A Weeping Father
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, August 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
Then the Cushite arrived and said, "My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has delivered you today from all who rose up against you."
The king asked the Cushite, "Is the young man Absalom safe?"
The Cushite replied, "May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man."
The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you-O Absalom, my son, my son!"
2 Samuel 18:31-33
This passage describes King David weeping over the death of his rebellious son, Absalom. Though Absalom was rebellious, David desired his safety; but Absalom died in his rebellion.
This passage is speaking about us and our children. If we have a child or grandchild who has not yet repented and trusted in Christ, he is an Absalom, and we must be concerned about his eternal safety. We also must ask the question: "Is the young man Absalom safe?" David wept uncontrollably over Absalom's death; no one could comfort him as he cried out again and again, "My son! My son!" If anyone in our family is not saved, I hope we will weep so earnestly over their salvation. It is God's will that the Absaloms of this world be saved.
A Rebellious Son
Absalom was the third son of David through a foreign wife. He was a most handsome man in Israel, with a perfect physique. The Scripture declares that from the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Occasionally he would cut his hair and carefully weigh it, and it weighed four and one half pounds. His sister Tamar was also very beautiful, motivating Absalom's half-brother Amnon to rape her.
Absalom was wild and rebellious, but the Bible says David never disciplined him. Absalom killed his brother Amnon deliberately, not only because he raped his sister, but, more importantly, because Amnon, as the firstborn, had the primogeniture and would eventually sit on the throne.
Absalom was a shrewd politician who saw there was only one way to get rid of his father: to steal the hearts of gullible Israelites to himself. Then Absalom declared war against his father and attempted to murder him. But God would not let him succeed. During a battle in the forest of Ephraim, Absalom's thick long hair caught in the branches of an oak tree and his mule rode on without him. There Absalom hung, between heaven and earth, until Joab, the commander of David's army, thrust three javelins into his heart. Then Joab's soldiers finished him off, cut him down, and buried him. The most handsome son of David was dead.
A Rebellious Father
But not only is this passage about a rebellious son, it is also about a rebellious father, David. Have you ever made such a connection? Perhaps your child is rebellious because you are rebellious.
David's own son had became his enemy, pursuing him with intent to kill, yet when God gave David victory, he wept, "O Absalom, my son, my son!" It was a cry of foolish sentimentality, an irrational response based simply on emotion. This was not godly sorrow; it was worldly sorrow. David was supposed to rejoice because God had given him victory over his enemy, who was also God's enemy. But David was crying uncontrollably.
What provoked such an irrational, emotional reaction? It seems David began to realize how he had failed as a father and how his own sin contributed to his children's moral delinquency. God says, in Exodus 20:5, "For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." Perhaps David had been reflecting on the words of Nathan the prophet, who declared to him that because David despised the word of the Lord, "The sword will never depart from your house. . . . Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you" (2 Samuel 12:10,11).
As God's deputy king, David knew he was charged to live by God's commandments. But he personally despised them, committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering Uriah. From that point on, from 2 Samuel 11 through the end of that book, we read about one trouble after another for David. His entire life became filled with misery: God deliberately killed the child of adultery, even though David prayed fervently that he might live; Amnon, the firstborn son, raped Tamar, his half-sister; Absalom killed Amnon; Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel and proclaimed himself king; God killed Absalom, whom David failed to put to death for the murder of Amnon. David had tried to shield Absalom, but God put him to death in the most horrible fashion. Later on, Adonijah, another son of David, rebelled against the God-chosen Solomon and was also put to death for his arrogance. One disaster after another.
I hope we will tremble in fear of this God who does not tolerate evil in his people and will not let us despise him or his holy word. There is a price to be paid for disobedience.
Indulgence or Discipline?
Though David was a superb king and warrior, he was an utter failure as a father. Instead of disciplining his children, he indulged them. As we read this account, we notice that every son of David was given an estate and had a house and servants. And every son ended up disobeying and despising God.
David made sure his children had everything they needed materially, but he did not give them the one thing needful: the word of God. He provided them every luxury, but refused to train them up in the way they should go. David's actions showed that he thought he was wiser than God, refusing to believe in the total depravity of all descendants of Adam. But don't we do the same thing? We see our own children as such good-looking little darlings. Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian of this country in the eighteenth century, had the correct view, calling his own children "little vipers."
The word of God gives us plentiful instruction on how to discipline our children. Proverbs 22:15 says, "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him." In this verse we find a truth stated, a condition given, and promise made. What is the truth? Foolishness and godlessness is bound up with a child. What is the condition? Using the rod of correction, which includes teaching as well as chastising. And what is the promise? The foolishness will be driven out far from that child and he will become wise, fearing the Lord.
Proverbs 22:6 also gives a condition, "Train up a child in the way he should go. . . ." What is the guarantee? "and when he is old, he will not turn from it." Proverbs 29:15 says, "The rod of correction imparts wisdom," which is fear of the Lord, recognition of God Almighty, "but a child left to himself disgraces his mother." Without instruction, without discipline, without being taught the fear of God, a child brings nothing but shame to his parents.
There is revelation given in the Bible for parents. David should have known better, because it was his duty to have a copy of the word of God, read it daily, be governed by it, and judge cases by it. But David would not teach, train, rebuke or punish his own children in accordance with the word of God. Thus, David was an enabler of his children's wickedness. First Kings 1:6 says in reference to Adonijah, "His father had never interfered with him by asking, 'Why do you behave as you do?'" The Hebrew text reads, "He never straightened out the child." All children come into the world crooked, and it is our job as parents to straighten them out. We do so by disciplining, correcting, instructing, and training them in righteousness according to God's word.
For Our Good
The God of the Scriptures is infinite, eternal, independent, self-existing and self-sufficient. He does not need our worship or tithes or offerings. God does not need anything from us. Why, then, did he give us his commandments? Why did he give us the law and a book?
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 answers those questions: "And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's demands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?"
This theme is found throughout the book of Deuteronomy. God gives us his word "for your own good," and "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." This is not speaking simply about riches, health and long life. It is speaking about eternal life. It is speaking about salvation.
Psalm 1, which is an introduction to the entire book of Psalms, conveys the same idea:
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers (vv. 1-3).
The fifth commandment, found in Deuteronomy 5:16, ends with a specific promise: "Honor your father and mother . . . so that you may live long and that it may go well with you." This is the most important commandment for a child. Once a child learns it, he will fear God and submit to all God-designated authorities. But if he does not, he will become a rebel who despises God's government and word.
Those who are fathers and grandfathers should pay special heed to Deuteronomy 4:9: "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." The responsibility of a father is to teach his children and grandchildren about the covenant Lord, so that they will come to fear him, trust him and obey him.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts." First, we must love God's commands. We cannot teach our children unless we ourselves love the word of God and do what it commands. David knew this, but disregarded it. Verses 7-9 continue, "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."
Notice, this verse says nothing about taking children to music lessons or sports. that does not mean we do not do these things. But we must make sure we teach them God's word so that they revere the Lord and be saved by him. When they are inside and when they are outside, from morning till evening, we must teach them, until the word of God permeates every aspect of our children's lives, that they may become wise unto salvation.
Loss of Moral Authority
David failed to teach the word of the Lord. His children therefore did not know the covenant King, did not fear him, and were not saved.
Why did David not discipline his sons? Let me tell you one reason: When parents practice sin, they lose the moral authority to discipline. Keep that in mind. If parents are sinning, they do not teach their children the way of the Lord. We need to make this connection. If I am not disciplining, teaching, and instructing my children in the fear of the Lord, it is because somewhere I have sinned and lost the moral authority to teach.
According to 2 Samuel 13:21, when Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar, David came to know about it, and the text says he was furious. But he never did anything. He did not discipline Amnon because he himself had already committed adultery. And when Absalom killed Amnon, David did not punish him. Murder was a capital crime, and as king, David was to mete out justice. But he would rather shield his son than discipline him. Why did he do this? He himself had murdered Uriah.
Shield or Deliver?
There were many biblical examples of how David should have behaved, but he did not heed them. Genesis 18:19 speaks of a father who did his job well. There God says of Abraham: "For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him."
There is a frightening passage in Deuteronomy 21 of how to deal with a rebellious son: "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid" (vv. 18-21).
There is a modern application to this scripture. As parents, we can either shield our children or deliver them over for judgment. PGM If someone comes to us and says, "Your child is stubborn and rebellious," we may be tempted to say, "Oh, no, not my child! My child is always nice."
I hope we will examine ourselves to see whether this is true of us or not. Jesus said, "If you want to follow me, you must hate your father and mother, your children, your wife, and your own life." In other words, "You must love me more than these." When we try to shield our children in this way, we are loving them more than God. The proper course is to bring that child to the elders so they may examine him and give him an opportunity to repent. If he refuses, the child must be put out of the community in order to purge the evil from the church. The modern church is not a theocracy; it has no authority to stone and kill. But it does have an obligation to put out unrepentant, rebellious sinners so they do not corrupt others.
David also should have known the story of Eli. As a priest, Eli had the Scriptures, yet he failed to restrain his children. Thus God brought this charge against him: "Why do you honor your sons more than me?" (2:29). "And the Lord said to Samuel: 'See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family-from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible and he failed to restrain them'" (3:11-13).
Then ear-tingling things began to happen. Hophni and Phinehas were killed, and when the news reached Phinehas' wife, she died. When the ninety-eight-year-old Eli heard, this stiff-necked, disobedient priest fell backward, broke his neck and died. Later, eighty-five priests descended from Eli, along with their women and children, were killed in one day (1 Samuel 22).
All these things were written down, yet David did not learn from them and failed to restrain his own children. So in 2 Samuel 18: 33 we see what happened when David heard of Absalom's death. The text says he was shaken. Here is a great warrior, but he was stunned. He could not believe it. He had instructed his soldiers, "Be gentle with the young man." Now his own ears were tingling.
I hope we will never say, "God is always nice; he will never make our ears tingle." He still does. The immutable God is not emotional, partial or indulgent. God does everything for his glory; he will never let a rebellious Absalom defy him.
Our Destiny: Joy or Sorrow
We all have a destiny. It will be either one of joy or one of sorrow. At the end of our lives, we will either experience great joy in knowing that our children are all saved, or great sorrow because they are rebels, destined to die. I am not speaking about just physical death, but about something far worse. A rebellious Absalom must die an eternal death.
As parents, we are going to experience either joy or sorrow, based on whether we lived a word-centered life, and trained up our children in God's ways or not. Abraham experienced joy. Eli and David experienced sorrow.
Proverbs 23:24 says, "The father of a righteous man has great joy," but Proverbs 17:21 tells us, "There is no joy for the father of a fool." The apostle John writes, "I have no greater joy than to hear my children are walking in truth" (3 John 4). That means they are saved and they are safe. From infancy Timothy was taught the Holy Scriptures, which were able to make him wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
What about you? Do you walk in the way of righteousness yourself and are you training your children to honor God in all aspects of their lives? Do you teach them the word of God at all times until it permeates their whole outlook on life? Are you bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord, or are they open to the charge of being wild and disobedient? Are you a David or are you an Abraham in terms of training your children?
The Great Hope
If you are a David, let me tell you, there is hope for you in God. David was stunned when he heard that Absalom had been killed. He told his men to deal with the young man gently, but God overruled his silly sentimentality and caused Joab to take three sharp javelins and thrust them into the very heart of the darling son. God does not deal with sin gently. He is not man that he excuses one sin after another. No, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. The wages of sin is death-spiritual, physical, and eternal death.
If you are parents, I encourage you to start weeping now in prayer over your children. Train them to honor God by honoring you. Show them their sins and teach them that they are born sinners who practice sin daily. Tell them there is hope in God's promise of salvation.
The indulgent David was shocked and wept, "Absalom, my son, my son. If only I had died instead of you!" He wanted to make substitutionary atonement for his son, but he could not, for it was God's will to put Absalom to death. He died physically for his own sin and went to an eternity of doom.
But there is hope for us. The heavenly Father gave up his one and only Son to die in our place. That is the real substitutionary atonement. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.
This Son, David's perfect Son, is weeping for sinners because he does not want any Absaloms to perish but be saved. Luke 19:41-44 speaks of him weeping over God's people:
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had known on this day what would bring you peace-but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls."
Notice the judgment described here. We need to discard the idea that God is always nice, that God is unconditional love. There is no such thing. There is unconditional election, but not unconditional love.
Yet Jesus is weeping over his people because he wants them to repent. There is hope for us Absaloms who were in pursuit of God, intent on murdering him. God loves us and sent his own Son to die for us. This is amazing grace: While we were enemies of God, Christ died for us.
What must we do to be saved? Turn to the crucified, risen Christ. Call upon his name, trust in him, and be saved-the whole family! Our sins will be forgiven and we will live lives of rejoicing, loving God and delighting in his word.
If you are parents who have failed your children, I urge you to repent today. If you have been shielding your children, repent today. If you have failed to discipline your children because you have been sinning, repent today. If you have not done your job of teaching God's truth to your children, commit yourself today to do so.
As parents we have only one task: to keep God's word in our heart and impress it upon our children by teaching, instructing, rebuking and correcting, that they may come to bow their knees before our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I pray that we will all have the great joy when we die of knowing that all our children are safe in Jesus Christ. Amen.
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Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
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