Friday, March 27, 2009

a Pinter pause in the reign of David

It's been a while and obviously I have more to write about Absalom but that's tabled for a bit as I do some more reading and reflecting. I suppose I should mention that one of the things that is most salient to me about Absalom was that while he persuaded everyone he wanted to be a crusader for justice Scripture reveals that, over the long run, that while Absalom played a crucial role in fulfilling Nathan's prophecy that the sword would never depart from the house of David, and that David's sins great and small had far-reaching consequences that triggered the tragedy in his kingdom ... that finally Absalom was in it for himself, for his own glory, and his own consideration. He seemed to be anxious to right wrongs that his father had done by omission (not punishing Amnon) or commission (he obviously blames David for his exile and for refusing to speak to him after Amnon's murder).

Absalom is an egotistical fellow who masquerades to others and perhaps even to himself as a crusader for justice but in the end his actions reveal themselves to be self-serving and in opposition to the authority God had established on the throne in Israel, namely his father. Samuel is not a book that lets us paint by numbers and find clear good guys and bad guys. We often want to impose black and white on figures the Bible paints in varying shades of gray. David and Solomon particularly are popular for painting in shades of white while Saul and Absalom are popular to paint in broad strokes of black. But the thing is that these men were not any worse than the saints of old. David's sins and crimes are described in more detail than Saul's comparatively minor infractions.

The problem is that the SIGNIFICANCE of the infractions is not always easy to discern. The significance and real meaning of the actions is not immediately revealed. David probably thought things were okay between him and his son Absalom for years once things had been worked out. Depending on issues of textual corruption Absalom waited "forty" or "four" years before staging his rebellion, during that time presenting himself as someone who could obtain justice the king, he said, was not providing to people he said had legitimate grievances to bring before the king. David does not seem to have been aware of what his son was accomplishing against him and was loathe to turn on one of his sons or to concede that either he or his son had done wrong or to discuss it. While this is an argument from silence some arguments from silence are more compelling than others, especially when we see what is about to take place.

David thinks all is well and united in his kingdom when a cauldron of upheaval is coming to a boil. Eventually Ahithophel, his close advisor whose words were regarded by both Absalom and David as words spoken as though from God, will turn on David, possibly because he has nursed a grudge against David for taking his granddaughter Bathsheba and having his grandson-in-law Uriah the Hittite murdered. When this cauldron boils over it boils over in a terrible way and it fulfills the prophecy Nathan spoke on the Lord's behalf against David and his house. We're not quite there yet ... but it is in these years where Absalom is free that the disaster is being prepared, when David reigns oblivious to the chaos his own sin and neglect and reluctanct to repent of both his failure to enact justice and his injustice are about to bring about.

Because David is truly a man after God's own heart he will come to a point where he will recognize that men curse him and pursue him because it is what God has decreed against him. When Absalom rebels, however that looks in your life, it does not mean you are guiltless, yet you can only act as best you can and give your petition to Christ trusting that He will hear you Who has let chaos overtake you. The One who allowed Absalom to foment his rebellion against David to discipline David for his sins is the One who saw to it that Absalom would fail and answered David's prayer to thwart the wisdom of Ahithophel. Again, we're not there yet.

Here we are, as it were, in the moment where Absalom is an advocate for justice proclaiming that he would bring justice if only people would let him. If only he were a judge in the land he would ensure the right things were done. It sounds humble and yet there are the fifty men sent running ahead of him that announce his prominence and special quality. There is the chariot he has set for himself that he rides about in. He gets up early and goes to the gate and stops people so that he can speak to them and find out what their trouble is and present himself as the one who can solve their problems and understands that the leadership in Israel is not doing right by the people. When people go to bow before him he stops them and kisses them. Now he has his fifty running men ahead of him and his chariot and he talks about the failures of David and how he would advocate for the people. His pretense is hiding, as it were, in plain sight but is unobserved.

There is a humility that looks real enough that is no humility at all. There is a populism that is employed by those who would horde power and influence for themselves, throw their weight around, and aspire to rule as a king or prince among the land. We have seen in Samuel up through even this late in the book that those who cling to the prestige and power of an office or exploit it for personal gain are crushed by the Lord while those who do not seek and it and treat it as the privilege that it is prosper in it and are preserved even when their sin damages them and their households.

If we are one of "the people" we must be cautious and prayerfully consider whether we may have brought our case to a David or an Absalom. We simply cannot know, only Christ knows and He often doesn't tell us. If we are a David we must not be so self-justifying that if an Absalom arises we suppose only that Absalom is some evil-doer who needs to be punished for his rebellion. After all, if the Lord raises up someone who seems to us like Absalom it may be because we have been like David and have sinned by exploiting the position and power and influence Christ has given us on earth for selfish ends that we justify to ourselves and others.

Who knows but that we may not find ourselves having a type of Absalom role ourselves, crusading for what we consider to be justice when we are really only seeking revenge, retribution, and motivated out of bitterness, wrath, injured pride, glory-seeking, and a sense of superiority that we believe puts us above the stupid rabble who believe that David is actually a good, God-appointed king? David WAS a good, God-appointed king who nevertheless was also capable of terrible sin. David was wrong not to punish Amnon for the rape of Tamar but that does not justify the murder of Amnon to compensate for the king's injustice. David compelling the exile was wrong but fomenting a rebellion against the one God has annointed king and whom the Lord has given victory in battle is not the way to go. Seeking counsel from the embittered people David has sinned against will not bring wise counsel or victory. Finally Absalom will end up dead, slain by Joab who violates David's direct order to spare Absalom's life. Absalom is treated as he himself would have treated others.

As I mentioned earlier, I'll be getting to some of that but this is a sort of consideration as I'm going through the narrative.