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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Just below the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem, there is an odd building known as Absalom’s Monument. In scripture it states that, “During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself. The bottom of the monument is carved out of the hillside from solid rock and rises 60 feet into the air into a conical roof looking like a witch’s hat. Absalom’s Monument is probably not the original. The structure’s design was inspired by Greek architecture, and archeologists have dated it to only the first century. Yet, despite the discrepancies, it had been a tradition for people to throw rocks at Absalom’s Monument to show their distaste for his rebellion against King David. It is also the practice of parents to take their unruly children there to remind them of the ultimate destiny of disrespectful children.
Strained relationships between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters are as old as time. This is especially true of men and women whose careers force them to choose between their professional responsibilities and the personal responsibilities of their families. The end result is often the pampered child, confident but fragile, who struggles for the attention of a loving parent.
We know that King David was a great and successful King of Israel. Under his leadership Israel was secure from her enemies and her territory expanded. But in the private dimensions of his life, David was not an honorable Father. His shameful relationship with Bathsheba seemed to encourage a level of dysfunction and disaster that plagued David throughout his entire reign as he went from tragedy to disaster.
Today’s reading is the culmination of a deteriorating relationship between father and son which runs through several chapters of the Bible. David’s oldest son, Amnon, perhaps reflecting his father’s indiscretion, developed an inappropriate desire for his half-sister Tamar. In an act of unbounded passion Amnon seduced and violated her. David learned of this terrible event and, although angry, was unable to punish Amnon, because the young man was his beloved first-born child. Regrettably, Israel’s most powerful king was unable to practice discipline and tough love with his eldest son. This forced David’s third son Absalom, to come to his sister’s defense. If his father couldn’t act responsibly and honorably, he would. Absalom did not act immediately, but when he did, he avenged his sister’s dishonor by having Amnon killed. Out of fear of David’s anger, Absalom ran away to his mother’s home country, where he stayed for three years. During that time, Scripture says that David “longed to go out to Absalom,” but he never did anything to reconcile with him. David’s general, Joab, was ultimately responsible for bringing Absalom back to Jerusalem, and orchestrating a small measure of reconciliation.
Absalom, whose name means father of peace, could have been named son of war. Absalom, like his father was a powerful soldier and a born leader. He was also very handsome, with an ambitious spirit that matched his physical attraction. In scripture we read that he was a man without blemish and with a flowing head of hair that he cut but once a year. As Absalom’s popularity grew, so grew the animosity between father and son. Slowly Absalom began to undermine David’s rule. He set himself up as judge in Jerusalem and ingratiated himself to the crowds giving out promises of what he would do if he were king. After a few years, he asked to go to Hebron, where he had secretly arranged to have himself proclaimed king in David’s former capital city. The animosity grew to open rebellion, as the growing number of Absalom’s grew more violent and insistent that David be removed as king. David finally began to fear for his own life, gathered his servants and fled Jerusalem.
Upon entering Jerusalem as king, Absalom sought to solidify his position first by taking over David’s palace. There he met one of David’s advisors who stayed behind and pretended to have changed allegiance. It was a costly mistake. The servant convinced Absalom to wait before attacking David’s forces. This delay allowed David to muster what troops he had and mount a counterattack to retake the kingdom.
So we come to the tragic ending of the story. With Absalom and his rebels on the run fleeing from David’s army, the King went to Joab and requested that he show mercy, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people clearly heard King David’s order. But that was not to be. The battle spread out over the face of country and 20,000 soldiers were slaughtered that day. Absalom alone was held responsible for the loss of life. Passing through a wooded area below the city of Jerusalem, Absalom happened to meet David’s soldiers where we read the young rebel got caught by his glorious hair in the branches of an oak tree. Hanging from the tree by his hair, he was unable to fight or to escape. Joab, the commander, put the success of the mission above the desires of a heart-sick father, and thrust three darts into the heart of Absalom, and then his ten young armor-bearers finished the job, killing Absalom.
The news was brought to David and his anguish arose not only from the tragedy of his beloved son’s death, but also out of his own failure to be an honorable father. “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son!”
These words capture the sorrow that every parent experiences at the death of a child. But in truth they also capture the aching pain we know as parents when life does not work out well for our children … the failure of a marriage, a life-altering accident or illness, a career reversal, or the frustration of dealing with a rebellious child. We live in a world where brokenness has a way of encouraging even more brokenness.
So what lesson are we to draw from this tragic story of David and Absalom? Many here today who are parents or grandparents, or perhaps beloved aunts or uncles, have experienced similar trials. Perhaps, you count yourself in that number. You have tried to be honorable in playing your part to the Absalom in your family, but still there are times when pain has crashed in upon you because of events and decisions that you are powerless to control. Yes, someone you love has made a foolish decision that will have terrible consequences.
Far too often, we envision ourselves as the noble King David, eloquently lamenting the death of his son, but my friends, we should also acknowledge, that everyone of us has been a prodigal Absalom to someone along the way. For we, too, rebel against God. We choose to go our own way, turning from the truth and life we have come to know. So do not throw the first stones. In those moments, we must remember the one thing David was willing to do. He was willing to give up his life to save his son. It is the very thing God has done for you through Jesus Christ. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. That is the promise God has offered all his children- even the beloved Absalom in your life. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.