O Absalom — My Son, My Son!
One of the compelling evidences for the inspiration of the Bible is the impartial manner in which the lives of its characters are portrayed. The weaknesses and mistakes of its heroes, as well as its villains, are uncompromisingly revealed. This point is dramatically illustrated in the life of David, Israel’s greatest king.
The High Cost of Sin
In spite of the fact that David was a powerful statesman, a brilliant musician/poet, and an exceptional religious leader, “who found favor in the sight of God” (Acts 7:46), there were flaws in his character. His darkest hour is detailed in 2 Samuel chapters eleven and twelve. The narrative describes the king’s lustful liaison with the beautiful Bathsheba. This adulterous union resulted in the conception of a child, and led the king to arrange for the murder of his paramour’s husband. Severe judgments were leveled against the house of David for these transgressions.
One of these punishments was that the child, illegitimately conceived, was not to live. When the infant was finally born, David hoped to influence God to change his mind. The king prayed and fasted, but the baby lived only a week. When the remorseful ruler learned of the child’s death, he arose from the earth, cleaned himself up, and went to worship in the house of Jehovah. His court thought it strange that his demeanor was so altered. In a remarkable explanation, David exclaimed: “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).
Is the Young Man Safe?
File this episode away for a moment, and consider another event later in the life of Israel’s renowned king. David had a lovely daughter by the name of Tamar. Tamar’s half-brother, Amnon, was quite taken with his sister. He lusted for her, and when she would not yield, he raped the girl (2 Samuel 13:14). Tamar’s full-brother, Absalom, learned of the horrible deed and was outraged. Doubtless he expected his father to avenge the wicked act. But David did nothing—perhaps due to his own weakness in the area of fleshly desire. But Absalom would not be denied justice. And so, at the end of two years, seething all the while, he laid a plot and had Amnon killed (2 Samuel 13:28-29). What disgrace! What heartache in the house of David.
As a result of this assassination, Absalom was forced to flee beyond the Jordan for asylum. Three years he was in exile, “and David mourned for his son every day” (2 Samuel 13:37). Finally, Absalom was allowed to return to Jerusalem; but even then, he was not permitted into his father’s presence for two years more (2 Samuel 14:28).
From the outset of his return, the ungrateful lad began to make plans to wrest his father’s throne from him. But kingdoms are not toppled overnight, and so the rebel son stealthily “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Samuel 15:6). There is more than one kind of thief in the world!
When the time was right, Absalom, with a strong military force, declared himself to be the new king. David fled from the capitol city, weeping as he climbed the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:30). The wise commander soon gathered his wits, though, and made plans to put down the insurrection. Eventually, the forces of David, and those of Absalom, would meet in mortal conflict in the forest of Ephraim east of the Jordan. The record reflects a tender note in that the king specifically charged his captains, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom” (2 Samuel 18:5). But his command was to be ignored. As Absalom rode through the dense forest, he caught his head in the boughs of a great oak tree and his mule ran out from beneath him. Joab, David’s commander, and some of his soldiers came upon the young man in that unfortunate circumstance. Absalom was killed as he helplessly hung there.
When David heard of the death of his beloved (though wretched) son, he uttered one of the most plaintive cries recorded in the Bible.
O my son, Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died for you, O Absalom, my son, my son! (2 Samuel 18:33).
Now here is the intriguing question: why was the deportment of David so different as he contemplated the deaths of his sons—the infant (2 Samuel 12), and Absalom (2 Samuel 18)? In the case of the former, there was a sense of resignation and peace. In the latter, there was sheer agony. It seems clear that the difference lay in the fact that some issues are resolved in eternity, and that prospect loomed large in the mind of the king. The baby had passed into the care of Jehovah, pure and safe. The ambitious Absalom had opposed God’s “anointed,” and thus the Lord himself. His prospects for the future were anything but bright. Little wonder that David cried out with such sorrow.
What about Our “Absaloms”?
The great stories of the Old Testament are not meaningless myths of the past. Rather, they are narratives about historical people, places, and events. And they contain valuable lessons from which we can learn (cf. Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6,11). Philosopher George Santayana is generally credited with the oft-quoted saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Among the many lessons to be learned from the life of David, the tragedy of losing a child to apostasy has to be one of the more heart-breaking.
It has been estimated that the Lord’s church is losing eighty percent of her youth by the time they reach twenty-one years of age! Four out of every five! Does this shock you? It should. I do not know about the basis of such statistics, but I am inclined to think that the estimate may be fairly accurate. This writer, and several of his close colleagues, travel widely and frequently within our brotherhood, being involved in gospel meetings, lectureships, etc. It is a numbing fact that at most of these events there are, relatively speaking, few young people in attendance. Where are they? Many of them, tragically, are on their way to becoming “Absaloms.” They are steadily drifting away from their religious backgrounds. In a few years, they will be gone altogether. Why? There are numerous reasons, and several writers have addressed this matter in recent years ( see Bates 1995, 38-39). In my judgment, there are at least three contributing factors.
The Destruction of Personal Faith
From the time our youngsters first start watching television, and then progressively as they matriculate through the secular school system, they are propagandized with a variety of teachings that are designed to destroy their faith in God, and their confidence in the Bible. In a hundred subtle ways children are taught that the theory of evolution is scientifically credible. Those who do not accept this view of origins are viewed as intellectually deprived. If they do not believe evolution as a fact (at least to a significant degree) they are ridiculed and penalized. Studies have demonstrated that there is a direct relationship between acceptance of the evolutionary theory and the degree of one’s educational indoctrination (Major 1995, 73-74). The public school system is, to a significant degree, weakening the faith of our youth. Thank God for Christian parents who have the determination to educate their children at home. This is a growing practice and it ought to be applauded.
Popular author Vance Packard has written:
The discoveries of astronomers, geologists, and space explorers have undermined the faith of all but the most devout that there is a physical Heaven or Hell. And among believers, God is more likely to be seen as a force or spirit than as an all-seeing watcher over human behavior above (1968, 27).
Add to this the sobering reality that at home, and for the most part during church meetings, young people are given almost nothing to counter this insidious dogma (or else a compromised view of the biblical record is presented), and you have a deadly formula. Are we providing our youngsters with sound materials to build strong faith?
The Encroachment of the World
The times they are a’changing. Yes, and drastically so. Youngsters these days are brutalized with the carnality of the world at increasingly tender years. More and more of the church’s youth are exposed to the dangers of drugs and alcohol in these waning days of the twentieth century. Television, with its inundation of lustful explicity—MTV, premium TV channels, etc.—has broken down the barrier of sexual purity. Many of our young people are accustomed to ogling nudity in the movies and on TV. Once many of these teens have lost their innocence, and tasted the alluring pleasures of hedonism, it will be well-nigh impossible to bring them back to godliness.
One of the greatest contributors to the development of “Absaloms” in the kingdom of Christ is that of parental neglect. Many parents within the church are far more concerned with their children’s academic achievements than their spiritual development. Would it not be better to be ignorant in heaven than educated in hell? Observe how many youngsters never are trained in serious Bible study, and how frequently they neglect worship services, for homework, test-study, etc. Moreover, we are a nation obsessed with sports and sundry recreational activities. What are we teaching our children when we encourage and/or allow them to subordinate spiritual exercises to ball games, ski trips, and school projects? Certainly not the truth that the kingdom is to come first in one’s life (Matthew 6:33).
Pray to God that you never have to reflect upon the destiny of your child with the anguish of David: “O Absalom, my son, my son!” Resolve that you will do all within your power to inoculate against this heartache.
- Bates, Bobby. 1995. Gospel Advocate, October.
- Major, Trevor. 1995. Reason & Revelation, October.
- Packard, Vance. 1968. The Sexual Wilderness. New York, NY: David McKay Co.