Bitterness

 

Sunday School Lesson for July 21, 2002

 

2 Samuel 14:1-33

 

Joab Plots the Return of Absalom to Jerusalem (14:1-3)

 

Verse 1

This chapter begins with the repetition of the statement that King David “longed” for his son Absalom (cf. 13:39). Old Testament scholars point out that the Hebrew term rendered “longed” may indicate that the heart of the king was against his son for what he had perpetrated earlier. The verse more literally reads that the “king’s mind was on Absalom,” with the exact meaning somewhat vague. The reader is simply left to speculate as to the exact state of David’s feelings for his murderous son.  However, as 14:24 clearly reveals, “David was in no mood to welcome Absalom back with open arms” [Dale, 144].

 

Verses 2-3

Knowing that David was obviously contemplating his son, Joab seized the moment to hatch a clever plot to return the prodigal Absalom to his father. He engaged the services of an unnamed “wise woman” from “Tekoa,” a village located in the Judean desert some ten miles south of the city of Jerusalem and about five miles from Bethlehem. Joab convinced her to “go to the king” on the pretence that she was “grieving” over a complicated family situation.  He instructed her to “pretend to be in mourning” and to make her case more believable by dressing appropriately—“don’t use any cosmetic lotions.” Note that, though the woman was considered to be wise, it was Joab himself who “put the words in her mouth” which she would speak to the king.

 

 

The Woman of Tekoa Confronts King David (14:4-17)

 

Verses 4-11

With Joab’s help, the woman of Tekoa, disguised as a grieving widow (v.7), gains an audience with David and makes a passionate plea for his help in resolving a family dispute—“Help me, O king” (v. 4).  She, too, has lost a son to murder.  Just like David’s experience, this woman claimed that one of her very own sons “struck the other and killed him” (v. 6).  As a result, the family members have demanded that she “hand over the one who struck his brother down” so that justice might be extracted (v. 7).  Verse 11 records the heart of the woman’s request and Joab’s ploy.  She wants the king to “invoke the Lord his God” to prevent any action against her son.

 

In response to her convincing performance, David declared, “As surely as the Lord lives. . . not one hair of your son’s head will fall to the ground  (v. 11). Youngblood observes the irony in this statement by noting that the hair of David’s own son Absalom “was not only an index of his handsome appearance (cf. vv. 25-26) but would also contribute to his undoing (cf. 18:9-15) [979].

 

Verse 12-17

This section details how the woman straightforwardly appealed to David to be true to his own stated convictions by allowing the return of Absalom from exile. Note the boldness the woman exhibited as she confronted King David with his duplicity—“Why then have you devised a thing like this against the people of God? . . . does he not convict himself, for the king has not brought back his banished son?” (v.13).   In addition, the woman of Tekoa appealed to the mercy of God who “devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him” (v. 14).  As is obvious to the reader, Joab had counseled the woman well and thoroughly prepared her for her encounter with the king—“the king is like an angel of God in discerning good and evil” (v. 17).

 

 

The King Orders Absalom’s Return (14:18-28)

 

Verses 18-22

In the final analysis, Joab’s tactics and the woman’s charm accomplished their intended purpose. Having ascertained that Joab had set up the encounter with the woman as ploy to secure the return of the king’s exiled son (vv.18-20), David ordered him to “bring back the young man Absalom” (v. 21). Youngblood understands that David’s reference to Absalom as “young” is “doubtless more a reference to his immaturity and temperament than to his endearing qualities” [984].

 

Verses 23-24, 28

Acting in response to the king’s order, Joab found Absalom at “Geshur” and returned him to the city of Jerusalem.  However, when Absalom arrived his father refused to see him and declared that his son must  go to his own house; he must not see my face” (v. 23). In this way, David persisted in displaying his outrage over his son’s grievous sin, which was, as 13:20-23 makes plain, “a methodically planned, long-calculated act of carefully nursed hatred” [Dale, 147].  According to verse 28, Absalom lived another two full years in the city of Jerusalem without so much as “seeing the king’s face.” Ultimately, David’s tactic backfired, producing only resentment, bitterness, and simmering rage in the heart of Absalom.

 

Verses 25-27

The description of Absalom’s impressive physical appearance serves to intensify the situation developing between David and his estranged son.  Here we learn that “in all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his appearance” (v. 25). It would seem that this fact would put additional stress upon David to reconcile with his son, given the reality of his widespread popularity and physical attractiveness—“From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish on him” (v. 26). Further insight into Absalom’s personality is gleaned from the description of his long hair in verse 26. Obviously, Absalom was extremely proud of his thick mane and only cut it “from time to time when it became too heavy for him.”  When cut and officially weighed, “its weight was two-hundred shekels,” or approximately 5 and 1/2 pounds “by the royal standard.” Normally, a man would refrain from cutting his hair in concert with a Nazirite vow.  Yet, for Absalom, it was simply a sign of deeply ingrained vanity and his apparent obsession with his physical appearance. Verse 27 confirms that Absalom was not only blessed with a handsome physique himself, but also three sons and a beautiful daughter he ironically named “Tamar.” Thus, according to Dale Davis, we have a description of “Mr. Israel, the darling of the media, the choice of photographers, enchanted with his own locks, with three sons and a beautiful daughter, the latter appropriately named after her gorgeous aunt” [150].

 

 

David and Absalom Finally Meet (14:29-33)

 

With the passage of time, Absalom grew increasingly impatient and decided to force his way into the presence of his father, the King of Israel.  Anxious to secure the aid of Joab, Absalom sent word that he desired a meeting with him.  Strangely, however, on two occasions Joab refused to respond to Absalom’s summons (v. 29).  Refusing to wait any longer, the impatient and bitter Absalom had his servants set Joab’s fields ablaze—“a tragedy in ancient times, even in he best of circumstances” [Youngblood, 986]—in order to get his attention (vv. 30-31). Joyce Baldwin observes that Absalom’s self-seeking intentions

 

would be fueled by his sense of outrage that he had been brought back to the capital only to be snubbed by his father, while the public thought highly of him.  Joab’s double refusal to respond to his summons was the last straw, and the blazing field of barley both symbolized Absalom’s rage and brought Joab hurrying to his home, demanding an explanation [256].

 

In verse 32, Absalom communicates to Joab that he would rather die at the hand of his father—“if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death”—rather than be persistently ignored.  Yet, it is most likely that Absalom knew that his father would never resort to such drastic action since he had not executed justice against Amnon for Tamar’s rape. Interestingly, Absalom may have justified his actions against Amnon by convincing himself that “he would not have had to punish his brother if his father had done his duty, and had passed sentence on Amnon” [Baldwin, 256]. When David learned of Absalom’s report, he summoned him to his presence (v. 33). Absalom arrived and prostrated himself before his father and David responded by kissing his son.  Yet, in light of the fact that no conversation took place between the men, one wonders how significant this was.  “In the case of Absalom and the king, the relationship remained virtually deadlocked, neither side having the spiritual incentive to break it” [Baldwin, 257].  In reality, this kiss was not “the prelude to celebration but a cue for foreboding” [Dale, 143].

 

 

 

 

 

Major Themes for Application and Discussion

 

One:  Authentic wisdom—Though the woman of Tekoa is known as “wise” in this passage, do you think by her words and actions she displayed true wisdom?  Take a concordance, look up references to wisdom, and see what you can discover regarding its nature in Scripture. As you do your research, take this caution from Dale Davis to heart: “This chapter should haunt the church, not to mention the individual, believing or unbelieving.  It is possible to have all the signs of wisdom—plans, strategies, accomplishments—and yet be utterly devoid of it” [148].

 

 

 

 

Two: Reluctance to confront sin—What are the consequences of David’s refusal to deal justly with both Amnon and Absalom? Why do you suppose that David acted this way? How do you explain his refusal to grant Absalom an audience?

 

 

 

 

Three: Unchecked bitterness and broken relationships—Why do people permit themselves to suffer protracted periods of unresolved conflict and bitterness? What is it that keeps us from seeking reconciliation with others?