There are times when showing grace is the wrong thing to do. We have times where we are aware of this truth and can sense it. There are times when grace is extended and we cry out for justice. Sometimes showing grace is not gracious at all. This is what we are coming to in 2 Samuel 14. Chapter 13 ended with the account revealing a torn David. David’s heart longs for his son Absalom. But Absalom has committed premeditated murder against his half-brother, Amnon, for raping his sister, Tamar. As king, David needs to make sure that justice is given. But this is David’s son and David’s heart is compromised as he has committed a similar sin. We noted in the last lesson that sin stains our ability to see what is right and just.
Joab’s Plan (14:1-20)
Joab sees that David longs for Absalom and decides he is going to attempt a reconciliation. We are not told why Joab cares. We are not told Joab’s motives. We are not told why Joab wants to get himself involved in this mess. But he sends a wise woman to David to pretending to be in mourning, grieving the dead. She says that she is a widow and her two sons got into a fight in the field. One son killed the other son. So the whole clan has risen up to kill the murderous son. Her problem is that this is her last son who would leave the family without a heir to carry on the name and the inheritance (14:7). David says that he will think about it and give his judgment later (14:8). But this will not do as she wants David to make a ruling now and asks that he rule to prevent the avenger of blood to not destroy his son. So David agrees to pass the order so that her son does not die (14:11).
This is what she was waiting for. She says that he has convicted himself because he has not brought back his banished son. Listen to the rationalization as to why David should restore his son. First, we all must die. In essence, life is too short for this. Second, we are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. In short, what’s done is done. There is no fixing what has happened. You cannot reclaim water that is spilled on the ground. In the same way, regarding Absalom, what’s done is done and there is no way to restore what he has done. Third, God restores the banished. Therefore, David should also. God is a restorer of people and David should be also. Finally, the woman just uses flattery. Look at verse 17. “My lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil. The Lord your God be with you.” What she has done is taken a page out of Nathan and Abigail’s playbook. She uses the storytelling of Nathan and the flattery of Abigail to try to convince David to change his stance toward Absalom. You have called for mercy on my banished son. So you should do the same for your banished son. Verse 19 possesses some humor because David has an idea that this is Joab’s doing. Again, we are not told why Joab cares about this situation. But David is aware that Joab has been angling for this to happen.
She uses a lot of logic and tells a lot of half-truths. God does not say, “Oh well” when it comes to sin. God does not say, “What is done is done.” God always has consequences for sins. He certainly has consequences for murder. The woman is telling David to be gracious regarding a circumstance where there should not be grace. Her wisdom to him is to tell him to let it go. Do nothing. There is nothing to be done. Let the past be in the past. We will talk more about this momentarily. But before we do look at her words, we need to see what David does.
David’s Response (14:21-24)
David tells Joab to bring back Absalom (14:21). But when Joab brings Absalom back, David does not want to have anything to do with him. David tells him to go to his own house and he cannot come into his presence. You may be back. But you are not welcome before the king. Justice still has not been served. Absalom has been brought back without justice being served. We still are seeing David do nothing. He does nothing to Absalom. He does nothing to Joab who has cooked up this false story to get what he wants.
The Absalom Problem (14:25-33)
Now the text is going to tell us why David has been wrong in his handling of Absalom. The text begins by giving us some background regarding Absalom. Absalom is a handsome man. No one was praised for their appearance like Absalom was praised by the people. He would cut his long hair once a year and it weighed 200 shekels. This would be about 3-5 pounds of hair. He is good looking and he knows it. We are being told something about the substance of Absalom.
Not only this, but the next two years go by and Absalom cannot go into the presence of the king. Absalom sends for Joab to come to him so he can send a message to the king. But Joab repeatedly refuses to come to him. So Absalom tells his servants to set Joab’s field on fire. Joab goes to Absalom and asks why he did this. The response is simple. You didn’t come when I asked you to come to me so I could send a message to the king (14:32). What an irrational response! Absalom will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.
But listen to what message he has at the end of verse 32. “Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.” What an audacious statement! There are two ways to look at what he says. Absalom may regard himself as innocent of any wrongdoing. This is certainly possible since no justice had been given for his sister, Tamar. But I think Absalom is already challenging his father. Absalom is convinced that David will never do anything about it. If David thinks I am guilty, then let him put me to death. But Absalom does not think that will happen and he is right. In verse 33 Absalom goes before the king. Absalom bowed and the king kissed his son.
When Grace Is Not Gracious
Earlier in the lesson we mentioned how the wisdom and the logic of the woman is faulty. We are seeing David showing grace when grace should not be shown. But why is the woman’s logic wrong? Why can’t David just show grace to Absalom? Why not just have Absalom return?
The big problem that we have before us is the lack of repentance from Absalom. The woman argued that God restores the banished. But God does not automatically restore the banished. God restores those who repent and turn from their wicked ways. God cannot communicate to his people to “keep living how you are living” or “keep doing what you are doing.” God never unilaterally overlooks sins. God does not tell us that there is no accountability for sins. The woman even told David that God will not take away life. This is not true. God does take away life for sins. God has just killed David’s child because of his sins. Many people have died throughout Israel’s history because of their rebellion to the Lord. Further, the woman says that God devises means for the banished one to not remain an outcast. The way to not remaining an outcast is repentance. Otherwise, you do remain separated from God. God sent Cain away, banishing him from his family for his murderous act.
What the woman is doing is trying to use human logic, tell half-truths, and play upon the emotions of David. We cannot allow our emotions override what God has told us to do. Do we see how hard this is? This is David’s son. He has already lost two sons. He does not want to lose another son. The logic of the woman seems sound. Should not I be gracious to Absalom? Should I not overlook what he has done? Why not just reconcile? We can feel these emotional pulls on our hearts and it even seems like the Christian thing to do.
But the thing that has been lacking in these two chapters has been a heart of repentance. Without repentance grace is not gracious. In fact, it is the worst thing David can do because it appears to convey approval to Absalom. It has conveyed to Absalom that David will do nothing. Pretending that all is well when all is not well is destructive. This grace is not gracious because David is leaving Absalom in his rebellion. This is why as parents we cannot be gracious to our children just for the sake of being gracious. By doing so, we communicate that their errors are acceptable. Grace can only come with repentance over the error committed.
Friends, this is why Jesus, as our king, cannot simply be lenient to unrepentant sinners. God cannot have everyone but the really, really bad people go to heaven. There must be justice. A lack of justice is just wrong. Do we want our justice system to just show grace and overlook every crime that is committed? No, that grace is not gracious but destructive. Such grace communicates the wrong message: the crime is acceptable. God cannot simply overlook everyone’s sins because it is just not right and communicates the wrong message to us. Then we would think we can do whatever we want which is not true. But there must be justice for the evil that has been committed. All the human emotion and logic in the world does not override that grace cannot be given to the unrepentant.
Further, time is not a factor for repentance. Just because two years goes by since Absalom has been gone does not mean that repentance is no longer necessary. Time may heal wounds but time does not forgive sins. Years can go by and the same sin still remains. Time does not change what has happened. What Absalom did is not any better just because two years have gone by. Justice still needs to happen even though two years have gone by. Repentance is still required even though two years have gone by.
It is so easy to ignore people’s sins when a long time has passed. It is easy to ignore people’s sins because we do not want to deal with the problem. It is easy to ignore people’s sins because we love the person. It is easy to ignore people’s sins because we do not want there to be a separation. It is easier to not confront people then it is to deal with the sins people commit. We can even fool ourselves into thinking that we are being gracious toward them. But grace is not gracious if we leave them in their sin and act like everything is just fine in their lives. David’s failure to address the sin of Absalom is going to bring disaster on himself and on the kingdom. Let’s end the lesson by seeing Jesus teaching this principle in the New Testament.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15–17 ESV)
Notice what Jesus does not say. Jesus does not say that if your brother sins against you, you just show grace and ignore what that person did. Or if your brother does not listen, then just let it go and ignore the sin. Sin has to be dealt with, even though it is hard and even though it hurts. Grace is only grace when sin is repented from. Grace is not gracious when there is no repentance.