Then the king answered the woman, “Do not hide from me anything I ask you.” And the woman said, “Let my lord the king speak.” The king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” The woman answered and said, “As surely as you live, my lord the king, one cannot turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the king has said. It was your servant Joab who commanded me; it was he who put all these words in the mouth of your servant. In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.”
Then the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.” And Joab fell on his face to the ground and paid homage and blessed the king. And Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, my lord the king, in that the king has granted the request of his servant.” So Joab arose and went to Geshur and brought Absalom to Jerusalem. And the king said, “Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence.” So Absalom lived apart in his own house and did not come into the king’s presence. – 2 Samuel 14:18-24 ESV
Back in verse 2, we are told that Joab had sent for a “wise” woman, and now we see just how wise she really was. The Hebrew word the author used is chakam and it can refer to someone who is crafty, shrewd or wily. While Joab had given this woman the story she told to David, her craftiness shows up in how she handled the situation once David saw through her little ploy. She was adept at thinking on her feet. So, once David guessed that it had all been the handiwork of Joab, she craftily responded, “Nobody can hide anything from you…” (2 Samuel 14:19 NLT). Most likely fearing David’s anger at having been tricked, she buttered him up by telling him, “you are as wise as an angel of God, and you understand everything that happens among us!” (2 Samuel 14:20 NLT). This woman was shrewd and we can see why Joab had sent for her. She was perfect for the task and knew just how to handle David.
But one of the most interesting things she said to David had required no deceit or flattery. She had simply told David the truth. “In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this” (2 Samuel 14:20a ESV). This statement is loaded with significance, and the full weight of its import will not be seen until the story unfolds. Joab had instigated this whole affair in order to get David to allow the return of Absalom from exile in Geshum. He wanted things back to the way they were before. He thought that his little plan was going to force a family reunion between David and his son, putting an end to David’s mourning and getting things in the kingdom back to the way there were before. But what seems to be missing in all of this is the will of God. What did He want? Had any of this been His desire? Had he given Joab instructions to orchestrate this little attempt to trick the king? Yes, God is ultimately in control and nothing happens without His knowledge, but that does not mean God approves of all that happens. The Bible tells us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9 ESV). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).
Joab had been out to “change the course of things”, but he was going to find out that the the purpose of the Lord was going to prevail, in spite of his plans and expectations. God had plans for Absalom. If David would not do what was just and right, God would. And we see that when David agreed to Joab’s plan and gave his permission for Joab to bring Absalom home, things did not improve. David instructed Joab, “Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence” (2 Samuel 14:24 ESV). In other words, David allowed Absalom to come home, but then placed him under house arrest. He refused to see his own son. The happy family reunion Joab had expected never took place. The prodigal returned, but not to the open arms of his father. Once again, David took the path of least resistance. He brought his son back, but he neither punished or pardoned him for his crime of murder. Perhaps David thought he had done Absalom a favor by allowing him to return. But David knew the law of God. He knew his God-given responsibility as the sovereign king of Israel and that his God demanded that justice be done. He son was guilty of murder. He deserved to die. But David could not bring himself to condemn his son to death. So, he did nothing.
In the book of James we are given a sobering reminder of the seriousness of David’s inaction. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:4 ESV). David knew what he had to do, but he simply refused to do it. It was as if, as long as Absalom was out of sight, he was out of David’s mind. He didn’t have to think about it. When Absalom had been in Geshum, David had an excuse for doing nothing. His son was under the protection of another king (the father of Absalom’s mother). But now that Absalom was home, David kept him hidden from view so he wouldn’t have to think about him. David was committing a sin of omission. He knew the right thing to do, but he chose to do nothing. And in doing so, he sinned against God.
We can ignore sin or attempt to turn a blind eye to it, but it does not go away. We can refuse to deal with the sin in our life or within the body of Christ, but the danger remains. In allowing Absalom to return, David had allowed a cancer into his kingdom. He didn’t know it yet, but David was about to get a powerful and painful lesson on what happens when a child of God fails to do what God has called him to do. Yes, God is gracious, merciful and forgiving, but He is also just and righteous. Absalom had murdered his brother, and God’s law demanded that justice be done. Absalom deserved death. And as God’s king, David was obligated to carry out the justice of God. Refusing to do so was just another sin, complicating the matter even further. David could attempt to turn a blind eye to Absalom’s sin, but God couldn’t. His justice would not allow it. And David would learn that ignoring sin never makes it go away. Refusing to deal with it only aggravates it. Failure to confront sin in our life, or that of a brother or sister in Christ, is sin.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul had to deal with a problem he had been informed about. There was a man in their church who was having an ongoing affair with his own step-mother. And rather than dealing with this blatant case of immorality as sin, the church was actually approving of it. So Paul was forced to write them and warn them of the danger of their action (or inaction). “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7 NLT). Passivity toward sin creates a vulnerability toward further sin. Sin is infectious. It never remains static. David could sequester Absalom away, out of sight and out of mind, but the sin of Absalom was going to spread and have a deadly influence on David’s kingdom.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.