At last, David leads in battle. Or he plans to, only meekly to submit to his subjects when pressed not to (vv.2, 4). They ride out with his pleas that Absalom be treated with mercy (v.5). And then it isn’t David’s men who grab Absalom, but, bizarrely, the branches of a tree (v.9). The lengthy exchange recorded between the unnamed warrior and Joab underline the dilemma that both men should have – how do they handle their leader’s son (vv.10-13)? There is no dilemma for Joab, though, and he spears Absalom. That blow is effectively the end of the battle, and the coup. Absalom’s life is sealed with the mention of a monument which is as sad as both his life and his eventual death (v.18).
Can David’s heart take any more misery? Joab isn’t sure. He won’t risk the the son of the priest Zadok taking the news of Absalom’s death in case David rages at the bringer (remember his reaction to Saul’s death?). Instead, he sends an unnamed and probably unknown African to be messenger (vv.19-21). Ahimaaz, in a misguided longing for glory or reward (or both) also runs off to David. The irony of Ahimaaz’s declaration “all is well” (v.28) isn’t lost on us, and will break David’s heart. All for him is lost, because Absalom is dead, however much more bloodshed is averted, and the coup is over. When the original messenger brings the clear word, David must weep his bitter tears in private (vv.31-33).
A horrible, horrible loss. David’s tears must have been as much for his own failures as for the life of his misguided son. What wreckage sin has made of this family. How many parents today, Christian parents, too, weep for their children’s sins and their own? Our Gospel doesn’t bring us all the answers in the face of sin, nor does it mean that we will be delivered from all our temptations and disasters. No true Christian father goes to heaven without aching tears for his children. No true God is unmoved by the sins of His children. Certainly, ours isn’t.
A Prayer to Pray
Merciful Father, You tell us that there is a time to weep, and a time to mourn. This short, sad life so often breaks me, and the needs and troubles of those I love most dearly break me most. Father, You Who lost Your beloved Son, comfort me in my sorrows by Your Spirit. Deliver me from temptation, both to stop loving, or to lose myself in self-pity. Guard this weary, tender heart. I give it to You. Amen.