Absalom the son of David had a fair sister.
No other book but the Bible dare have inserted such a chronicle as this and yet have hoped to retain the attention and confidence of the whole world through all ages. A chapter of this kind is not to be read in its singularity, as if it stood wholly alone and unrelated to other currents of human history. Coming upon it as an exceptional story, the only possible feeling is one of intense and repugnant disgust. If this chapter, and a few others almost like it, occupied any considerable space in the Bible, without being relieved by a context of a very different quality, they would certainly and properly wreck the fortune of the whole book as a public instructor and guide. Amnon did not represent a human nature different from our own. It must always be considered that such men as Amnon and Judas Iscariot represented the very human nature which we ourselves embody. The difference between the sweet child and the corrupt and infernal Amnon may in reality be but a difference in appearance and form. Time alone can tell what is in every human heart, and not, time only, for circumstances sometimes awaken either our best selves or our worst selves and surprise us by what is little less than a miracle of self-revelation Again and again, therefore, let it be said — for the tediousness is well compensated by the moral instruction — that when we see the worst specimen of human nature we see what we ourselves might have been but for the restraining grace of God. A relieving feature in the whole record is certainly to be found in the anger which was felt in regard to the outrage committed by Amnon. The outrage was not looked upon as a mere commonplace, or as a thing to be passed by a casual remark; it aroused the infinite indignation of Absalom, and in this ease Absalom, as certainly as Amnon, must be taken in a representative capacity. Whilst, therefore, it is right to look upon this most heartrending and discouraging aspect of human nature, it is rights also to remember that those who observed it answered the unholy deed with burning indignations, It is thus that the Spirit of God reveals itself through the spirit of man. This is not the voice of Absalom alone; it is the voice of the Spirit which fills and rules the world. We need men who dare express their angriest and holiest feelings in indignation that cannot be mitigated or turned aside; we need men who have courage to go forth and make their voices heard in moral darkness. Absalom killed Amnon, and killed him in a somewhat cowardly way; yet it would be difficult to blame Absalom for this act of fraternal reprisal and justice. Still, it is just at such critical points that the spirit of Christian civilisation intervenes and undertakes to do for the individual man what the individual man must not be permitted to do for himself. Here is the mystery of society. It would seem a short and easy method for every man who is outraged immediately to cause the criminal to suffer, but on second thoughts it will appear, first, that this is impossible, and, secondly, that it is utterly impracticable: impossible because in many cases the criminal may be stronger than the man who has been outraged, and impracticable because the criminal may by many cunning methods evade the punishment which the righteous man would inflict. These records are written not only for our instruction but for our warning. The most puristic mind may well pause before the record of this chapter and wonder as to his own possibilities of apostasy. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." "Be sure your sin will find you out." What is done in secret is to be proclaimed from the house-tops, and a sudden light is to unveil that which is supposed to be covered by the densest concealment. Society would be rent in twain by the very suspicion that there may be Amnons within its circle, but for the conviction that the Lord reigneth, and that all things make for righteousness and justice under his beneficent rule.
A living sorrow, says the proverb, is worse than a dead. The dead sorrow had been very grievous to David; what the living sorrow, of which this chapter tells us, must have been, we cannot conceive. It is a very repulsive picture of sensuality that this chapter presents. One would suppose float Amnon and Absalom had been accustomed to the wild orgies of pagan idolatry. Nathan had rebuked David because he had given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. This in God's eyes was a grievous offence. Amnon and Absalom are now guilty of the same offence in another form, because they afford a pretext for ungodly men to say that the families of holy men are no better — perhaps that they are worse — than other families. In Scripture some men have very short biographies; Amnon is one of these. And, like Cain, all that is recorded of him has the mark of infamy. We can easily understand that it was a great disaster to him to be a king's son. To have his position in life determined and all his wants supplied without an effort on his part; to be so accustomed to indulge his legitimate feelings that when illegitimate desires rose up it seemed but natural that they too should be gratified; to be surrounded by parasites and flatterers, that would make a point of never crossing him nor uttering a disagreeable word, but constantly encouraging his tastes — all this was extremely dangerous. And when his father had set him the example, it was hardly possible he would avoid the snare. There is every reason to believe that before he is presented to us in this chapter he was already steeped in sensuality. It was his misfortune to have a friend, Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David's brother, "a very subtil man," who at heart must trove been as great a profligate as himself. For if Jonadab had been anything but a profligate, Amnon would never have confided to him his odious desire with reference to his half-sister, and Jonadab would never have given him the advice that he did. What a blessing to Anmon, at this stage of the tragedy, would have been the faithful advice of an honest friend — one who would have had the courage to declare the infamy of his proposal, and who would have so placed it in the light of truth that it would have shocked and horrified even Amnon himself l In reality, the friend was more guilty than the culprit. The one was blinded by passion; the other was self-possessed and cool. The cool man encourages the heated; the sober man urges on the intoxicated. The plan which Jonadab proposes for Amnon to obtain the object of his desire is founded on a stratagem which he is to practise on his father. He is to pretend sickness, and under this pretext to get matters arranged by his father as he would like. If anything more was needed to show the accomplished villainy of Amnon, it is his treatment of Tamar after he has violently compassed her ruin. It is the story so often repeated even at this day — the ruined victim flung aside in dishonour, and left unpitied to her shame. We think of those men of the olden time as utter barbarians who confined their foes in dismal dungeons, making their lives a continual torture, and denying them the slightest solace to the miseries of captivity. But what shall we say of those, high-born and wealthy men, it may be, who doom their cast-off victims to an existence of wretchedness and degradation which has no gleam of enjoyment, compared with which the silence and loneliness of a prison would he a luxury? Can the selfishness of sin exhibit itself anywhere or anyhow more terribly? If David winked, Absalom did nothing of the kind. Such treatment of his full sister, if the king chose to let it alone, could not be left alone by the proud, indignant brother. He nursed his wrath, and watched for his opportunity. Nothing short of the death of Anmon would suffice him. And that death must be compassed not in open fight but by assassination. And now the first part of the retribution denounced by Nathan begins to be fulfilled, and fulfilled very fearfully — "the sword shall never depart from thy house."
Every one must have been struck by the remarkable fact that while David was so admirable as a governor of a kingdom, he was so unsuccessful as a ruler of his own house.
1. First of all, in accounting for the troubles of his house, we have again to notice his plurality of wives — a sure source not only of domestic trouble, but of ungodliness too. The training of the young, and all the more since the Fall, is attended with very great difficulties; and unless father and mother be united, visibly united, in affection, in judgment, and in piety, the difficulty of raising a godly seed is very greatly increased. In David's house there must have been sad confusion. There could have been no happy and harmonious co-operation between father and mother in training the children, Hence the paramount importance of the apostle's exhortation — "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers."
2. Further, David's own example, in certain respects, was another cause of the ill-ordered state of his family. A parent may have a hundred good qualities, and but very few bad, but the risk of his children adopting the bad is much greater than the likelihood of their copying the good. The bent of their fallen nature inclines them to the one; only Divine grace can draw them to the other. The character Of David was singularly rich in fine qualities, but it was also marked by a few flaring defects. One was, proneness to animal indulgence; another, the occasional absence of straightforwardness. These were the very defects which his children copied.
3. A third cause of David's failure in the government of his family was the excessive, even morbid tenderness of his feelings towards his children — especially some of them. Perhaps a fourth reason may be added for David's ill success in his family — though of this there is less positive proof than of the rest — he may have thought of his family circle as too exclusively a scene for relaxation and enjoyment — he may have forgot that even there is a call for much vigilance and self-denial. Men much harassed with public business and care are prone to this error. In truth, there is no recreation in absolute idleness, and no happiness in neglect of duty. True recreation lies not in idleness, but in change of employment, and true happiness is found not in neglecting duty, but in its performance.
The wires became crossed; there was a flash, a beautiful pyrotechnic display, and then the machinery that ought to have lasted years longer was still — a mass of inert matter fit only to go to the shop and undergo extensive repairs. "She got short-circuited, and burned herself out," was the explanation of the engineer. No one questions that selfish indulgence and sin yield more intense and feverish pleasure than a life of self-control and unselfishness. All normal pleasures are moderate, because it is the wise design of nature to have them often repeated and continued through a long period, culminating at the" end. To yield to a desire for immoderate indulgence of any kind, whether it is the pursuit of the pleasures of appetite, or of business successes, or of social excitement, or intellectual dissipation in novel-reading or the play, is simply to short-circuit our lives and burn out in a few fitful flashes the possibilities of enjoyment that should have been extended over a long and happy lifetime.
Tarquinius' son Sextus, lawless and flagitious, had committed a rape on Lucretia. The dead body of the violated Lucretia was brought into the forum, and Brutus, throwing off his assumed disguise of insanity, appeared the passionate advocate of a just revenge, and the animated orator in the cause of liberty against tyrannical oppression. The people were roused in a moment, and were prompt and unanimous in their procedure. Tarquinius was at this time absent from the city, engaged in a war with the Rutulians. The Senate was assembled, and pronounced a decree which banished forever the tyrant, and at the same time utterly abolished the name and office of king.
Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, finding that two or three of the boys had been guilty of impurity of both speech and action, he promptly dismissed them from the school. The directors, meeting later on, took the Doctor severely to task for the drastic measures he had resorted to, and said "at that rate the college would soon be empty." He simply replied that he "would rather see the number reduced to twelve, and have purity of thought and action, than bad moral influence to have a foothold."
Absalom hath slain all the king's sons.
The fulfilment of the curse on David's house now begun.
I. OBSERVE THE JUSTICE OF GOD'S DEALINGS IN CHASTISEMENT. A comparison of David's sin and its punishment shows that free forgiveness does not remove consequences in this life.
1. David had wounded Uriah in his best affections. He himself was allowed to suffer the keenest sorrow through the son he best loved.
2. He had to see the evil heritage of lust develope in that favourite child.
3. He took the one ewe lamb. Absalom stole the hearts of all Israel.
4. David made Joab his tool to carry out his treachery. Henceforth he was Joab's tool, obliged to bear with him, and leave his punishment to Solomon.
II. SIN HAD WEAKENED HIS POWER. He no longer possessed the respect of the nation. The reins of government were dropping from his hands. Yet he recognised love in it all, and God meant it in love.
And the soul of King David longed to go forth unto Absalom.
"I well remember," says a present-day writer, "the effect produced on my mind on being told by a servant, soon after I had recovered from a dangerous illness, that during the crisis of the malady my father was seen to shed tears. Though far from being a stern parent, he was not an emotional man; and the statement was a revelation to me, at least in degree. It is now more than half a century ago, but it will never be forgotten.".
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