King David: A Heart Like God’s: The Sound Of A Breaking Heart
February 15, 2015 | Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church | II Samuel 18:1-5, 9-15, 31-33
I wish to lift up selected verses from the 18th chapter of 2nd Samuel. This is the Word of God.
“David mustered the men who were with him and appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. David sent the troops out: a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab’s brother Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The king told the troops, “I myself will surely march out with you,’ but the men said, ‘You must not go out. If we are forced to flee, they won’t care about us. Even if half of us die, they won’t care. But you are worth 10,000 of us. It would be better now for you to give us support from the city.’ The king answered, ‘I will do whatever seems best to you.’
“So the king stood beside the gate while all the men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands. The king commanded Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom, for my sake.’ And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders. Now, Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going. When one of the men saw this, he told Joab, ‘I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.’ Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt.’ But the man replied, ‘Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lay a hand on the king’s son. In our hearing, the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, “Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.” And if I had put my life in jeopardy and nothing is hidden from the king, you would have kept your distance from me.’
“Joab said, ‘I’m not going to wait like this for you.’ So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree, and 10 of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him, and killed him.
“Then the Cushite arrived and said, ‘My lord the king, hear the good news; the Lord has delivered you today from all who rose against you.’ The king asked the Cushite, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’ The Cushite replied, ‘May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.’ The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said, ‘My son, my son, Absalom, if only I had died instead of you. Oh, Absalom, my son, my son.’”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
Great King David lived upon this Earth for 70 years. When he was 30 years of age, he ascended to the throne of Israel, called by God to lead the people of God, and that he did for the next 40 years. He was, beyond any question, the most dominant figure in all of the Old Testament, and he was a man of unusual greatness. In fact, at one point, the Bible says of him that he was a man after God’s own heart. Amazing. And yet, for all of his greatness, King David, like all of us, had feet made of clay. Like all of us, he was a sinner, and sin, sooner or later, always has its consequences. King David is a case in point. The scene we encounter today takes place at the city gate of the ancient city of Mahanaim. Under normal circumstances, that city gate would have been crowded with people, a veritable whirlpool of human activity. However, on this occasion, the gate was virtually abandoned, only one person there: David, the king of Israel.
It was a heartbreaking time for the king. The people of Mahanaim understood that. They knew the reason for it. And so, out of reverence for and indifference to their king, they had all withdrawn from the city gate, leaving David there to himself and to his remembering. I said it was a heartbreaking time for the king. Be assured that it was indeed. You see, there was a civil war raging just a matter of a few miles away, and the commander of the rebel forces, the forces which had attacked the armies of King David, the commander of the rebel army was none other than David’s own son, Absalom. Absalom, who came to hate his father with a passion. Absalom, who traveled about the country undermining every judgment and ruling that his father rendered, Absalom, who was the political operative par excellence who managed to accrue to himself a great coterie of friends and supporters. Absalom, who then commanded the rebel army that sought to drive David from the throne. Absalom, David’s own son.
You might think that, given those circumstances, that here, at the city gate, we would encounter a king who was filled with hatred and revenge toward this one who was traitor to both king and country, but no. No, the Bible makes it absolutely clear. The Bible says that David regarded his son Absalom only with tenderness, only with concern, only with deep, deep grief. In fact, the very last words that King David delivered to his battle commanders as he sent them into the fray, the last words he said to them, “Deal gently for my sake with Absalom.” And then, when the battle was done and the messengers came to report the results to the king, David never even asked who won or lost. He simply said, “Is it well with my son Absalom?” And so we see here not an angry king railing against a rebellious subject, no. Instead, we see an aging father who’s heart was breaking because of his boy.
Today then, I wish for us to intrude a bit upon the private thoughts of King David, for the sake of our own souls, yes, but also, perhaps, for the sake of our society. But on that point, I’ll let you be the judge. I want to suggest to you that King David’s heart was breaking because he was remembering that he had been too permissive with his children. Several years before, a terrible thing had happened in the family of King David. David’s oldest son, Amnon, had actually attacked his half-sister, Tamar. Now, Tamar was the full sister of Absalom, and so Absalom was infuriated at what Amnon had done, and Absalom waited to see what kind of punishment David was going to deliver to Amnon. The law was actually quite clear; at the very least, he should have been banished from the home and disinherited. But as Absalom watched, David did absolutely nothing. Nothing.
In the Septuagint, which is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament books, the words come out like this, “Notwithstanding Amnon’s son, David did not trouble Amnon because he loved him and he was his firstborn.” And so, you see, for David, apparently, love meant being permissive. Love meant never having to say no. Love meant letting his son get away with anything, just to avoid a confrontation. And so Absalom observed all of this, and he decided he would take matters into his own hands. He wound up murdering Amnon. And so I believe, that day, as King David stood in the city gate in the ancient city of Mahanaim, I believe he was remembering how his permissiveness had allowed one son to be murdered and another son to be the murderer. David never managed to learn that, sometimes, saying no to his children would have been a deeper demonstration of his love for them than any number of yeses.
I believe that’s a principle we need to remember. I know there are many people today who are saying that the problems that young people are having today are basically caused by the hypocrisy of the older generations.
Well, I’m certain that there’s a lot of hypocrisy in the older generations. But the fact of the matter is, throughout history, younger generations have always tended to view older generations as being hypocritical, and so there’s nothing at all new about that. Still others suggest that the problems young people encounter these days are triggered by the threat of social upheaval and the disintegration of familiar structures and institutions. Well, I have no doubt that those things do impact of the young to some extent, but here’s what is true; I am a sufficient student of history to know that threats of destruction and disintegration have been a part of the human experience throughout history. There is nothing new about that.
I’ll tell you then what I believe. I believe that many of the problems experienced by young people in our time are created, at least to some extent, by the fact that we are teaching them that freedom means license rather than responsible, disciplined living. I’m not alone in that view. In fact, I’m one insignificant, little voice in what I’m beginning to perceive to be a swelling chorus. In fact, just recently, the keynote speaker at a national psychologist convention in Los Angeles said, “The greatest social disaster of this new century is the belief that abundant love makes discipline unnecessary.” That’s a lesson we can learn from King David. In the Book of Kings, it says of David never once did he discipline his children, telling them they could do what they wanted. Never once. Never any rules. Never any restrictions. Never any directives. Never any denials. Never any corrective. Never any accountability. Never once. Absalom grew up in the midst of all of that. Little wonder that, later on, Absalom was talking to a man named Ahitophel and said to him, “My father has poisoned me.” Little wonder indeed.
David never managed to learn that saying no sometimes is a deeper expression of love than saying yes.
I need to say this plainly and, therefore, I’m going to ask you to help me, please, struggle to make it clear as you listen. This is no justification for discipline for physical or emotional abuse. No. We have too much, way too much, of that particular sickness in this society of ours. It must be condemned, and it must be stopped. However, I believe that it also is a form of child abuse to allow a child to grow up never being able to distinguish between right and wrong, to grow up never learning the secret of responsible living in a free society. That day in the gate at the city of Mahanaim, I believe that King David was remembering how permissive he had been with his children, and I believe that, as he was remembering that, his heart was breaking. And I want to suggest also that King David was remembering that he had set a terrible example for his children. When we think of King David, we tend to think of him, don’t we, as a gentle shepherd boy singing lovely songs, or as the young hero who brought down the great giant Goliath, or as the noble king who ruled Israel until there was liberty and justice for all. Well, all of those things are absolutely true about David, but that is not the full picture, no. You see, we have to remember that his administration, for the most part, was a swamp of lust and desire. His court was filled with deceit and intrigue. His reign was blood-spattered from beginning to end.
Absalom grew up in the middle of all of that. Little wonder he said, “My father poisoned me.” And that’s why I believe that, that day at the city gate, David was remembering Bathsheba and how she had become temptation for him and how he had yielded to that temptation. And I think he was seeing, in his mind’s eye, that fine, young soldier Uriah who loved his God, his king, and his wife, and I believe David was remembering how we stole that wife Bathsheba and how he then sent that fine, young soldier Uriah off into battle to die. And I believe that David was remembering how Nathan, the strong and stony prophet from the hills, came crashing into his presence one day, pointing a long, bony finger at him, and crying out for all the world to hear the words of condemnation, “David, thou are the man.” Yes, I believe, that day, at the city gate, David was remembering his moral failures.
Saint Teresa of Ãvila was one of the great women in the history of the church. At one point, she wrote these words, “I have been much helped by the fact that I never once saw my mother or my father respect anything but goodness.” That would be a blessing for any child. Ah, but that was a blessing that Absalom never knew, for Absalom grew up in a home like the homes of so many these days, homes where parents are focused not on goodness but on evil, homes marred not by sacrificial love but by greed and pettiness and resentment, homes where children are shoveled about like pawns, homes where the atmosphere is poisonous and the tension is toxic. Saint Teresa said, “I have been helped by the fact I never once saw my mother or my father respect anything but goodness.” Oh, please, God, for homes like that today.
Back during the Korean War, there was an American General named William Dean. He was captured by the North Koreans. They sought to extract information from him through torture. He resisted. They failed. They then resorted to brainwashing. They failed at that as well. His psychological powers surpassed their own. For two long, horrible years, nonstop, he endured the most hideous of treatment. Finally, the North Koreans gave up. They then came to him and they said, “In five minutes, we are going to beat you to death. You have five minutes to write a farewell note to your wife.” General Dean wrote the note, and then he died. Some years later, the note was made public. I lift up for you just one line from that brief note. General Dean wrote, “Please tell our son Bill that the word is integrity.” Think about that for a moment. The last word of a father to his son, the last words a father would frame, and he says, “Tell our son the word is integrity.” Alas, in so many homes and families today, the word is work or money or success or prestige or privilege or popularity. So many times, those words can poison.
I think, that day at the city gate in Mahanaim, King David was remembering that he had never once, of all the words he had offered to Absalom, he had never once offered to Absalom the word integrity.
And I believe that, as King David was remembering that, his heart was breaking. Well, the Bible tells us that the armies of King David prevailed, the rebel army was defeated, and Absalom had to run for his life. And his haste to escape, as he was riding away, his long, flowing hair managed to get caught in the branches of a tree. And the horse ran out from under him, and he was left dangling there between Heaven and Earth, until one of David’s soldiers plunged three darts into his heart, and then it was all over. And when the word reached great King David, he was plunged into deep, deep agony, and he cried out, “Absalom, my son, my son, if only I had died in your place! Absalom, my son, my son.” That is the sound of a breaking heart.
David’s heart broke, just as God’s heart breaks when God sees us trying to go our own way, to live our own life, to pursue the far country of selfish desire, to turn away from His call to surrender all in faith to living for Him. God’s heart breaks just as King David’s heart broke, and God says what David said, “If only I had died in your place,” but what King David could not do, God did. One day, on a hill called Calvary, in the form of one who is sometimes called the Son of David, God gave Himself for you and for me so that we might forever know that, at the center of this universe, there beats a heart of love, a love that will never, ever quit, a love that will never ever let us go, a love that will never, ever let us down, a love that will never, ever stop pursuing us, no matter what we may have been or said or done or thought in life, a love that will never stop reaching out to us in Jesus Christ to draw us home, home to the Heavenly Father’s love, home where we belong.
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.