July 27, 2015

Deal gently for my sake

2 Samuel 18:1–33, 2 Peter 2:12–22, Psalm 144:1–15

Natural affection for family can be a snare. On the other hand, it can also be confused with the love of God for family. Jesus loves us with an everlasting love, even while we were still sinners He died for us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Shouldn’t we love our family members like that? Or close?

David’s armies went to war against the army his son Absalom had rallied in rebellion against his father. What kind of love did the king demonstrate when he told them, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom”? (2 Samuel 18:5) Was this God’s love, or natural affection, or some of both?

Whatever made David say that, his rebellious son did die and Absalom’s death was unusual. His mule ran under a tree and his head was caught in the branches. While he was hanging helplessly, the king’s commander Joab and his men killed him.

When David found out, he “was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’” (2 Samuel 18:33)

Most biblical commentaries are critical of David at this point. They say that a godly king should have not have been so overcome. Absalom sinfully plotted against him without respect for him as his father or for his position as king. He should have put down this rebellion instead of trying to protect Absalom.

This could be viewed another way. David’s life so often points to the Greater King, Jesus Christ where there are parallels. Jesus loves His children and gladly died for them. No matter how great our sin, He deals gently with us and His love remains. He came to save, not condemn and He even forgave those who plotted His death.

However, if those Jesus came to forgive persisted in rebellion after they knew the truth, there is a terrible consequence: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” (2 Peter 2:20–21)

David could not condemn his own son, but God did it for him by hanging Absalom in a tree. However, this death does not point to Jesus because it was nothing like the willing sacrifice made by God’s son. Absalom was entangled in far more than the branches of a tree and it would have been better for him if he had stayed home than to have tried to seize the kingdom and wind up (literally) without a leg to stand on.

I cannot criticize David for loving his son. He had desires for his offspring. He wrote: “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace; may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing; may there be no cry of distress in our streets! Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:12–15)

It didn’t turn out that way for Absalom. Perhaps David’s natural affection was too great for him to act without bias. Was that wrong? It has been said that when there is a need to choose between judgment and mercy, it is better to err on the side of mercy. Maybe David’s only mistake was misplaced mercy?

When I pray for my children or for others whose relationship with God seems strained or absent, there are days when their sin brings out thoughts like “give them what they deserve,” yet it is not my place to condemn. More often I am with David and saying to God, “Deal gently, Lord, deal gently.”

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