23 July 2016

2 Samuel 18:24-33

"The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, 'O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!' ... So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops; the troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle." (v. 33)

Psalm: Psalm 119:129-144


The story of Absalom's rebellion against his father King David is a bloody one. Today's passage follows on from battle scenes to describe Absalom's death and the conflict that followed. Chased through the forest, he was caught by the neck in a forked branch of a tree he rode under. His mule carrying on, he was left hanging and defenceless.

His father's soldiers had argued: this was their enemy in battle, but it was also the son of the Lord's anointed, David. Finally, refusing to 'waste time', one close to the king came and stabbed Absalom and his men closed in to finish the job.

This was against the instruction of the king. That notwithstanding, the king's prolonged mourning for his son would become an embarrassment to his supporters. He seemed to mourn his son out of proportion to the grief that son had caused among the people and soldiers, seeming to forget the many more dead because of Absalom's rebellion. The whole passage is part of the description of David's succession - of how Solomon came to hold the throne.

The lesson for today might best be understood as a warning. When personal greed, family jealousy and pride become wrapped up in war between nations, they will cause untold harm. War deprives its leaders of the luxury of private grief. As much as this, the lesson might be that war makes monsters out of people, and there is no triumph in it. A final lesson might be that God will use the worst in our history to bring new life - Jesus was understood to be in David's line, "of the house of David", having "the throne of his ancestor David", (Luke 1:27, 32) and served to redeem all.

To Ponder

  • To what extent are all actions permissible in war?
  • Should parents continue to love children no matter what they do?
  • Where do you see God in this passage?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.