2 Samuel 18:24–33
And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Parents make many sacrifices for their children. When a baby comes along, the needs and desires of mom and dad take a back seat. Parents will sacrifice time, money, and sleep in order to provide the very best for their children. Sacrifices come in all sizes. A dad might sacrifice the last bite of his favorite dessert and give it to his child who loves it just as much. A mom might give up a career because that is what is best for her children. And I don’t know of any parent who would not be willing to sacrifice their own life in order to save the life of their child. Nearly every parent would be willing to take the place of their child if they are suffering. But we don’t always get that chance.
David, the father of Absalom, wished that he could have died in his son’s place. But the story of this father and son ultimately points us to the love of our heavenly Father and the ultimate sacrifice He made so that we can be saved from the curse of death.
The story told in 2 Samuel chapters 13–18 reveals the wickedness and depravity of mankind—even those chosen by God to be His special people, a light to the nations. This story contains God’s people committing acts of incest, rape, injustice, murder, scheming, rebellion, and war!
Here’s the quick recap. King David had nineteen sons from several different wives. Amnon was the first-born son of David and was in line to be king. But he lusted after his half-sister, Tamar. He faked being sick so that he could be cared for by her. When they were alone, he forced himself upon her and violated her. Then he placed the blame on her and sent her away to hide in shame.
When King David heard of this, he was angry, but did nothing to punish Amnon. Absalom, who was the full brother of Tamar, was really mad at Amnon and angry at David for not pursuing justice for Tamar. For two years, Absalom hated and plotted against Amnon until eventually, Absalom had Amnon murdered. Then Absalom fled and exiled himself. What a mess!
Jump ahead three years. Joab, the captain of King David’s army, convinces David to bring back Absalom because he can tell that David misses him. But when Absalom returns to Jerusalem, he goes back to his plotting ways. Obviously, he had not yet forgiven his father. Using his natural good looks (the Bible describes him as very handsome with his long hair) and his charisma, Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel by speaking badly of David in the city gates while promoting himself. Absalom did this for four years until one day he left Jerusalem and sent secret messengers, who announced, “Absalom is made king at Hebron!” Thousands of Israelites rallied to him and joined the rebellion because of all the patient, hard work he had done to build up his reputation.
Meanwhile, David fled from Jerusalem to spare the citizens there a battle when Absalom moved in to take the throne. David summoned those loyal to himself and amassed a great army. As the battle drew near, David stayed behind but instructed his army to deal gently with Absalom for David’s sake. He still loved his son and wanted to show him mercy.
On the day of battle, David’s army soundly defeated Absalom’s. As Absalom attempted to flee in the forest, his mule went under the thick branches of a tree, and his hair was caught in the tree so that Absalom was left to hang there. When Joab found him, he ignored the words of David and thrust three javelins into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the tree.
The reporting of this news and David’s response is what we heard in our reading today. When he heard of Absalom’s death, David wept and said, “O Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Here ends this tragic father-son story.
This is the same kind of story we share with our heavenly Father. And sadly, that identifies us in the person of Absalom, the rebellious son.
But surely you aren’t that bad! You have never murdered anyone or incited rebellion or anything like that.
You might think that the only thing you have in common with Absalom is your good looks, but while we look at outward actions, God looks at the heart. And in your heart, you are just as rotten and sinful and rebellious as Absalom and as every other character portrayed in this story. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person (Matthew 15:19–20, emphasis added).
Like Absalom, you rebel against your heavenly Father each and every day when you put yourself on the throne of your heart and attempt to run your own life. Unlike David, God is a perfect Father, and He has told you what’s good and right. But in your selfish pride, you’ve chosen not to listen and have declared war on God’s will. A son of the king with privilege and power, Absalom decided that it wasn’t enough. He wanted to be king. And we desire the same thing. Whenever we break any of the Ten Commandments, we also break the first one by placing our own desires above God’s will.
God identified Absalom as someone who was cursed for his sin by allowing him to hang from that tree. God’s Law declares in Deuteronomy 21: “A hanged man is cursed by God.” You deserve the same punishment for your rebellion. Because of your sin, you are cursed and should expect the wrath of God.
Yet out of His great love, God sent Jesus, the true Son of David, to become a curse for you by hanging from a tree in order to make you an heir of His heavenly kingdom.
Like David, God is a merciful king who does not want you to die, despite your rebellion against Him. For you, God cries out like David, “O My children, My children! Would I had died instead of you, O My children!” But in God’s case, He carried out the substitution that David could only hope for. In order to save you from the curse of death, God willingly gave up His only Son. The Son of God also became the son of a human being—the true Son of David, in whom no sin or rebellion could be found, to carry out God’s promise that David’s kingdom would be established forever.
And as the Son of David, Jesus also hung from a tree, the cross and a spear was thrust into Him. Paul refers back to Deuteronomy 21 and connects it to the cross in Galatians 3:13 where he writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs from a tree.” Jesus became cursed for you. He died the death you deserved. He who knew no sin became sin for you so that you might receive His righteousness.
That’s the sacrifice your heavenly Father was willing to make for you, His rebellious child. No matter how far you stray, no matter how violently you rebel, no matter how often you attempt to remove Him from the throne of your heart, God will always love you and is ready to forgive you for the sake of the One who hung on the tree in your place. Through Jesus, the true Son of David and King of the universe, you are a forgiven and eternally loved child of God, and you have a place in His kingdom forever. Amen.