance from God’s word, a verse from the Bible to reassure us what whatever was between God and us has been removed, because Christ the Saviour has paid for our sins and has satisfied the justice of God in full. And so, no matter what we have done wrong, we’ve been pardoned. We’ve been forgiven. And we have peace with God. And so, though God is the King, who rules over all, he’s also our Father in heaven, who loves us and cares for us. And he’s become our Father, because of Christ the Saviour, who became one of us and who took the blame for sinners so that all who believe in him are pardoned forever.