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Minor Men With a Major Message: The Man Who Chose The Wrong Friend

II Samuel 13:1-3

I set before you the thirteenth chapter of II Samuel, beginning to read at the first verse. This is the Word of God. “Now, Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar. And after a time, Amnon, David’s son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man.” Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory.

Let us pray. Now may the words in my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our Rock, and our Redeemer. Amen.

I would have to be honest and tell you that under normal circumstances, a preacher hopes that Sunday mornings will dawn bright and beautiful, the better for inducing God’s people to come to Sunday school and church. And yet, the passage of Scripture we encounter today is a story told best not in the sunlight but in the shadows for it is a story filled with tragedy and despair. Now, you might well say at that point, “For Heaven’s sake’s, with all of the beauty that there is in Scripture, why on earth would you choose to preach from this darkened and despairing page?” Well, I choose to preach from this page, first of all, because it is in the Bible. And I am called to preach the Bible. I am called to preach all of the Bible, not just parts of the Bible not just the parts that I happen to like.

But I preach to you from this page also because there is a great lesson for us to learn from the tragic story of Amnon, the son of King David, the man who chose the wrong friend.

So join me first, and let’s look at the particulars in the story.

Amnon was a brilliant young man. He had life going his way. He had everything. So it would seem. He was born to the purple of royalty. His father was David, the one of whom they said he was after God’s own heart. He had a great mind. He was very attractive. He was surrounded by friends. He had power. He had money. His potential as a human being was almost unlimited. His future was oh so very bright. And, as usually happens with robust young men, there came a point in Amnon’s life where his mind and his heart turned to thoughts of love. Wait, did I say love? No. No, love is sacrificial. Love operates primarily for the benefit of the one who is loved. And that was not true of Amnon. No, no. Amnon’s thoughts turned not to love but to lust. And his lustful thoughts were directed toward his half-sister, Tamar. The Bible says she was a beautiful young woman.

Now, Amnon had this terrible desire, and yet he also knew down deep inside that that desire was wrong. And he was so – well, there was literally a war raging within him all of the time. And he was, the Bible says, so tormented inside that he literally made himself ill. Now, it was at that point that there came along a man who was Amnon’s friend or at least claimed to be a friend. The man’s name was Jonadab, and the Bible says that Jonadab was a very crafty and evil man. And it was Jonadab who said to Amnon, “Listen here, you’re the king’s son. No one can tell you what to do. Your life is your own. Live it as you will. You’re in control of things. You’ve got money. You’ve got power. You’ve got brains. You’ve got looks. You’ve got it all. Live your life the way you want to live it. Don’t let anyone else tell you what to do. If you want Tamar, then take her.”

Not only that, but Jonadab then went on to actually lay out for Amnon a very intricate plan by which Amnon could satisfy his lustful desires. And tragically enough, Amnon followed Jonadab’s plan to the very letter, and he wound up attacking his half-sister Tamar.

Now, Absalom, another of David’s sons, was full brother to Tamar. And when he learned what had happened, needless to say, he was in a rage, and he began to plot ways of gaining revenge on Amnon for what he had done. Now, I know that this thing is beginning to sound an awful lot like a seamy soap opera. But listen, I can’t help that. It’s right here on the pages of the Bible. It’s right there. And Absalom was plotting his revenge, and he decided that the best place to take that revenge would be at the end of the harvest, for it was at the end of the harvest that all of David’s sons would always come together. And there, they would gather about a good fire for a good meal and a good time to celebrate the end of a good harvest. It happened every year, and Absalom knew that it would happen this year. So that would be the time when he would get his revenge.

And so at the end of the harvest, as all of David’s sons were there together in one place, it was a very pleasant gathering. And yet, suddenly at a word from Absalom, the dagger of retribution flashed in a firelight, and Amnon fell dead. And what about Amnon’s friend Jonadab? Well, Jonadab was not there. You know, as I’ve looked long and hard at the particulars of this story from the pages of the Old Testament, it seems to me that absolutely everything in the story militated against Amnon’s doing what he did. Except one thing. Take, for example, the voice of conscience. It’s quite obvious that Amnon’s conscience was aroused. His conscience was sounding an alarm bell so clearly that he couldn’t mistake it, and the Bible says he was being torn apart inside by his own conscience. And I’m convinced – are you not? – I’m convinced that if he had taken the time to just wrestle his way through that conscience of his that that would have been enough to stop him from doing what he did. But no, no, the Bible says Amnon had a friend. Jonadab was his name.

Well, then, what about family loyalty? Tamar was his half-sister. He was part of the royal household. He would be bringing dishonor upon the whole family. And yet, it was this family, which was supposed to set the example for all of the families in the kingdom, it was his family of whom it should have been said, this is what a God-filled family is really like? Yes, surely the logic and the reason of that basic family loyalty, surely that could have pierced his mind and his heart and stopped him from doing this terrible thing. But no, no, the Bible says Amnon had a friend. Jonadab was his name.

Well, if none of those things, then what about the law of God? I mean, Amnon knew that God had set down certain rules and restrictions, certain guides and instructions as to how physical love is to become the glorious, beautiful, magnificent thing that God intended it to be. Amnon knew that. And Amnon knew that in societies where God’s laws concerning physical love are disregarded or, what’s worse, discarded, he knew that in societies like that that women are treated like chattel, that men make no lasting commitments, that children are basically unloved and unwanted and sometimes even destroyed, and that there is no peace or unity within the family, and that ultimately the whole fabric of society begins to unravel. Amnon knew all that. Surely that would have been enough to work its way down into his mind and his heart and keep him from this hideous deed. But no, no, the Bible says Amnon had a friend. Jonadab was his name.

And so later on, around the fire, the judgment came. But then judgment always comes. Sometimes it comes in minutes or even seconds. Sometimes it comes in days or weeks or months or years. Sometimes it doesn’t even come in this life but comes, God forbid, in that life that is beyond this life. But make no mistake, judgment always comes, the Bible says. God is not mocked. The judgment always comes. But I ask you to notice that when the judgment came, Jonadab, who had planted the seeds of the whole idea in the first place, Jonadab, who laid out all of the plans, Jonadab, who’d made all the suggestions, Jonadab, who had helped Amnon in his sin, Jonadab was not there. Jonadabs never are there when the judgment comes. Well, that’s the story. The particulars in all of their gory and sordid detail. And I suspect that you may be thinking to yourself, “Now, Preacher, that’s just an old, old story and nothing more than that. It has nothing to say to us here in modern twentieth-century America.” Well, I agree. It is an old, old story, 2,500 years old to be exact. But I would suggest to you that it’s as new as this morning’s newspaper because, you see, the book is still being written on those who choose the wrong friend in life. And that book is being written in blood and in tears.

And that leads me then to the second thing I want us to look at together.

Let’s look secondly at the point of the story.

We’ve looked at the particulars. Now let’s look at the point of the story. And let’s acknowledge the fact that we are born for friendship, and that good friends are one of the greatest blessings in all of life. You see, there are some things in life that are simply too big for one heart and mind to hold alone. There are some things in life that have to be shared, and those to whom we share these things, they are the ones we call friend. And oh, what a blessing a good friend can be for there are some joys that are just too big to contain. You know that.

I love the story about the preacher who got so upset about the fact that some of the fellows in his congregation were going out and playing golf every Sunday morning. And that really began to work on him. He became very troubled about that. And finally, he decided that he was going to do something about it. So you know what he did? He called in a guest preacher, and he cut church, and he went out to play nine holes himself. And he was standing right there on the seventh tee all alone. Oh, he didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing. So he was standing there all alone, ready to tee off, and just at that moment, St. Peter and the Archangel Michael saw him standing there from heaven. And St. Peter said, “I’m going to punish him for that.” And just as that preacher reached his backswing and began to come down toward the ball, St. Peter pointed his finger from Heaven right at him. The club hit the ball, the ball went straight down the fairway, bounced several times, rolled right up on the green, and straight into the cup, a hole in one. And the Archangel Michael cried, “St. Peter, I thought you were going to punish him. What kind of punishment is that?” And St. Peter said, “Oh, it’s terrible punishment, indeed. Who is he going to be able to tell about it?”

There are some joys and victories and triumphs in life that are simply too big to contain, and we have to share them with our friends. But they’re also heartbreaks and frustrations that it’s good to share with friends. Wouldn’t you agree? Those times when we are so low, those times when we are so pressed down by the burdens of life which are ours, and we just can’t get up? And then it is that there is the great blessing of the lift of a friend’s hand to get us on our feet and on our way again. Oh, yes, good friends are one of life’s greatest blessings.

But you see, the opposite of that is equally true. For if a good friend is one of the better things in life, then one of the worst things in life is a wrong friend. And make no mistake about it, there are Jonadabs around us who will want to do in our lives what Jonadab did in Amnon’s life. Here, I’m speaking to everyone, yes, but I’m speaking especially to those who are young. There are Jonadabs out there who long to be your friend, so they say, and those Jonadabs will say to you what Jonadab said to Amnon so long ago. They will say to you, “Listen, you are bright. You are intelligent. You are attractive. You’ve got it all going your way. You don’t have to have anyone else telling you what to do with your life. Live it yourself. Do what you want to do. Don’t listen to those who are around you. Those prayers your mother whispered over your crib all those years ago, they don’t mean anything now. And this old church with its towering steeple and its old-fashioned morality, that doesn’t have any relevance to the day and age in which we live. And for Heaven’s sake’s, surely you’re not going to let some preacher tell you what’s the wise thing to do in your life. Preachers don’t know anything about real life anyway. Live your life the way you want to live it.” Nothing new about that argument. It’s as old as Jonadab and Amnon. But mark this down, if you yield to that argument in your life, then your life is going to be twisted and cursed.

Just this past week, when I was in Arkansas, one night, there was a knock at my motel room door. It was nearly midnight. I opened the door, and there was a young man whom I had known in his growing up years. Now he is a senior in high school. And the minute he saw me, he began to cry. I invited him in, and we sat down, and he began to talk. He told me how that a girl he had been dating was now pregnant, and he said that they didn’t really love one another. And so marriage was no answer. And he said that they felt that abortion would be just piling more wrong on top of all of the wrong they’d already done, and so that was no answer. And so we spent a long time that night talking through some of the options that he had before him and talking about the fact that what had happened was going to impact his life from now on. He’d never live over it or around it or through it or beyond it. It would be there from now on for all of his life. And he said through his tears– he said, “You know, not very long ago, I was a 17-year-old boy enjoying my senior year in high school. Now suddenly, I’m a 17-year-old man, and I don’t think I can handle it.”

He, then, went on to say something that cut right through to my heart. And remember, please, I’ve been engaged in study for this sermon. He said something that cut right through to my heart. He said, “I have done wrong, and I cannot offer any excuse for that. But oh I wish, I just wish, that I had had a girlfriend who instead of encouraging me in it might have had the courage to say no.”

My friends, learn from Amnon. Yes, good friendships can be one of life’s greatest blessings, but friendships with those who are evil can twist and curse and destroy. That’s the point of the story. That’s the peril of choosing the wrong friend.

But we cannot leave it there.

So I ask you to consider with me thirdly the prescription from that story.

For I want to lay out before you three steps which I believe will enable you to overcome the influence of any Jonadab who might come into your life seeking to work his evil way in your experience. Three steps.

Step one, cling to your convictions. Decide what you’re going to believe in in life. Decide what you’re going to stand for in life. Give yourself to a Christ-like morality, and then stand there. And in other words, take the flag of your belief and run it to the top of the mast and let no one ever lay a hand upon it. You know what’s right; the law of God teaches it. You know what’s good; the life of Christ shows it. So take your stand in that which is right and good. Take your stand with Jesus Christ and stand firm. Whenever any Jonadab comes into your experience, cling to your convictions.

Step two, cling to your courage. You see, if you have convictions in life and if you seek to live by them, it’s going to take a terrific amount of courage in the midst of a world like this. Make no mistake about that. John Wesley once said that he would have no one as a friend who did not help him get to heaven. Do you hear that? He would have no one as a friend who would not help him get to heaven. What a great philosophy for life. But if you adopt that philosophy in your life, then you better know that somewhere along the way, it may cost you some friends. There may even be times in your life when, yes, you have to walk alone for a while. And it takes awesome courage to do that in a world like this. So cling to your courage.

But then step three, cling to your Christ. You see, Jesus not only lived for us, He died for us. And just before He died, He said, “Greater love hath no man than this.” Then He lay down His life or His friends. And Jesus loved us so much that He laid down His life for us. We are His friends, and I submit to you that He is the best, the truest friend we shall ever know in the living of our days. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man who was arrested by the Nazis. He was thrown into a concentration camp and ultimately executed because of his faith in Jesus Christ. But while he was imprisoned in that concentration camp, he gave himself without reserve to the needs of the prisoners there so that they came to love him profoundly. And then there came the moment when Bonhoeffer was to be executed and the guards came to get him. And the moment when they arrived to take him away was the moment when Bonhoeffer was standing up before the other prisoners and leading them in a service of worship to the name of Jesus Christ. And they seized him. And as they dragged him away to die, he turned, and he called back to his friends. And he said, “For me, this is the end but the beginning of life.” How can you say that? “This is the end and the beginning of life.” How can you say it? I think you begin to understand that when you begin to read the letters that he wrote from that concentration camp. They’re fantastic reading. And I think this morning of just one of those letters, one that was written just days before he died. He affixed a P.S., a postscript to the end of that letter. You know what that Postscript said? It said, “Read Proverbs 18:24 and don’t forget it.” And what is Proverbs 18:24 say? It says, “There are friends who pretend to be friends. But there is one friend who sticks closer than a brother. That friend is Jesus.” He is the one who will enable us to cling to our convictions and to cling to our courage. And so I beg you, my beloved, cling to Jesus Christ in your life.

Well, take one last look at Amnon, one last look. The Bible says Amnon had a friend. That he did. Oh, yes, that he did, the wrong friend. Ah, enough of that. This is too nice a day for us to stay here and spend any more time thinking about the likes of Amnon and Jonadab. Let’s get out of here. Let’s go out, out there into the beauty of that world, and let’s start to live, truly live in the company of the friend we have in Jesus.

Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, oh what a glorious friendship You offer us in Your Son. It is a friendship which will see us through the days of this life and a friendship which, with great welcoming, loving embrace, will greet us in the kingdom of Heaven. What a friend we do have in Jesus. Amen.

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