Doing What’s Necessary – Taking Responsibility
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on 2 Samuel 18: 5-16, 19-33. Focus on how Joab saves David’s kingdom and how similar this story is to the story of Lincoln and the Civil War. Also check out Rasaan Bourke and Michael Whitaker as they sing Psalm 64 by Smokey Norful.
You probably haven’t heard the name Joab that much and Absalom even less. Who was Joab? He was King David’s General. And Absalom was David’s eldest Son.
Now Joab in many ways was like Lincoln. He inherited the sins of another. In the case of Lincoln it was the sins of the Founding Fathers to eliminate slavery. In Joab’s case it was the sins of David and the chaos that it brought to David’s kingdom, which affected everyone.
And one of the lessons from this story is the lesson that our sins are never just individual matters. They effect everyone who is close to us. In the case of husbands then wives and vice versa, in the case of national leaders then they become the sins that a nation must bear.
From System’s Theory we can see the linkage of sin being passed on just as we do the color of hair and eyes to generations that will follow us. – Like an alcoholic father or mother who passes on the same trait to their children or grandchildren, or how an abused child grows up to become an abusive adult.
Now how did we arrive at this mess? How did things spiral out of control to the point where Joab ends up having to kill David’s son Absalom?
After committing pre-meditated murder with Uriah and then adultery with his wife Bathsheba David’s never the effective king he was before. He begins to lose control of his family, which plunges his kingdom into chaos. And that unfolds is in this manner:
David has a son named Ammon who has a step-sister Tamar. Ammon finds his step-sister attractive and he rapes her. Why? Because he can and because he has no moral compass because his father hasn’t provided him with much of an example of how to behave given David’s own sins.
Now Tamar’s big brother by a different mother is Absalom who hears about the rape and takes his sister into his household to care for her but since he isn’t king he can’t do much about the issue and given the fact that his father David doesn’t do anything about the incident Absalom decides he must avenge his sister’s honor. It’s an understandable position given that the king has denied his sister justice.
So Absalom plots his revenge, for 2 years he patiently waits for the right moment to take out his revenge on his half brother Ammon. He does this by throwing a party for his father and he invites all of the honored guests to attend a party given in the king’s court.
At the party Absalom kills Ammon and then flees to avoid his father’s reprisals to his maternal grandfather’s house in a nearby country.
David is once again bereft and unable or unwilling to do anything about the situation. So Joab, his chief military commander and right hand man knowing that David’s mind is divided between ruling the kingdom and grieving for his sons orchestrates Absalom’s return. Probably with this thought in mind. Keep your friends close but keep your enemies even closer.
Absalom returns and lives under house arrest for 2 years. He gets frustrated and asks Joab to get him an audience with his father. Joab ignores him and in retaliation Absalom burns down Joab’s crops, which are in a field adjacent to Absalom’s.
As a result he gets an audience with his father David where he tells him it would be better for me to have stayed with my grandfather than to live like this. Therefore either let me go or kill me.
David releases him and Absalom begins to plot his revenge. He takes 50 men and sets up shop outside of the city gates where he tells everyone who comes to Jerusalem looking for the king to settle disputes and grant justice that the king will not be doing that anymore.
This is a big lie by the way.
In time he builds up a reputation among all those whom he has been lying to that he would make a better king than his father.
He overthrows his father’s kingship and drives David, Joab and those still loyal to David out of Jerusalem and into exile.
But David even though he is just a shadow of his former self is still smarter than Absalom and he gets one of his trusted advisors who has remained with Absalom to deceive Absalom by telling him that it would be better if he waited to attack his father instead of immediately pursuing him, thus buying David time to build up his forces and make ready for battle.
The battle ensues and David tells his generals to spare his son Absalom, which Joab doesn’t do. Why? Because of the old adage: “Burn me once shame on you. Burn me twice shame on me.”
And by killing Absalom he does what’s necessary to save the kingdom, which in turn saves thousands of lives for those who are loyal to the king and ends the threat to peace in the land. – Just as Lincoln did what was necessary to save the union. To Quote Lincoln quoting Jesus: “A House Divided Can Not Stand”
The only problem is that the peace from this repulsed uprising doesn’t last. As peace that is bought with the sword never does. And the sad reality is that David’s once great kingdom is never great again. And after his last living Solomon rules his kingdom will forever be divided between the north and the south.
And the conflicts that we see taking place in the Mid-East today between the Palestinians and the Jews is a continuation of that sin committed by David all those years ago, which continues to this day.
So the moral of this story is that while Joab did was necessary, took responsibility for killing David’s son and told the truth to the king for what he did. And the quote by Sun-tzu – “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” isn’t so you can exact revenge on them some day as Absalom did to Ammon. It is meant to be a statement that reminds us that our enemies make us look in the mirror and say to ourselves, “Today I am stronger than you!”
The ultimate peace that individuals and nations long for will only be found as Isaiah says when nations learn war no more and when they turn their spears in into pruning hooks and the only way that will happen is when enough people decide that Jesus’ way of self offering love is a better option than the sword. Amen