2 Samuel 18:24-33: The Sordid Tale of King David and Prince Absalom

When an infant enters the world, the parents’ lives turn topsy-turvy. The occasions and energy once spent on their wants and needs go elsewhere, providing for their new child. Devotion and commitment unseen before, rise to offer their baby the best life possible. With time, hard-earned money, and much-needed sleep, mothers and fathers pay to give their newborn the finest.

Parental sacrifices come in many forms. Most parents often go to enormous lengths for the well-being of their children. A dad may bequeath a treasured piece of inheritance or property. A mom might forgo one career for another, doing what she believes is best for her family. If faced with the choice of taking a child’s place in a point of danger, a parent might choose without hesitation. Most never get the chance.

One man, David, father of Absalom, suffered immense grief over the loss of his son. So profound his sorrow, he wanted to trade places, if possible, to spare his child the ultimate consequence of death. This story between parent and child reminds us of another love, of our Heavenly Father, to deliver us from the grip of death’s grave.

The strife within 2 Samuel unfurls the dark side of humanity, rearing its ugly head. A chronicle of incestuous acts—rape, injustice, murder, plotting, and treachery—boiling, at last, into a cauldron of war. Such corruption and depravity for people God anointed as righteous, through whom the foretold Messiah will arrive. Here’s a recap.

A sordid tale of David’s son, Amnon,
The firstborn heir, who concealed a grave sin.
A torrid lust corrupted his reason,
Tempting him to foul both family and kin.

The guise of sickness, his brooding deceit,
Brought sister Tamar to his chamber’s fold.
Aflush with fever, he raped her in heat
And flung her away, in silence untold.

A horrific crime, in darkness, rehearsed,
Caused this sinful son to suffer death’s curse.

Informed of Amnon’s cruel atrocity, David churns with rage, yet he remains silent and never acts. Absalom is livid with Amnon and resentful of his father’s inaction. Two long years pass as Absalom plots his retribution, harboring his resentment and malice. “When Amnon is merry with wine, I will give you the order, ‘Strike Amnon.’ Then you are to kill him. Do not be afraid—I am the one giving you the order. Be strong. Be brave” (2 Samuel 13:28). After Amnon’s murder, Absalom flees. Such a tragedy in every way!

Flash forward three years. The General of King David’s army, Joab, senses that David yearns for his son to return. So, he persuades his King to welcome the young prince home. Well, Absalom still refuses to forgive. So, he returns, his resentment still burning strong, scheming and plotting against his dad, David.

Relying on his captivating appeal and handsome looks, Absalom captures the admiration of the people of Israel. Day upon month, for four years, Absalom spreads malicious rumors against David while praising himself, successfully persuading them to listen to his words. On a fateful day, he departs Jerusalem and sends secret messengers, who announce, “When the ram’s horn sounds, let your voice go forth, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’”

Perseverance and cultivating his image, Absalom’s subterfuge works. A roar travels across the land as thousands join him in his mission to claim the crown. The deceptive prince wins their favor.

Heartbroken and grieving, the once beloved King of Israel, David, departs Jerusalem. He does this to spare its citizens and leave the city secure and sound when Absalom attempts to take the throne. Despite this betrayal, David still loves his son and seeks to show him mercy. Around him are those loyal to him and the monarchy, an army willing to fight for their leader’s rightful place. Yet, he commands them to display compassion on the battlefield toward the boy he treasures.

The sun arose, and fierce fighting began,
With armies arrayed and fevered for fight.
Rugged, experienced, with sharp swords in hand,
David endures despite Absalom’s might.

Frightened in fear from a defeat so dire,
Young Absalom runs, trying to flee the fray.
Against this cruel traitor, the trees conspire,
The betrayer’s hair still left to betray.

Entrapped in branches, thrice pierced to his heart,
Absalom dead, undone by his own art.

The news arrives—Absalom perished in battle, and David weeps in anguish. Overcome with despair and sorrow, he wishes he died instead. In his distress, he laments, “Oh Absalom, my child! If only I died, taken in your place!” No words can express his grief at the tragedy. So ends this tragic tale of this father and son.

This story resembles one we share with our heavenly Father. Except we discover ourselves in the person of Absalom, the rebellious son. Absalom’s tale is one to recall, exposing our weak and wavering faith and our many blunders. It tells of our merciful Father and God and how we can drift, far, far from Him.

Do we not recognize the sin-soaked path Absalom walked, of deception, defiance, and unrest? Though we may not make his exact mistakes, we find ourselves on similar ground. How easy to turn from God, forgetting we are His and who we are in His grace.

Do you assume the only similarity you might share with Absalom is your lovely figure and form? Oh, but we’re in the same sinner’s boat. Sometimes, we contemplate our exterior looks and not much else, but God digs deeper to discern the heart. The wickedness we think and commit comes from within us, not hidden away and visible to Him.

Like Absalom, you rebel against your heavenly Father whenever you put yourself on the throne of your heart and undertake to rule your own life. Unlike David, God is a perfect Father who stated what is moral and right. But in your selfish pride, you choose not to listen, declaring war on God’s will. So near to Absalom. Each day, you rebel against your perfect Father in Heaven whenever you try to seize the throne and reign over your own life.

Instead of walking in God’s ways, our self-wanton wishes lead us to go against Him. Too often unwilling to listen, we allow selfishness to cloud our vision and make foolish decisions. Unlike David, God is a perfect Father, who unveils to us what is honorable, proper, and right. In our arrogance, we may choose to ignore His decrees. In this way, we do not differ from David’s son, Absalom, who sought to rise against his father.

The young prince of high station, born with privileges and power, Absalom, desired more. Sinful ambitions drove him to strive for the throne and overthrow his father. Do we not succumb to such desires when we set our whims above the will of God? Whenever we transgress God’s commands, we break His first one, too, of no other gods, by placing our desires above His.

Your Lord marked Absalom as someone cursed for his sinful transgression. “Cursed the person,” Deuteronomy 21 reads, “left hanging on a tree (vs. 23). Should this same doom not await us, who rebel against God and His laws? Yes, you and I deserve such wrath and anger, except God’s love is more lavish and generous. In mercy, He provided a way out, sending Jesus Christ, the true Son of David. By hanging from the tree, He bore the burden of our sins, becoming a curse for us. Through His sacrifice, He opens the door to heaven and makes us inheritors of His glorious kingdom.

More than David, your God is a merciful King. Although you rebel against Him and go astray, He does not want you to die. Like David, He weeps for His rebellious children, “O My children, My children! How I wish I perished instead of you.”

In God’s case, He carried out a substitution, of which David might only dream, saving you from the curse of death. The Son of God became the son of a human mother—the promised Seed and Son of David. In Him, no sin or rebellion dwelled.

In exchange for your life, God gave His only Son on a dark, dismal Friday, killed so you can live. Incarnate, Jesus carried out God’s promise for the kingship of David to endure forever. As David’s prophesied Son, He, likewise, hung on the wood—the cross—stabbed with a spear. So too, did He become a curse.

The Apostle Paul connects this to Christ’s crucifixion, who “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse.” The Scriptures say, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs from a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). For you, Jesus hung upon a tree. He died for you, who only deserved death. The One who knew no sin became sin for you, so you might receive His righteousness and experience His salvation.

Oh, the gift He gave! Such is the sacrifice your heavenly Father will choose to make, the price He’ll pay for you, His rebel child. No matter how far you run, how violent your rebellion, or how hard you try to remove Him from your heart’s throne, He will love you. Always ready to forgive, because His Son died on the tree for you.

The true Son of David, King of the universe, has redeemed and restored you. Through Jesus, you are a forgiven and loved child of God, with a place in His kingdom forever. Amen.