David: Man after God’s Own Heart, Part IX
“The End”

 A sermon by Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
August 12, 2012

II Samuel 18

One of the most important lessons that can learn from the story of David is that choices have consequences.

When David stepped out on the roof of his palace that day and saw a beautiful woman taking a bath, he made a choice. He decided that he would have her no matter how much it cost. But I don’t think even he could have imagined how much it would cost him.

When she wrote a few weeks later and told him she was pregnant, he did everything he could to cover the tracks of his sin. He sent her husband Uriah to the front lines of the battle where he would be struck down and killed.

For a while David thought he had gotten away with the whole thing. But God sees everything, and he saw this. And even after David had been confronted by Nathan the prophet, even after he had confessed his sins and repented of them, even after he had begged God to create in him a clean heart, the damage that was done by his old heart could not be undone.

Choices have consequences.

Nathan said to him because you have confessed and repented, you yourself will not die but someone will have to pay the price of your sin. So it was that the son of David and Bathsheba, that little boy to whom she had given birth, became ill. Ill to the point of death, and David began to fast and pray for the child.

He stretched himself out before the Ark of the Covenant and wept bitterly hoping that God would be gracious.

But when the child died a week later, David got up from the place, he bathed and dressed. He went to the house of the Lord in worship and then he came to his own house. He sat down to eat and drink and his servants were baffled. They said, “How is it that while the child was living you fasted and prayed but now that he has died you get up, you eat and drink?”

David said, “While the child was living I had this hope that God might be gracious to me, but now that the child is dead what can I do? I can’t bring him back. I will go to him but he will not come to me.”

Choices have consequences.

Eventually David went to his wife Bathsheba to comfort her, to console her. He slept with her and she conceived and bore a son whom David named Solomon, and God loved that little boy. He told Nathan the prophet to give him the nickname Jedediah, which means beloved of the Lord.

Solomon was not David’s only son, you remember. He had a palace full of wives and concubines, sons and daughters. He had a son named Absalom, who was the most handsome man in all of Israel, and Absalom had a sister named Tamar who was as beautiful as he was handsome.

In fact, one of David’s other sons, Amnon, was in love with his half-sister Tamar. But he couldn’t marry her, she was his half-sister. And she wouldn’t sleep with him, she was a virgin. He couldn’t think of any way to have what he wanted.

He had a friend, a cousin really, named Jonadab, who came to him and said, “Why do you keep mooning around here all day looking so down in the mouth, what’s the matter?”

And Amnon told him, “I’m in love with my half-sister Tamar, but I don’t know how I can have her.”

Jonadab said, “Do this, pretend to be sick.”

Amnon said, “I don’t have to pretend, I am, I am sick with love.”

He said, “Pretend to be sick, lie on your bed. When your father comes to inquire, tell him, say, ‘I’m not feeling well, but I think if my sister Tamar would come and bake a few little cakes for me, if she would feed me with her own hand, I would get well.’”

And so David ordered Tamar, “Go down to Amnon’s house, bake some of those little cakes he likes so much. Feed them to him. He says he thinks he will get better.”

And so she did what the king said. Everybody had to do what the king said. She went to Amnon’s house. She baked some of those little cakes he liked so much. She went into his bedroom, sat on the edge of his bed, broke off a morsel of that cake and reached out to put it in his mouth, and that’s when he grabbed her by the wrist and said to her, “Lie with me!”

But she said, “No, no no, my brother! These things are not done in Israel. It would be a shame and where would I go with my shame? You would be counted among the scoundrels of Israel. Oh no, my brother, don’t do such a thing!”

But Amnon was determined, he grabbed her wrist even harder. He pulled her onto the bed, rolled over on top of her and said, “Lie with me!”

And she said, “No, please, please, my brother, don’t do this, don’t force me! Let’s ask the king. He may have some solution we haven’t considered.”

But Amnon didn’t want to wait. He had learned something from his father, and that was how to get what he wanted, and he wanted Tamar. He took her right then and there, and when he was finished the strangest thing happened. He found that he couldn’t bear the sight of her any more, that he loathed her just as much as he had loved her before.

He pushed her out of his bed and she said, “No, my brother, don’t do this, this thing will be worse than the first!”

But he said, “Get out!” And he ordered one of his young men to take her out of his house.

Now in those days the virgin daughters of the king wore robes with long sleeves on them. When Tamar was put out of Amnon’s house she ripped the sleeves from her robe, she put ashes on her head. She went home weeping bitterly. And when Absalom her brother saw her he asked her one question: “Has Amnon been with you?”

And all she could do was nod her head.

Absalom said, “Leave this to me, leave this whole thing up to me, I’ll take care of it.”

And two years later he did.

Vengeance has a long memory in that part of the world. Absalom waited until everyone else had forgotten about this incident, but he had not forgotten what Amnon had done to his sister. He threw a big party and invited all his friends and family members. All the sons of the king were there including Amon. There was eating and drinking, and more eating and more drinking, and Absalom said to his servants, “When you can see that Amnon is feeling no pain, then strike him down, kill him!”

And that’s what they did. They killed Amnon, and Absalom ran for his life. He leaped onto his mule and rode down the hill across the Jordan River and into the land of Geshur where his mother’s people lived. He stayed there for three years until David stopped grieving for Amnon and began to grieve for Absalom, he missed him so much.

Joab, David’s general, sent for Absalom, told him to come home. He did, but for two years after that his father would not speak to him, would not grant him an audience, showing his displeasure over what Absalom had done. Until finally Absalom began to wonder, “Why did I come here at all? I should have stayed in Geshur. Why did I come to Jerusalem?”

He sent for Joab, and said, “Arrange for me an audience for me with the king.”

But Joab didn’t answer.

So Absalom sent another message. “Set up an appointment for me with the king. I need to see him.”

Joab didn’t reply.

Absalom set Joab’s barley field on fire, and Joab came running down the hill and said, “What are you doing? You are burning my barley field.”

Absalom said, “Well, you wouldn’t come.”

He had learned from his father how to get things done.

What he wanted was an appointment with the king. And so Joab arranged it finally, and Absalom came into the presence of his father David.

He stretched himself out before the throne, he wept bitterly and begged for David’s forgiveness. And when David looked on the boy laying there, his heart went out to him. He remembered how recently he himself had been begging for forgiveness.

And he stepped down off his throne, he lifted Absalom to his feet, and embraced him, kissed him on both cheeks, and forgave him.

And after their relationship had been restored everything changed for Absalom.

I told you he was the most handsome man in all of Israel. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head he was the picture of unblemished beauty, physical perfection. He had a head full of thick dark hair that hung down to his shoulders in glossy curls. When he cut his hair once a year, the weight of the hair that was cut off his head was two hundred shekels, nearly six pounds, of hair. He was a manly man, and every man in Israel wanted to be like him. Every woman in Israel wanted to be with him.

He bought for himself a beautiful chariot and hitched it up to a fine team of horses. He began to race through the streets of Jerusalem with fifty hired men running in front of him.

Imagine what a show he made when he came through town. Those men running before that beautiful chariot, that fine team of horses, and Absalom himself, standing in the chariot with his hair, blowing out behind him, the sun gleaming on his beautiful bronzed body.

The women would sigh, “Absalom,” they would say, “oh Absalom.”

Well, Absalom used to get up early and go out to the city gate and when people came into town seeking an audience with the king so they could share their grievances with him, Absalom would greet them at the gate in the most affectionate and friendly manner you can imagine. “Cousin,” he would say, “welcome to the city! What can I do for you?” And they would tell him why they had come, what was troubling them.

Absalom would listen to every word and when they finished he would say, “You know, it’s a pity that I’m not the king over Israel. If I were king, I would give you the justice you deserve. I would!”

He was campaigning, that’s what he was doing. And he did it for four years, and it worked.

The hearts of all Israel turned to Absalom. One day he went down to the city of Hebron in the south where his father had been crowned king, and Absalom crowned himself king over Israel. He sent messengers out with that word, and in every city, every village of Israel they blew the trumpet and said Absalom is king in Hebron!

When David got the word he said to his family, “We have to leave! Quickly! Quickly we have to go, if we’re still here in the palace when Absalom comes back it will be death for all of us.”

And so he gathered up his family, all of them except for ten concubines he left behind to watch over the palace. They all went down through the valley of Kidron, up the Mount of Olives on the other side.

David covered his head, he walked barefooted, and he wept aloud as he walked. And it seemed that all of Jerusalem came out to tell him goodbye.

His priests came out, Abiathar and Zadok, to tell him goodbye and to wish him well. His old friend Hushai the Arkite who had been his best counselor, came to tell him goodbye. Zibah, the servant of Miphibosheth, came out to say goodbye. And Shimai the Benjamite came, but not to wish him well. Shimai stood on a ridge above the road where David was walking and began to hurl stones at him, cursing him, saying, “Go ahead, get out of town! You murderer! You scoundrel! Go! Good riddance!”

And Abishai, one of the sons of Zeruiah, said to David, “Do you want me to go over there and lop off his head? Why should he curse the Lord’s anointed like that?”

And David said, “You know the Lord himself may be speaking through that man. He’s telling the truth. I am a murderer, I am a scoundrel. I am getting exactly what I deserve!”

David went on down and across the Jordan to the other side.

Meanwhile, Absalom was riding back to the city of Jerusalem, galloping along on his mule. As soon as he arrived in the city he sought the counsel of Ahithophel, the best counselor in all of Israel, and said to him, “Now that I am king, what should I do? What should my first act be in office?”

And Ahithophel said, “The first thing you should do is distance yourself from your father, David. Let all of Israel know you are your own man. And this is the way you should do it. Set up a tent on the roof of the palace and take your father’s concubines, all ten of them, one by one, and have your way with them. Then you will let all Israel know that what used to belong to your father now belongs to you.”

It seemed like a good idea to Absalom. David’s concubines were beautiful, perhaps not the most beautiful in his harem, he had left them behind after all. But beautiful nonetheless. There wasn’t an ugly one in the bunch. It seemed like a good idea to Absalom to have his way with them, and one at a time he did up there on the roof of the palace inside that tent.

Do you remember what Nathan had said to David? He said, “You did this thing in secret and hoped that no one would find out, but someone will take your wives in broad daylight, and everyone will know.”

Everyone did know, and they applauded Absalom. They loved him. Absalom asked Ahithophel, “What next?”

And Ahithophel said, “You should go and attack while your father is still weary from his travels.”

But Absalom decided to ask Hushai the Arkite, his father’s old friend and best counselor, “What do you think Hushai?”

And Hushai said, “I wouldn’t go, not now, not if I were you. Remember, your father is a mighty warrior. He is a military genius. He isn’t just down there waiting for you on the other side of the Jordan, he’s hidden himself in one of those caves. And if you go up against him now and his soldiers attack and defeat your army, all of Israel will say, ‘Do you see? Absalom couldn’t handle the challenge.’ But if you wait a few days. If you muster a huge army and go down against your father and attack, then you prevail and all of Israel will be yours.”

And the counsel of Hushai the Arkite seemed better to Absalom than the counsel of Ahithophel. And that’s what he decided to do, wait a few days, muster a huge army, go down and attack his father.

But while he was doing that David was mustering his own army. All those people who were still loyal to him in the land, and believe me, there were plenty of them. They gathered together by the hundreds, by the thousands.

David divided them up into three groups and put a general in charge of each group. He said to them, “Now when Absalom comes against you to attack you, please, for my sake, deal gently with the young man Absalom.”

And everybody heard it.

Absalom came with his army; he attacked David in the forest of Ephraim. And David’s army fought against the army of Absalom and that day twenty thousand of Absalom’s men fell, and they said that the forest claimed more than the sword. It was the perfect kind of battle ground for David in the way that he waged war.

Finally Absalom himself had to run for his life. He leaped onto his mule and went galloping through the forest of Ephraim, his long beautiful hair streaming out behind him. He ducked low under the limb of an oak tree, and that hair got caught up in the branches. His mule ran out from under him and left Absalom swinging from that tree limb between heaven and earth.

Someone saw it and said to Joab, “Absalom is hanging from a tree in the forest.”

And Joab said, “Why didn’t you kill him?”

And the man said, “You heard what David said to us: ‘For my sake deal gently with the young man Absalom.’”

Joab said to him, “I’ll show you how to deal with the young man Absalom.”

He took three spears into his hand, he stalked off into the forest, and when he found Absalom hanging there by his hair he thrust all three spears into his pounding heart. And the ten men who were with him cut him down, threw him into a pit, covered him up with stones.

When word got back to David, his heart was broken, and he began to weep bitterly, and say, “Absalom! My son, my son! Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you! Oh Absalom! My son, my son!”

He wept so loud and so long that eventually Joab, his general, came to him and said, “My Lord, you have to pull yourself together. All these soldiers who have fought so valiantly for you today are beginning to think that they must have done something wrong. They’re skulking around here like cowards instead of like conquering heroes. You need to step out there and tell them, thank them for what they’ve done.”

And so, David did. He pulled himself together, he went out before the troops, and he thanked them for saving his life, a life that he didn’t value much at that moment. He led them all back up the hill toward Jerusalem, but it was the most brokenhearted victory parade you have ever seen.

And when he came into the city everyone came out to pledge their allegiance to David. They said, “We don’t know why our hearts turned to Absalom, but now, O king, our hearts belong to you. You are our king, you will always be our king!”

David came into the city, came into his palace, sat down on his throne with a heavy sigh.

Choices have consequences, and for months and years afterward David grieved his losses.

He had done this thing once upon a time, this terrible thing, but because of that he had lost not one, not two, but three of his sons.

In time, and it always takes time, his grief turned to gratitude, and in the latter years of his life he picked up his pen once again and wrote a psalm of thanksgiving for the remarkable life that God had given him.

You can find it right there in the closing chapters of 2 Samuel, this hymn of thanksgiving for his remarkable life.

David lived to a ripe old age and in the end he was gathered to his ancestors.

Even after he died the people of Israel did not forget him. They told his stories around their campfires and cook fires.

They would say things like, “Do you remember that time David killed that giant with just a stone and a sling? Do you remember that?

“Do you remember how the women of Israel used to come out alongside the road and sing, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, but…’ do you remember that?

“Do you remember how he loved Jonathan and how loyal he was to Saul even when Saul tried to kill him? Do you remember?

“Do you remember how he united Israel and Judah? How he captured the city of Jerusalem and made it his capital?

“Do you remember that time he brought the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem leaping and dancing before the Lord with all his might?”

They sang David’s songs, they taught them to their children, and they began to imagine that one of these days, there would be a descendent of David who would sit on the throne of his ancestor and rule over Israel with justice and mercy: Someone who would come to save the people from their sins and give them rest from their enemies all around. A son of David, the greatest king that ever lived in Israel. A man after God’s own heart.

—Jim Somerville 2012

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