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Growing Through Conflict

A Son In Conflict

Erwin W. Lutzer | September 14, 1997

Selected highlights from this sermon

After David’s sinful behavior with Bathsheba, his family began to fall apart. David failed to lead with integrity, and the cost was great. His daughter was disgraced. Amnon was murdered. Absalom died. David’s passivity played a central role in this family catastrophe. 

Our families might be shattered. Our reputation may be compromised. Our inability to act may contribute to the pain. But in Christ, we can find healing through God’s grace. 

Just as God promised, the name David is famous. When we think of David we think of him as a warrior. Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. We think of David as a great poet. For three thousand years, people have been blessed by reading the psalms that he wrote. We also think of David as a great king. Even today Jerusalem is known as the City of David. But one of the things that we do not associate with David, one of the things that does not come to mind is that he was a good husband and a good father because, as we read the Bible, it seems very clear that even though David was a wonderful administrator and king and warrior and poet, he was not a good dad, and a good husband. He was able to rule his kingdom, but he was not able to rule his family.

My message today has contained within it words of warning, but if you stay till the end, as I hope you will, there will also be some words of great hope. But we can never preach words of warning without words of hope. What we shall see in the first part of this message is how David’s sin of murder and adultery so paralyzed him morally that he lost his ability to rule his family. And as a result of that, everything begins to disintegrate.

If you have your Bibles, open to 2 Samuel, chapter 11, you’ll recall that’s where David committed adultery and murder. Chapter 12 is where he was confronted by Nathan the prophet, and after being confronted, he admitted his sin and was forgiven. Beginning in chapter 13, what you find is, if you could graph this book, up until now David is having one victory after another. Everything is going his way. He’s 47 years old. Kingdoms are being conquered, territory seems to be falling into his hands, but beginning in chapter 13, everything begins to come unraveled.

You remember Nathan the prophet said, “David, because of what you did, the sword shall never depart from your house.” And today we’re going to be talking about three swords that pierced David’s heart. And Nathan the prophet said, “You committed this sin secretly indeed. Someone whom you know shall commit the same sin publicly and openly, and that’s the sordid story that is before us today.

Sin, though it is forgiven, has its consequences. These are referred to sometimes by theologians as governmental consequences, the natural consequences built into disobedience. And one of them is that David was unable to take charge in his family.

Chapter 13, what we see is this. David became angry without action. Angry without action. It’s a sordid story, chapter 13 is. It’s a story of Absalom and his sister, Tamar, both of whom were very beautiful, striking in their appearance. And Absalom and Tamar were of one of David’s wives, Maacah, and they, of course, got along well together. But there was another son that David had from another one of his wives, and that was Amnon. And Amnon lusted after Tamar.

So you know what happens in this story, and by the way sometimes the Bible has some of these very unseemly stories, but never to entice us. This is not Hollywood on screen by any means. This is given to warn us, and to show us the consequences of people’s disobedience. But what happened is, Amnon wanted to have a relationship, a sexual relationship, with Tamar, and so he pretends that he is sick, and when she comes in to bring him some food, he rapes her.

Now just think of what’s happening. It is not only rape, terrible though that is. It is also incest. And notice what the text says when it’s over. Verse 15: “Amnon hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.” Isn’t that a sad commentary on illicit sexual experiences?

I thought that he loved her. The chapter opens by saying, “Now he loved Tamar.” Oh yeah, he did? He rapes her and now he hates her, and he throws her out of the room, and she is left alone to deal with her own shame and her own guilt and her own sense of humiliation as best she can. Terrible story.

David hears about this, and you’ll notice it says in verse 21, “Now when King David heard all these matters, he was very angry.” Well, good for you, David. Do something!. Discipline this kid. But he doesn’t, maybe because if he said, “Amnon, you know what you did was wrong,” he’d say, “Ha, ha, ha, who are you to talk? Remember what you did!”

David doesn’t do anything, so the story gets worse. Absalom is angry that his sister has been so cruelly, mercilessly, shamelessly violated, so what he does is he gets Amnon drunk and invites him to his sheep shearing party and has him killed. How do you like that going on under your nose within your family? And what does David do in verse 31? It says, “The king arose, tore his clothes and lay on the ground; and all his servants were standing by with clothes torn.”

This is terrible. Well, of course it’s terrible. Do something, David. David does nothing. David does nothing. By the way, you see it was because David did nothing to Amnon that Absalom thought that he had to act, and so he multiplies the difficulty by committing murder. And Absalom flees. He knows that he isn’t welcomed anymore, and his dad doesn’t quite know what to do with him. It says in verse 34, “Absalom fled.” In verse 37, “Absalom fled.” Verse 38: “Absalom fled and he goes to Geshur, and he stays there for three long years.”

You want to say, “David, I mean you’re not just a king. You’re not just a poet, but be a father. Step in. Do something.” But he was passive.

Some of you grew up with passive fathers, didn’t you? You know, sometimes when we do counseling we say to someone, “Would you please describe your father in a phrase or in a word?” Very important. Why? Because the father has awesome power over his family. There are people who are listening to this message today who are still responding to the actions of a father, either because of abuse or because of neglect, or because of his passivity (he wouldn’t be involved), and your whole life has been affected by it. It has to be. If he abandoned you, you’re going to be acting out all kinds of insecurities all because of the impact that your dad had. But on the other hand, many of you had good fathers and you are emotionally whole today, and you have good relationships all because of your dad. It all has to do with the dad here. David is angry, but he doesn’t act because, you see, he had lost his moral authority. The sin was forgiven, but the consequences were there.

Well, let’s continue on, and what do we discover here? We notice that in the next chapter, David had reconciliation without forgiveness. Reconciliation without forgiveness. You know, he loved Absalom. Another one of David’s faults, by the way. Favoritism. He loved Absalom and he wanted to have him back in Jerusalem. But he didn’t think it was politically good to do because news of what happened had spread. Everybody knew what Absalom had done.

So Joab, one of David’s men, in fact the head of his military contingent, gives him an idea as to how Absalom can be brought back, and actually tells a woman to tell David a story. I will not tell you that. We are covering today seven or eight chapters in the Bible, and therefore we are going very, very quickly. I’m giving you the highlights. In your own reading, pick up all of the details.

So anyway, David is convinced that he can bring Absalom back, but he’s still not sure. He’s still not sure so what he does is he has Absalom brought back, but he won’t see him. He keeps him in house arrest. It says in chapter 14, verse 24, “However, the king said, ‘Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face.’” So Absalom turned to his own house and did not see the king’s face. He didn’t get a chance to see his dad.

And Absalom is naughty. Absalom is naughty. So he figures, “You know, I can’t get attention.” You know, he calls to Joab and says, “Joab, I want to speak to you,” and Joab says, “Ah, I’ve heard about you before. I’m not coming there.” So do you know what he does? He gets some of his servants to commit a crime of arson. They set some of the things on fire that belong to Joab. They take some of his crops and they burn them. That got Joab’s attention. Suddenly Joab said, “I’m here. I’m here.” And Absalom says, “I want to go back to my dad.” So what does David do? He relents, and says, “Okay, if the boy wants to come back let him come back already.” Verse 33, “So Joab came to the king and told him, and he called for Absalom. Thus he came to the king and prostrated himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom,” in effect saying, “You’re in my good graces again.”

And we want to shout at David. We’d like to shake the guy and say, “How in the world could you do this? You can’t welcome a rebellious child back like this and pretend that nothing happened? The guy murdered one of your other sons, David. David, until Absalom is willing to deal with this sin, until he’s willing to confess it and forsake it, and admit something, you just can’t embrace him and welcome him back into the family because forgiveness always precedes genuine reconciliation. It’s not the kind of thing you can just paper over.”

There may be a man who commits adultery. He’s found out. He goes back to his wife. She may have found out. And he thinks that everything can just continue in their relationship as it has been, as if nothing happened. “Well, why are you making such a big deal about this?” he thinks. There can be no reconciliation without forgiveness, without taking care of the sin. “Oh,” he says, “but I’m sorry.” Well, yeah. Thank you. Thank you for that much. But beneath all that there’s a whole lifestyle that needs to be dealt with in the presence of God. You just can’t take these matters and not deal with the issue that caused them.

Let’s consider some of the lesser matters of reconciliation within homes. Whenever I lost my temper and disciplined my children unfairly, and I’ve done that...Now that they’re a little older I can confess to that. And if you have any doubts, you could corner them, and they probably would keep you there for quite a while. (laughter)

It wasn’t enough for me to simply pretend that everything was okay after my anger cooled. I had to go to them, humble myself, specifically say, “I sinned, I did wrong,” and even that wasn’t enough. I had to say, “Will you forgive me?” And after it’s dealt with, then we can really be reconciled, you see.

If all these people who think there can be reconciliation if you just pretend or you hope that they will forget, so you have fathers who have abused their children, who years later will not deal with the issue. They will not ask forgiveness, and they think, “Well, you know, it was so many years ago, that the child probably doesn’t remember.”

There’s a word that came to mind that I was going to use, and you should be thankful that I quickly screened it. Nonsense. It wasn’t that word. It was another. (laughter) Nonsense is going to have to do though for the purposes of the pulpit. Of course they haven’t forgotten. And of course you can’t pretend that everything is okay when it’s not okay. And that was David’s problem.

Now, you know what’s going to happen to Absalom? He never asked for forgiveness, therefore never received it. The sin was not dealt with. He is going to use this sin of murder, and he got by with murder, and he’s going to use that as a launching pad for something a lot worse. If only David had confronted him the way Nathan had confronted David and said, “Absalom, you have greatly sinned, and until you take care of this and we somehow deal with the issue, then we can be reconciled as father and son.” But again, David here is unable to act. He’s unable to act. I can imagine Absalom saying, “Well, you know, murder? Yeah, it’s serious, but Dad, you did that with Uriah. Sexual sin? Yeah, that’s serious, but remember what happened with Bathsheba,” and the father has nothing to say.

Let’s show how this works out again. Anger without action. Reconciliation without forgiveness. Sentimentality without strength. And now I’m going to summarize several chapters. Here’s what happens. Absalom is back in Jerusalem. He’s in the good graces of his father, so he stands beside the gate which is where all the judges stood, and he begins to have people come to him to deal with some of the judicial aspects of the kingdom. And he begins to say to them, “Oh, you know, if only I were king you wouldn’t have these problems.” And he begins to talk about promises that he makes to them about the fact that, you know, “My dad’s kingdom is coming unraveled, and he’s too busy with other things, and he hasn’t really been the king that he used to be.” And so it says in chapter 15, verse 6 of 2 Samuel, “And in this manner Absalom dealt with all Israel who came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.” And he built up opposition to his father, David. He stole the hearts of the people through deceit. He was incredibly good looking. The Bible says that he was handsome. I read a verse in chapter 14 that says, “Now in all Israel there was no one as handsome as Absalom, so highly praised from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” There was no defect in him. He oozed charisma. And so people began to say, “You know, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Absalom were our leader?”

Well, one day after he thought his power was solidified, he blew the trumpet, and he said, “I’m having civil war now, and I’m chasing my dad out of Jerusalem, and I’m going to grasp the kingdom. I’m going to be king.” What follows is one of the most humiliating experiences for David, but also, in a sense, his finest hour. And he goes through the Kidron Valley, and he begins to go up the ascent of the Mount of Olives. And his friends want to bring the ark of God with him. In an earlier message we talked about that ark of God.

And notice what he says in verse 25. And the king said to Zadok, “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in the sight of the Lord, then He will bring me back again, and show me both it and His habitation. But if He should say thus, ‘I have no delight in you,’ behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him (that is to God).” Let God do as He wills. If He brings me back to Jerusalem, that’s fine, but if He doesn’t bring me back, whatever God wants...If I am to die at the hands of my own son, let God’s will be done.” A high point in David’s life and experience.

Do you see here a crushed man, a man who finally had given himself wholly and totally to God? Well, do you know what happens? Absalom takes over. He goes, and David, of course, is escaping all the way to the Jordan River. Absalom comes into the city of Jerusalem, and he violates David’s wives and concubines on the rooftop, and so this is publicly seen. Why? So that everybody knows that there’s no possibility of reconciliation, so that he might know that he has become odious, to use the biblical term, to his father. And it says in chapter 16, “They pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.”

Hold it. Put your finger in the text. This is the roof of the palace. What else happened on that rooftop? It is there, the Scripture says in chapter 11, verse 1, that David decided one evening to walk out on the rooftop, and it is from the rooftop that he saw Bathsheba bathing. And he lusted for her and took her, and that was the beginning of the whole ugly mess. From that rooftop now Absalom does this despicable thing.

Why do I say David acts now with sentimentality rather than strength? It’s because when the civil war erupts he says to his generals, “Whatever you do, spare Absalom. Don’t touch him. You can kill all of his men, but don’t touch him.” Is that realistic? I don’t think so. Sure he was his son but listen. Here’s a guy who had begun a civil war. The whole nation was in turmoil. People were being killed all over the place, and Absalom, the instigator of the rebellion, was he supposed to get off free? David thought so. Joab, his military commander, didn’t. And when Absalom was riding his mule and the mule went under a tree, the hair of Absalom was caught in the tree, and Joab came along and pierced him, and killed him, and then blew the trumpet and said, “Game over! Absalom is dead.”

Now, I want you to notice how David mourned. It says in chapter 18, verse 33 when David hears the news (Do you understand the pathos? Can you understand the pain of this man?), “And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, ‘Oh my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom. Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’”

What kind of a cry is this? You know it as well as I do. This is the cry of a father who wishes he could do it all over again. How differently he would live if only he knew what he now knew. How differently he would live.

David had three spears so far that went into his heart. First of all, the child that was born to Bathsheba died. And when he died David said...You know, the Bible says he washed himself. He shaved. And people said, “Well, why do you seem to be rejoicing?” He said, “I’m not rejoicing,” but he said, “I know that the baby died, and he shall not come to me but I shall go to him.” David believed that he’d see that baby again.

There’s a second sword that pierced his heart, and that is the death of Amnon, and now the death of his favorite, Absalom. And he mourns like this because he knows he will never see Absalom again, you see. There’s never a time in Absalom’s life when Absalom cried out to God for forgiveness. Absalom was never accepted by God because of his repentance like David was. So David said, “I know that I will see the baby again, but I know that I will never see Absalom again. This is it now.” And so he cries and he weeps, and he mourns over his rebellious, strong-willed, deceitful, handsome, good-looking son.

There is another sword, by the way, that will pierce David’s heart, and that we will mention later on in the final message, which is next time when I speak on the death of David. And we’ll go to his deathbed and see what’s happening.

Some very important lessons though. Very quickly, number one, even forgiven sin has consequences. I don’t need to stress that. We pointed that out in this message and in the previous one: that fact that God says, “David, your sin is forgiven.” David says, “I can rejoice in the Lord. The joy of the Lord is my strength.” But the consequences within his family multiplied and continued. Even forgiven sin has its consequences.

But notice this secondly. Sin made David softer. The sins that he committed made him softer. That doesn’t justify the sins obviously, but it created within him a heart of repentance. But notice how sin made Absalom harder. He became more obstinate, more rebellious, more self-willed. Remember that David wouldn’t take the kingdom from Saul even though Saul was throwing these spears at him, and the whole bit. David said, “I will not touch the Lord’s anointed. As long as Saul is king, I will have nothing to do with any rebellion or overthrowing him, evil though he is.” Now look at this. Here’s David. He’s not done any wrong to Absalom. He’s not throwing spears at his boy. In fact, he’s forgiving him far too quickly, if anything. And yet, Absalom has the audacity to ferment rebellion within the kingdom, and to try to put his own dad to death so that he can have the kingdom. Boy, what a study of the evil of the human heart. I mean this is really, really tough, hard rebellion, isn’t it?

So, you see, it all had to do again with who owns the kingdom, you know. David realized the kingdom was God’s. He gave it to whomever He wills. Absalom said, “The kingdom is mine, and I want it.” Absalom represents the person at your job who works behind your back to do all that he can to undermine your company and you so that he can have what he wants at any cost.

The difference was this. Absalom never broke before God in confession and humility. Never. What a contrast!. David saying, “If the Lord wills He will bring me back again, but if not, let Him do whatever seems good to Him.” David hurt deeply because he had hurt God, and he was forgiven and he was cleansed, but he was a broken submissive man. What does God have to do in our lives before we break and say, “God, do as You will?”

There’s a final lesson. Despite David’s sin, there is grace. You know, God loved David. He and God had this thing. There’s no question about it. God loved David.

Do you know what happens? David, of course, is married to Bathsheba, a wife he should have never had, and with her he has another son whose name is Solomon. And do you know what the Bible says? I mean isn’t this gracious of God? The Bible says, “And God loved Solomon. And God said to Solomon, ‘Solomon, I’m going to love you for the sake of your father, David.’” And so Solomon is in the genealogy of Jesus, and we pick up the New Testament and we read in Matthew, chapter 1, these marvelous words which indicate God’s grace. It’s giving the genealogy of Christ. It says, “And to David was born Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah; and to Solomon was born Rehoboam; and to Rehoboam, Abijah; and to Abijah, Asa.” And there’s Solomon right there in the genealogy of Jesus, the human lineage of Christ.

And it’s going to be then from this lineage that Jesus Christ will be born. And when Jesus Christ dies on the cross, David’s sin is finally paid for. You see, you have to understand that in the Old Testament, God forgave people on credit. You can buy things on credit today. If you went to a store you order whatever you like and put it on a credit card. And you know that there is payday someday. But you can enjoy it now.

In the Old Testament, God says, “David, I am taking away your sin. I am blotting it away. But of course, it isn’t finally taken away because there’s no sacrifice yet made that I will accept,” God says, and so Christ dies on the cross. And when He hangs there David’s sin is finally, permanently, totally taken away.

David lived, of course, a thousand years before the coming of Christ. We live two thousand years after the coming of Christ, and we now look back to the cross, and we see God’s amazing grace, and we see the brokenness of families. We see ruptured relationships. We see children that have been conceived illegitimately. And what do we see in the midst of all this? God’s matchless grace in saving, in using, in blessing, even in spite of human frailty and sin. If there is a heart of repentance and yieldedness, don’t every underestimate what God can do with a mess. Don’t ever underestimate it.

I like to tell that story, you know, about the artist who was given a sheet upon which he was to paint something, and that sheet had on it a terrible deep dark ugly blotch of ink. The ink could not be erased, and he had to work with it. Well, you know what he did. He took it and used it as part of the picture that he painted, and worked it into the landscape so that it became part of the beautiful total picture.

We could say, “Well, Solomon should have never been born. David never should have had Bathsheba as his wife.” God overrules that. God brings forgiveness, and he brings grace, and he shows that. Now, Absalom didn’t receive grace. He received justice because he didn’t want grace. You don’t find Absalom going around saying, “You know, I want to get right with God.” But you find David doing that.

And you find Solomon. And Solomon was a piece of work. I mean, he was really a mixed bag. He was not a picnic to raise either, let me say. But yet through it all, Solomon, the Bible says, loved God. Sometimes he loved other things too, but he loved God. And God blessed him, and he became a part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Why? Grace. Grace.

I speak today to people whose lives have been fragmented by bad decisions and sins. And I say to you that you can either go Absalom’s way (you can harden your heart), or you can go David’s way. And so the question is which way to we go? Do we bow humbly at the cross, or do we go in another direction?

Would you join me as we pray? Father, we want to thank You that for all of David’s faults. We thank You that he knew You and loved You passionately, and we have been blessed by everything that he’s written. We thank You that we don’t have to be perfect in order for You to use us. We thank You for his humility. We thank You that he came to the end of everything that had to do with him, and in honesty, threw himself into Your hands and mercy. May that example, Lord, be ours we ask.

We speak today to broken families, to those who have had fathers that have done more harm than good. We speak to those, Lord, who look back and they see a family that has been shattered by broken relationships and promises. Today, Lord, we pray that You might grant much encouragement, and help us to see that there is forgiveness and cleansing and restitution and meaningfulness as long as we come Your way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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