O Absalom, My Son, My Son!
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
Preached in PCC Worship Service, 29 September 2013
Part 3 of 3

We have been studying 2 Samuel 18:1-19:8 which contains the repetition of Absalom’s name. In this article, we come to the final section where we see the king being overwhelmed with grief.

The King is Overwhelmed

Verse 33, “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

David was so overwhelmed with grief at the news of Absalom’s death that all he could do was simply to go into isolation in his chamber, and weep, and repeat the name of his son again and again, and wish that he had died instead of his son.

Meanwhile, we are told that Joab received news that the king was weeping and mourning for Absalom; and not only Joab but all the men of the army heard about it. The result of the king’s great grief for the leader of their enemy was    that the victory that day turned into a time of mourning. Chapter 19 verse 3 tells us that the soldiers came quietly and stealthily into the city of Mahanaim like soldiers who were ashamed because they were running away from the battle. Instead of the usual dancing and music and loud sounds of celebration, the army returned as if it had been soundly defeated by the enemy and the men ashamed to be seen by their fellow citizens.

Verse 4 says that the king covered his face as someone in deep mourning. He would not look upon his officers and men to thank them for their faithful labours and to congratulate them for their hard fought victory. Instead, he cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

The only one who had the courage to confront the king at this time was Joab. In verses 5-6, we read that Joab went into the king’s house and gave him a severe rebuke for his utterly unacceptable behaviour that day. He pointed out four things that were not right.

First, instead of rewarding the men who had saved his life and the lives of his sons and daughters and wives and concubines, David had put them to shame or humiliated them. Second, David was really saying that he loved those who hated him and hated those who loved him. His love for his enemy had become so imbalanced that it led him to hate his own friends and loved ones. Third, by his actions that day, David was declaring that his faithful commanders and men meant nothing to him at all whereas his enemy meant everything to him. And fourth, David was saying that he would have been pleased if Absalom had lived and all his men had died. In other words, David would be willing to sacrifice his entire army for the sake of preserving the life of Absalom, his son and his enemy.

Such was the utter inconsistency and foolishness of David’s actions that day. And surely, even David, in his state of deep grief and loss, could see it. And so having shaken up the king, Joab proceeded in verse 7 to give him counsel and direction, “Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants: for I swear by the LORD, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night: and that will be worse unto thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now.”

Joab counselled David to get up and go out of his chambers to his men in order to speak kindly and encouragingly to them. And he was to do so immediately without delay. Joab assured David with an oath to the LORD that if he did not do as he counselled, then not a single man will remain loyal to him by night fall, and the resulting state will be worse than all the evil and calamities that he had experienced from his youth until now. Such was the urgency and severity of the situation.

The words of Joab did sink in and verse 8 records David’s response. David arose, went down from his chambers and took his seat at the gate of the city. The problem is that all the people were not there to await the arrival of the king. They had all scattered to their respective tents. And so messengers had to be sent out to the people to inform them that the king was now sitting at the gate and that they should go there to meet him. And all the people came before the king.

The impression we get from this verse is that the assessment of Joab was correct. The people had already dispersed, and they would have scattered for good that night if David did not go out to meet and speak with his men. It appears that once again, Joab’s swift and decisive actions saved David’s kingdom from disintegration and destruction. Whatever Joab’s motives may have been, he was used by the LORD to awaken his servant David and preserve his kingdom.   

But now, we need to answer the question that I raised at the beginning of this series of articles, namely, why was David so overcome and overwhelmed with grief? And what are some things we can learn from it?

Reasons for and Lessons
from David’s Grief

The first and most obvious thing we can say is that David had deep natural affections for his son Absalom. He was after all his own son, and not only that but it appears that Absalom was his favourite son among all his other sons, and he had very high hopes for him. Perhaps David saw him as the successor to his throne. But all his high hopes for him were dash when he died.

But mere natural affections for his son do not quite account for the depth and extent of his grief. Let me suggest another reason or dimension to his grief. And for that, we need to go back further in the book of 2 Samuel to chapter 12 verses 7-10, “And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.”

This phrase “the sword shall never depart from thine house” must have echoed in David’s conscience and pierced his heart at this time. It is this element of guilt that must have inflamed his grief for the death of his son.

Yes, Absalom had died a terrible death, and yes, he deserved to die because of his own sin. But what must not be forgotten is that it was David’s own sin of adultery and murder that had resulted in the sword being set loose on his own house.

Because of David’s sin, the seven day old infant, which Bathsheba bore to him, died. Because of David’s sin, Ammon, his first born son, was murdered by Absalom. And now, because of David’s sin, Absalom himself perishes by the sword. The prophecy of Nathan the prophet was slowly but surely and painfully coming to pass.

David was the guilty one but now three of his sons had suffered the consequences of his guilt. This fact sheds light on his earlier statement, “would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” David wished to die instead of Absalom because he knew that he deserved to die. Guilt had heightened and intensified his grief. This, I believe, was the reason for David’s profound and crippling grief.

But how can we apply this grief to ourselves? What lessons can we draw from the grief of David at Absalom’s death?

Let me briefly draw our attention to three things:

First, we are reminded that the sin of parents will often have an impact on their children. And children often suffer the consequences of the guilt and sin of their previous generation.

Parents, let this sad and tragic episode in the life of king David remind us to be all the more watchful in our lives. We have a duty not only to teach our children the right ways of the Lord and to model for them righteous living but we also have a duty to keep ourselves from sin lest our sin brings adverse consequences on our children. The same is true of the church. We must take heed as a church not to allow the way we conduct our church life to have adverse consequences on the next generation of the church.

Second, we are reminded, that if we are God’s children, then regardless of what we has happened in the past or is happening in the present, there is bright hope for the future. The irony of this victory over the rebels is that the kingdom of David is preserved but King David himself is dejected. A safe kingdom but a sad king.

Did David ever truly get over his sorrow? We are not told but it is quite likely that he never fully recovered from it. What comfort can one offer to someone in David’s shoes, someone who is hurting because of profound grief aggravated by deep guilt? Sometimes, there is little that one can say except to weep with those who weep.

And that’s the reason why at the end of time, there will be a need for God to wipe away all tears from our eyes, and to bring us to a place where there shall be neither death nor sorrow nor crying nor pain. Isaiah 25:8, “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.” And again Revelation 21:4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

There may be some tears and sorrows and regrets in this life that will never truly be gone until that final day when God Himself shall personally dry them away. Thank God, in advance, for that day. And look ahead with great hope and longing and desire for the fulfilment of that promise.     

But third and finally, the grief of David leads us to think about the grief and sorrow of the greater David, even the LORD Jesus Christ.

Just as David wept over his son Absalom, who rebelled against him, so the Lord Jesus would someday weep over Jerusalem, the old covenant people of God, who rebelled against the Son of God. And just as David wept when his son died, so the Lord Jesus would weep when his friend Lazarus died.

But here’s the big difference between David and Jesus. Whereas David shed tears for his own grief and his own guilt, the Lord Jesus would shed tears not for himself, but for the grief and guilt of His people. Isaiah 53:3-5, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

Notice what Isaiah says – He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities. His rejection, His tears, His grief, His sorrows, His stripes and His death were all for our sakes.

And the only reason why God can and will wipe away all our tears and sorrows someday is because Christ bore them for us that day on Calvary’s cross. Thank God for the greater son of David. In Him alone, can we find true joy and deliverance from all our sin and sorrow! Amen.

—Linus Chua