The story of David is, of course, a fascinating story with twists and turns, defeat and victory, drama and calm, sin and sanctity that match even the wildest of modern soap operas. Shockingly, much of the theatrics in the story of David finds its genesis in David’s own actions and family. At the center of one extended episode of upheaval is David’s son, Absalom.
Many know Absalom as the son of David who sought to usurp the throne of his father, David, even by way of murder. Our hearts have broken with David as we read Psalm 3 and think about what it must be like for the parent-child relationship to be so deeply broken. Some of us, due to our own estranged relationships move past sympathy to empathy for David. How did things between David and his son Absalom get so messed up?
Working backwards through the story, Absalom sought to take the throne when he had finally been brought back from exile but not allowed to see his father, David, or enter his house. It seems he thought he was being handled unjustly by his father and had grown bitter. What led to this? Absalom had been in hiding because he had killed his oldest brother, Amnon, David’s firstborn son. How could Absalom think he was being treated unjustly after being brought back from exile by his father after killing his brother, the firstborn son? Absalom had killed his brother, Amnon, because Amnon had raped Absalom’s sister, Tamar. So, there’s the story, Amnon, David’s firstborn son, had raped his half-sister, Tamar, who was Absalom’s full-sister. In response, Absalom lured Amnon out of town, had him killed, then fled, and went into hiding.
We read in 2 Samuel 13-14 how David’s heart was torn apart over all of this. Seeing David’s state, Joab, one of David’s most effective, zealous, and, at times, vengeful military leaders, came up with a plan to convince David to be comforted by bringing Absalom back from exile. Joab found a wise woman from Tekoa and sent her to King David regarding Absalom. She was to convince David, through a surreptitious story of her own mourning, a story which paralleled David’s story with Absalom, to bring Absalom back from exile. Shockingly, in the midst of all of this—deception to convince the heartbroken king to bring his fratricidal son who acted in response to his sister’s rape back from exile—the wise woman from Tekoa preached the gospel.
The heart of the woman from Tekoa’s appeal comes in 2 Samuel 14:14. Basing her appeal to David regarding the restoration of Absalom on the redemptive tendencies of Yahweh, she said to David, “We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.” Her point is two-fold. First, spilled water can’t be gathered up again, that is to say, Amnon is gone and keeping Absalom in exile won’t change that. Second, apparently appealing to David’s desire to walk in the ways of the Lord, she reminds him Yahweh is in the business of bringing outcasts in. He devises means. He figures it out. He makes it happen.
While this could get into ethical discussions about the employment of truth for the sake of manipulation, what we must not do is miss the fact that this wise woman from Tekoa has indeed spoken wisely and in accord with the redemptive tendencies of Yahweh. When Adam and Even had sinned in the garden, before they had even been exiled, he devised means and announced to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). When it was foretold through the Abrahamic covenant that his people would enslaved in a land not their own, it was also announced that he would devise means to bring them to the promised land (Gen. 15:12-16). When Isaac was exiled to the altar, he devised means (Genesis 22). He promised the Israelites that even when the curses of the law came upon them because of their sin and they were cast out of the promised land, he would devise means to bring them back (Deut 30:1-14). Through the proclamation of Cyrus, the pagan king of Persia, he devised means (2 Chr 36:22). These few examples of God devising means “so that the banished one will not remain an outcast” could be multiplied many times over and each of them serves to typify the work of Jesus Christ, for, ultimately, he is the means God devised “so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.”
Consider how the person and work of Jesus Christ is repeatedly presented in these terms. Matthew opens his gospel with a highly selective genealogy organized into three groups of fourteen generations from Abraham to David, from David to the exile, and from the exile to the Christ (Matt. 1:1-17). Matthew is intentionally presenting Jesus not only as the promised seed of Abraham and David but also as the answer to the exile. He devises means. Luke records the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) to remind us that he devises means. John writes in his gospel of a time when, in the midst of the chief priests and Pharisees plotting to kill Jesus, Caiaphas declared, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:49-50). The evangelist then adds this comment about Caiaphas’ words, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52). He devises means. Paul wrote to the Ephesians,
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:11-13).
He devises means. Likewise, Peter writes to the elect exiles,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5 ).
He devises means.
Dear Christian do you see on who our hope is founded? While we are exiles and outcasts because of our sin, our God is the one who brings back the exile, who restores the outcast, he is the one who devises means to do so, and he is the one who has devised the ultimate means, his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who has come to bring you back home. Do you see who is the hope of the lost world? Do you see who is the comfort of the parent whose child has wandered into the wilderness? Do you see who is the peace of the persecuted? Do you see who is the confidence of the evangelist? Do you hear what the message of the cross of Christ and his empty tomb is to you and I when we have wandered once again into the exile of our own sin? “But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast” (2 Sam. 14:14).