Absalom's Ilk

Both David and Absalom found followers among the discontented of Israel. But their movements differed entirely in tone, outcome, and standing before God. How did they differ——and what does this say to us?

K.R. Wade is an assistant editor of Ministry

 

"Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate; and when any man had a suit to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would . . . say, 'From what city are you?' And when he said, 'Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,' Absalom would say to him, 'See, your claims are good and right; but there is no man deputed by the king to hear you.' Absalom said more over, 'Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a suit or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice'" (2Sam. 15:2-4, R.S.V.).

 

Thus Absalom spread discontent among King David's subjects. Absalom, who owed his very life to his father's mercy. Absalom, who owed his own presence in Jerusalem to his father's willingness to hear the cause of a "widow" from Tekoa. Absalom, the king's handsome, favored son, planted the seed of discontent that bore fruit in open rebellion.

After only four years at the gate, Absalom managed to spread unrest throughout all the land. Starting with the loyalty of only a few malcontents, he ended with an army large enough to drive Israel's most famous warrior from his fortress in fear for his life.

I visited a large church near an Adventist institution some time ago. The teacher for the general lesson study introduced himself, introduced the topic of the lesson, said a little bit more about the topic, and then launched into a discussion of his opinion about various unrelated topics, all leading up to a concluding tirade against some recent employment policy changes at the insti tution. The implication of his speech was that if only the right people were in power, such injustice would not happen.

I couldn't help thinking of Absalom.

But really, what was so wrong with what Absalom did? Wasn't he just following in his father's footsteps? First Samuel 22:2, R.S.V. tells us that when David escaped to the cave at Adullam "every one who was in distress, and every one who was in debt, and every one who was discontented, gathered to him; and he became captain over them."

In a way, Absalom did follow his father's example. But only in a small way. David never went about looking for malcontents. He never stirred one per son to rebellion against the king. In fact, he repeatedly showed his own loyalty to the leader that God had chosen. We read that when Saul first became angry with David, Saul threw his spear to pin David to the wall. "But David evaded him twice" (1 Sam. 18:11, R.S.V.).

Twice? Why twice? The picture I get here is of a nimble young man dodging a spear that flies past him and lodges in the wall. What would your natural reaction be in that situation if you were the most skillful warrior in the country? If you knew that you had been anointed to replace this wicked king on the throne? And if you knew that you had won the hearts of the people and that they would crown you king on a moment's notice of their old king's death? I fear my natural reaction would have been to yank the spear out of the wall and send it back to its owner. Right where he could keep it close to his heart! I feel sure that that is , what Absalom would have done.

But not David. He dodged the spear, let Saul retrieve it, then dodged it again! And a few days later he took the king's army out to fight the king's enemies.

Why? Because he considered Saul to be the Lord's anointed. And he was willing to place his own right to the throne in the hands of the God whose promises he trusted.

Until the coming of the Lord this world will never see an end to injustice. No doubt its ugly head can be found even within the church. Neither will there come an end to men and women who arise to challenge that injustice. Thank God for that. Thank God for men and women like David who will stand on the courage of their convictions and pray and strive until they see God's justice win the day.

But beware! How many who would fight for justice are of Absalom's ilk, and how many are of David's? How many, if they could sneak into the camp and find the established leaders defenseless, would say with David, "The Lord forbid that I should put forth my hand against the Lord's anointed" (chap. 26:11)? How many feel that the leaders are "out to get them" (perhaps they even feel that leadership has tried to pin them to the wall)? How many who have suffered injustice would pick up the offending leader's spear,and walk away with it as a testimony of loyalty? Are there some who instead would take the spear and thrust it through the heart of their defenseless victim?

The struggle for justice must always go forward in the world and in the church. And those who lead in the struggle will always find willing followers from among the discontent. But when I feel inclined to follow, I must make sure: Am I following a David, or an Absalom?—K.R.W.


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K.R. Wade is an assistant editor of Ministry

October 1984

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