Oh, Absalom

Today I am posting a video of a song by the incomparable Jamie Soles.

A couple of warnings: I recommend you just listen to the audio. Don’t look at the screen, because the words pulse in a way that is likely to give you a seizure. I apologize; this was the only YouTube version of the song I could find.

Secondly: This song will make you bawl, particularly if you are a parent.

The back story goes as follows. The relationship between King David and his adult son Absalom had deteriorated badly. The story of that is also tragic, but too long to tell here. It’s in 2 Samuel 13 – 14. Eventually Absalom, having lost all respect for David, stages a coup (2 Sam. 15). David actually has to flee Jerusalem. Eventually, his men fight Absalom’s in a bloody battle in the forest. 20,000 men die (2 Sam. 18). Absalom, as he rides his mule through the woods, gets his head (possibly his long, luxuriant hair?) caught in the branches of an oak tree. His mule runs off and Absalom is left dangling there. David’s bloodthirsty general, Joab, finds him, stabs him in the heart with three javelins, and buries him unceremoniously in a pit. (2 Sam. 18:6 – 17) This even though David, who at first had wanted to go out himself into the battle, had instructed his generals, “Deal gently with the young man Absalom for my sake.”

Word comes to David that Absalom is dead before his victorious army returns to the city. When they come back, they can hear David in the small room over the city gate (the “judgment seat”), weeply loudly and saying over and over again, “Oh, Absalom, my son, my son, if only I had died instead of you!” The army sneaks into the city in shame, like defeated men.

Joab goes up into the room and berates David for not honoring his soldiers. “You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that … you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead.” (2 Sam. 19:6)

This is not true, of course. No way this situation could have gone would have made David happy. But Joab just doesn’t get it.

I kind of hate that this story is in the Bible, because I wish the whole thing had never happened. It’s one of those slo-mo tragedies where, just when you think that every single thing has already gone wrong, the situation unspools some dismaying new tentacle of horror.

On the other hand, given that it did happen, I am glad this story is in the Bible. Clearly, this is not some slappy-happy, naive, “everything-will-be-great-if-we-all-just-believe-in-our-hearts” kind of document. This document was written by and for people who live in the actual world, where each of us, by the time we are adults, has witnessed or experienced this very kind of thing: complicated, tragic, stupid, seems like it could have been prevented at any point along the way. God is aware of these situations and of how stupid and futile and tragic they are. He is a God for people who find themselves in those situations.

Ahem. OK, sermon over. I guess I got carried away. Here’s the song.

7 thoughts on “Oh, Absalom

  1. James Moore

    I see your point. David wasn’t going to be happy no matter how things turned out. But Joab has a point too. Those men risked life and limb for him. They deserved honor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you are right. Joab has the good leadership sense (which David normally also has but not in these circumstances). He just isn’t a well-rounded, warm-hearted leader like David. He’s like a pure war machine. And his rebuke, while it has a kernel of truth, is especially hard to take from THE MAN WHO JUST KILLED ABSALOM!
      (On the other hand, how would things have gone if Absalom were brought back alive? Would they have had to execute him anyway? Yet another example of how there are no good solutions here.)

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  2. Benjamin Ledford

    I was always upset with Joab for this and other incidents (like the murder of Abner). But Dad pointed out one time that Joab was the one who was willing to do the unsavory but politically necessary things that had to be done to secure David’s throne. There was no dynastic claim to legitimacy yet, and having a powerful leader like Abner around, or a rival king in the form of Absalom would not have been stable. David really needed Joab, even if he (and I) didn’t like it.

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    1. Yeah, and the more I think about James’ comment, the more I see it from Joab’s POV. He puts out a bounty on Absalom, because in his mind, “This has gone on long enough.” Absalom has tried to kill his own father and the whole household. He’s made his intentions obvious. David has equally made it obvious that nothing is ever going to make him be firm with his sons. If somebody doesn’t do something, the civil war will never stop. It’s a case where supposed “anti-violence” behavior would definitely lead to more death & suffering in the end.

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