We saw last week how God intervened in the battle between David’s men and Absalom’s army. Though David longed for God to vindicate him, nevertheless, the victory was bittersweet for David was devastated that his son was killed. In fact he was inconsolable. He was so overcome with grief that he couldn’t even think about the troops returning from battle but he isolated himself, moaning constantly, ‘O Absalom, my son, Absalom’.
For the whole army the victory that day was turning into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said, ‘The king is grieving for his son.’ The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle. 2 Sam. 19:2-3
Duty would dictate that David put his grief aside at least for a time to thank the men who fought so hard for him. However, David was gripped with a double guilt.
First, as a parent, David loved his sons, all of them. Being a man after God’s own heart, I believe that David, though he recognized the discipline of God in his own humiliation, nevertheless, knew that what Absalom did was wrong and he had to have hoped his son would repent and do what was right. To hear that Absalom died without any sign of repentance regarding his rebellion against his father, made the grief that much harder. I believe he grieved for the spiritual state in which his son died, as well as his physical death.
Secondly, he may well have been paralyzed with a sense of false guilt. False guilt is self-inflicted; it is the result of not forgiving ourselves though we know that God has forgiven us. David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheva but there seems to be some evidence that he had great difficulty forgiving himself. As a result, he failed to discipline his children effectively and to bring them up in the fear and awe of the LORD. Therefore, he may well have thought, ‘If only I had been a better father, Absalom would still be alive.’
This happens to many parents when a child falls away from the LORD or immerses himself in an ungodly culture. Parents ask, ‘What did I do wrong? Why is he this way?’ The implied answer to those questions is ‘I must not have been a good parent.’
Emphatically I say, Not True! As parents, we are commanded to bring our children up in the nurture and fear of the LORD. We do our best to fulfill that responsibility. But we must also realize that there is NO perfect parent on the face of the earth; and secondly, that once our children are adults, they make their own decisions for which we are no longer responsible. Absalom was a man, not a child. He alone was responsible for his decision to rebel against his father.
False guilt is a subconscious attempt to atone for our imagined failures by excessive grief. Worse than that, when we know we have repented of our own sins and been forgiven by our Heavenly Father, to refuse to forgive ourselves is an insult to His forgiveness.
Fortunate for David, he had a good friend who spoke the truth to him in his grief.
Then Joav went into the house of the king and said, ‘Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and you hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the LORD that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from your youth till now. 2 Sam. 19:5-7
Wow – Joav really let David have it, didn’t he? Imagine the courage and confidence it took to confront the king with such forthrightness! Now see David’s response.
So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, ‘The king is sitting in the gateway,’ they all came before him. 2 Sam. 19:8
As soon as Joav said to David, ‘Snap out of it!’ David do so. King though he had been for years, he never lost his humility nor his teachable spirit. These two qualities emerge as stellar examples of what we are to do and to be – humble and teachable.
Blessed is the man or woman who has a friend like Joav – a friend who will speak the truth when it’s needed.
Blessed also is the man or woman willing to hear the truth and respond to it in a humble spirit.
May we all be that kind of man or woman.