But Absalom fled. And the young man who kept the watch lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, many people were coming from the road behind him by the side of the mountain. And Jonadab said to the king, “Behold, the king’s sons have come; as your servant said, so it has come about.” And as soon as he had finished speaking, behold, the king’s sons came and lifted up their voice and wept. And the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly.
But Absalom fled and went to Talmai the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son day after day. So Absalom fled and went to Geshur, and was there three years. And the spirit of the king longed to go out to Absalom, because he was comforted about Amnon, since he was dead. – 2 Samuel 13:34-39 ESV
Two times in this passage, we read the words, “but Absalom fled.” He got away. He had arranged for and accomplished the murder of his half-brother Amnon and, literally, got away with it. He killed the rightful heir to the throne and lived to tell about it. No troops were sent to pursuit him. In fact, no action was taken to bring him to justice. All we see is David mourning after him. The mention of David mourning for his son day after day would appear to be a reference to Absalom, not Amnon. David had already lost Amnon and would never get him back. But his loss of Absalom was even more painful because he was alive. Yet, David knew that he had a responsibility to enact justice and hold his own son accountable for his actions. If he brought him back, he would have to die for his murder of Amnon. Leaving Absalom in exile allowed him to live, but for David, he was as good as dead. So, he mourned and he wept, day after day. He had lost two sons in one tragic incident.
But the saddest past is that David could have prevented this. If he had dealt with Amnon’s rape of Tamar, and done what he was required to do by law, Absalom would not have been forced to seek revenge. David’s passive parenting style ended up causing more pain in the long run. His refusal to deal with Amnon and discipline him appropriately, left Absalom frustrated by the lack of justice in his own home. His younger sister had been raped and humiliated, but nothing had been done to the one who had committed this heinous act.
The text tells us that Absalom remained in exile for three years and, all during that time, David’s heart went out after him. He missed Absalom. He longed to see him. But he knew that if he brought Absalom back, he would have to do the right thing and punish him for what he had done. So David did nothing. As a parent, he let his son get away with murder – literally. Yet, in the book of Deuteronomy, we have God’s very clear guidelines regarding justice.
You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you. – Deuteronomy 16:18-20 ESV
No perverting of justice. No partiality in terms of its application. By refusing to pursuit and punish Absalom, David was breaking both aspects of God’s command. And yet, David would have known these commands. The book of Deuteronomy went on to explain how the king of Israel was to familiarize himself with all of God’s law.
And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 ESV
David knew what God required, but had refused to do it. He had conveniently ignored God’s command because it conflicted with his own sense of fairness. He couldn’t bring himself to mete out justice to his own son. If you recall, when Nathan confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba, he had told a story about a rich man abusing and taking advantage of a poor man. David had no problem showing righteous indignation and demanding justice when it involved someone else’s transgression. But when it involved his own son, David remained silent.
The law of God was clear concerning murder. Again, the book of Deuteronomy provides explicit instructions on how to deal with those who commit murder.
But if anyone hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and attacks him and strikes him fatally so that he dies, and he flees into one of these cities, then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die. Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you. – Deuteronomy 19:11-13 ESV
No refuge. No pity. No special treatment, even if he was a son of the king. David was obligated by God to purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel. But he refused to do so – for three years.
In his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul gave a warning against sowing to the flesh. In other words, giving in to what our sinful nature wants us to do.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption… – Galatians 6:7-8 ESV
In sinning with Bathsheba, David had sowed to his own flesh. He had given in to his base desires and committed an unlawful act. Then he had followed it up by having Bathsheba’s husband murdered to cover up his actions. God forgave David for his sins, but that did not mean David would not suffer the consequences of them. The infant son born to Bathsheba as a result of his adulterous affair with her, would die. And as a result of his sin, God told David that the sword would not depart from his house. There would be trouble and conflict within his own home, not just his kingdom. Then Amnon raped Tamar. Which led to Absalom killing Amnon. Now Absalom was living in exile, guilty of murder and deserving of death. And through it all, David did nothing. He remained silent and inactive. He was the king and final arbiter of justice for the kingdom, but he refused to do his job. And his inaction would reap the whirlwind. Things would get worse before they got better. David could ignore the will of God, but could not escape the justice of God. He could refuse to do what God had called him to do, but God would ensure that His justice was not perverted. God will not be mocked. Yet, how often to we think we can get away with murder, not literally, but figuratively? We think we can sin, seek forgiveness, and then escape any repercussions for our sins. We wrongly believe we can simply ignore our sins and still enjoy God’s blessings on our life. We know what He would have us to do, but we choose our will over His, then wonder why things don’t turn out as we expected. God will not be mocked, by the king or anyone else. Passivity to sin is always dangerous. It is a cancer that spreads, ultimately bringing death and destruction. To ignore it is to invite further pain and suffering into our lives. What we reap, we will always sow.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.