2 Samuel: The Prodigal’s Return

Sermon by on February 6, 2011

2 Samuel 14:1-33

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The Lord’s Day Evening

February 6, 2011

“The Prodigal’s Return”

2 Samuel 14:1-33

The Reverend Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Now turn with me once again to 2 Samuel and tonight to 2 Samuel chapter 14.
Now before I read the chapter, I just want to point out one particular
issue. In the closing verse of chapter 13, we read that “Joab the son of Zeruiah
knew that the king’s heart went out to Absalom.”
If you’re reading the ESV you’ll notice that there’s a little footnote
right down at the bottom of the page.
It says, “Compare Vulgate” — Vulgate is the Latin translation by Jerome,
of great prominence, but it reads, “Ceased to go out.”
One says, “the king’s heart went out to Absalom,” and there is this
tradition of interpretation or translation that says David’ heart “ceased to go
out to Absalom.” I just want you to
know that there are some very fine scholars and commentators, one that would be
very familiar to you, who take that footnote reading.
I looked at all of this, this week, in all of its detail for all of ten
seconds, and decided I was going with the ESV, or the New American Standard, or
the NIV, or the King James Version of the Bible.
(laughter) But there is that
tradition and obviously it affects the interpretation somewhat.

But let’s read now the Word of God as we find it in 2 Samuel 14.
Before we do so, let’s pray.

Father, we thank You for the Scriptures.
We thank You that we can have an absolute certainly as to what they are.
We thank You for holy men of old that were carried along by the Holy
Spirit. We may have differences of
opinion as to the translation of this text, but we thank You for the text itself
and we bless You, Lord, that You have given to us a Word that is able to make us
wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now bless us as we read this Word together.
It is Your words — the very voice of God.
We ask it in Jesus’ name.

Hear the Word of God:

“Now Joab the son of
Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart went out to Absalom.
And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman and said to
her, ‘Pretend to be a mourner and put on mourning garments.
Do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been
mourning many days for the dead. Go
to the king and speak thus to him.’
So Joab put the words in her mouth.

When the woman of
Tekoa came to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and paid homage and
said, ‘Save me, O king.’ And the
king said to her, ‘What is your trouble?’
She answered, ‘Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead.
And your servant had two sons, and they quarreled with one another in the
field. There was no one to separate
them, and one struck the other and killed him.
And now the whole clan has risen against your servant, and they say,
‘Give up the man who struck his brother, that we may put him to death for the
life of his brother whom he killed.’
And so they would destroy the heir also.
Thus they would quench my coal that is left and leave to my husband
neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.’

Then the king said to
the woman, ‘Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.’
And the woman of Tekoa said to the king, ‘On me be the guilt, my lord the
king, and on my father’s house, let the king and his throne be guiltless.’
The king said, ‘If anyone says anything to you, bring him to me, and he
shall never touch you again.’ Then
she said, ‘Please let the king invoke the LORD your God, that the avenger of
blood kill no more, and my son be not destroyed.’
He said, ‘As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the

Then the woman said,
‘Please let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.’
He said, ‘Speak.’ And the
woman said, ‘Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God?
For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the
king does not bring his banished one home again.
We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be
gathered up again. But God will not
take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an
outcast. Now I have come to say this
to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid, and your servant
thought, ‘I will speak to the king; it may be that the king will perform the
request of his servant. For the king
will hear and deliver his servant from the hand of the man who would destroy me
and my son together from the heritage of God.’
And your servant thought, ‘The word of my lord the king will set me at
rest,’ for my lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil.
The LORD your God be with you!’

Then the king
answered the woman, ‘Do not hide from me anything I ask you.’
And the woman said, ‘Let my lord the king speak.’
The king said, ‘Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?’
The woman answered and said, ‘As surely as you live, my lord the king,
one cannot turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the
king has said. It was your servant
Joab who commanded me; it was he who put all these words in the mouth of your
servant. In order to change the
course of things your servant Joab did this.
But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all
things that are on the earth.’

Then the king said to
Joab, ‘Behold now, I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.’
And Joab fell on his face to the ground and paid homage and blessed the
king. And Joab said, ‘Today your
servant knows that I have found favor in our sight, my lord the king, in that
the king has granted the request of his servant.’
So Joab arose and went to Geshur and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.
And the king said, ‘Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to
come into my presence.’ So Absalom
lived apart in his own house and did not come into the king’s presence.

Now in all Israel
there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom.
From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish
in him. And when he cut the hair of
his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on
him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the
king’s weight. There were born to
Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar.
She was a beautiful woman.

So Absalom lived two
full years in the Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence.
Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but Joab would not
come to him. And he sent a second
time, but Joab would not come. Then
he said to his servants, ‘See, Joab’s field is next to mind, and he has barley
there; go and set it on fire.’ So
Absalom’s servants set the field on fire.
Then Joab arose and went to Absalom at his house and said to him, ‘Why
have your servants set my field on fire?’
Absalom answered Joab, ‘Behold, I sent word to you, ‘Come here, that I
may send you to the king to ask, ‘Why have I come from Geshur?
It would be better for me to be there still.’
Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is
guilt in me, let him put me to death.’’
Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom.
So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before
the king, and the king kissed Absalom.”

So far, God’s holy and inerrant Word.

Now last Sunday evening we were looking at the previous chapter — David’s
dysfunctional family. His son,
Amnon, had violated his half-sister Tamar, the full-sister of Absalom, egged on
by a cousin, Jonadab. And two years
later, Absalom, Tamar’s brother, plots the murder of his half-brother, Amnon.
And following that, he flees.
He flees to Geshur to his grandfather, his mother’s father’s house, where he
would be for three years.

Now three years have passed since the death of Amnon.
Absalom is living away. He is
hiding in the house of his grandfather.
And this chapter, chapter 14, is telling us something about David and his
family. It’s telling us something
about the continual downward spiral of David and his family – the events of
David and Bathsheba, David’s adultery, David’s complicity in the death of
Bathsheba’s husband through Joab and through the Ammonites.
To all intents and purposes, David had him assassinated.
And as a consequence, we see ongoing repercussions in David’s life and in
David’s family life. And two things
emerge in this chapter. Two idols
emerge. Calvin says in the
institutes that “man’s mind is a perpetual factory of idols.”
It’s the theme of Tim Keller’s book that some of you I know have just
been reading and studying – the propensity of man to make an idol, to bow down
and worship something other than God.
And two of them emerge in this story.

The first is an idol of expediency.
It’s what David is doing with Absalom.
Let’s remind ourselves of the events that now transpire.
David is going to put family before what is right.
He’s going to put family before what is just.
Joab is David’s chief of staff — perhaps Joab still has misgivings about
David. Joab was the one, after all,
who received the letter which contained the order that Uriah would be killed.
Perhaps Joab now has some secret ambition for Absalom.
That isn’t clear as yet. He
sends for a woman from Tekoa. Tekoa
is where Amos the prophet comes from.
She’s a wise woman and Joab, perhaps because a woman would have greater
success with David than another prophet like Nathan, Joab puts words in her
mouth. She’s to tell this tale.
She is to pretend that she is a widow and she has two sons and these two
sons have been quarreling in the field and one of the sons has killed his
brother. And now the clan, the rest
of the family, want to execute vengeance on the brother who committed this act
of killing and put him to death also.
And this woman will be left with no heir.

It’s of course a set-up. It’s what’s
happened in David’s family. Absalom
has killed Amnon. He’s killed his
half-brother. It’s like in part, the
story that Nathan told David about the rich man with a party to give and he
takes the one lamb of a poor man and sacrifices it for this party.
And David was incensed. And
David bows to the request of this widow that nothing happen to her son.
It’s a set-up. Joab has set
it up. David eventually sees through
the story, the daring story that this woman tells David, and realizes it is
Joab. Nathan roused David’s
conscience against his feelings, but this woman, or Joab, rouses David’s
feelings against his conscience.
Rather than do what is right, rather than do what is just, he yields.
I’m going now with the ESV translation here — “The king’s heart” verse 1
“went out to Absalom.” Absalom
should have been brought to trial.
Yes, he’s David’s son, he’s family, but he’s killed his brother.
He should be brought to trial.
He should be brought to justice.
But David’s own conscience isn’t right and Joab appeals to his feelings.
He appeals to his feelings for his son.
He’s about to put family before principle.
Expediency before what is right.

Of course, Absalom’s crime in some ways is worse than David’s.
Now you may have sympathy with Absalom and you have no sympathy
whatsoever with Amnon who was killed.
Of course, one understands that, but what Absalom did was wrong.
He murdered; he killed his brother.
And David, you remember when Amnon did that, what did David do?
When Amnon abused his sister, what did David do?
He did nothing. He did
absolutely nothing. And here again
he hasn’t seen Absalom in five years and David is about to put expediency before
principle. Absalom is going to
return but not because he is repentant.
This story, if you look at your bulletin I gave it the title, “The
Prodigal Returns,” because he is a prodigal and he is returning but that’s where
the similarity ends with Luke 15.
Absalom is not repentant. He returns
but he is not repentant. He’s
actually defiant. Three years away
from his father he’s had time to brood.
We’ll see the results of it in the next chapter in the conspiracy.
They’ll be no party for Absalom.
There will be no killing of the fatted calf or the giving of a ring to
Absalom. Years have gone by and he’s
had time to wallow in anger and frustration and bitterness.
Clearly, Absalom neither loves nor respects his father.
Rather than bring a son to justice, David now bows to expediency.

Now there’s an irony in the text.
You’ll notice this woman says, on two occasions, that David has “the wisdom of
an angel.” David has the wisdom of
an angel to discern between what is right and what is wrong.
As you read this tale as the storyteller, as the one who writes 2 Samuel
for us to read, as we read this woman saying to David, flattering him indeed,
that he has the wisdom of an angel to know what the right thing to do is, but
David’s wisdom here is not the wisdom of God and it’s not the wisdom of an
angel. It’s the wisdom of
expediency. It’s the wisdom of a man
with a bad conscience. He puts
family before principle. What does
Proverbs say, in fact is says it twice?
“There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end is the ways of
death.” There is a way that seems
right to a man, but the end is the way of death.

There’s the idol here of expediency but there’s a second idol here in this
chapter and it’s the idol of beauty before substance
Absalom is committed to return but he’s not allowed to come into David’s
house for a full two years. Verse 24
— “Let him dwell apart in his own house.
He is not to come into my presence.”
And he lives apart. He’s not
allowed into the court. He’s not
allowed into the presence of the king.
He’s not allowed to have any of the benefits of belonging to the king’s
family. He lives in his own house in
Jerusalem for a further two years.
He tries to get Joab’s attention, and having failed to get Joab’s attention, he
gets his servants to set Joab’s field of barley on fire.
That got Joab’s attention.
And he issues an ultimatum: either
receive me or execute me. That’s
high stakes. I suppose after being
in exile for two years in Jerusalem he was pretty safe in thinking David was not
about to execute him. A little
groveling – at the end of verse 33 he comes into the king and bows himself on
his face to the ground before the king.
A little groveling and it’s all over.
It’s all done. And perhaps,
Absalom might have thought to himself, “Isn’t providence a wonderful thing?
I mean look at me now. Look
at me now. God must be in this.”

But you notice what the writer does – in verses 25 and 26 and 27, and it’s in a
very awkward spot. Just before we’re
told that “Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem without coming into the
king’s presence” in verse 28, we’re told something about Absalom and perhaps
what is most important about Absalom and why it was that there was such sympathy
for Absalom and why it was that even David himself felt sympathetic for Absalom,
and it was his beauty. He was one of
the most handsome of men in David’s time.
We’re told details about this man’s hair.
I cannot even imagine what this is!
The weight of his hair is … even when I had hair!
(laughter) I can’t even
imagine that! Do you see what the
writer is saying to you? There’s a
subplot here. Absalom has support
now. It’s growing support.
It will emerge in the next chapter that he has won the hearts of the
people. And he’s won the hearts of
the people initially because of what he looked like.
He has beauty but he has no substance.

I remember reading an advertisement in the
Reader’s Digest
. There was a
farmer from Iowa. He was seeking a
wife. And the advertisement went:
“Farmer seeks wife. Age 35.
Must have tractor. Send
picture of tractor.” (laughter)
He wasn’t concerned with what she looked like!
The writer is saying something different here.
This is 2011. This is
People Magazine that you see.
I know you don’t read it. You
see it on the stand in Wal-Mart when you’re checking out.
You look at the front page.
You sort of wish that you could turn to the second or third page and not have
somebody from First Presbyterian tap you on the shoulder.
(laughter) The glossy
magazine that says, “Looks are everything.
It’s all about outward appearance.”
Do you think this is limited to 3,000 years ago, 1,000 years B.C. in
David’s time? Look at church
advertisements for youth pastors.
They must be cool. They must have a
certain look. It’s politics driven
by outward appearance. You know the
writer of Samuel has been telling you this way back in 1 Samuel that “man looks
on the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.”
You know if you saw Absalom you’d be won over in a heartbeat.
He had everything. He had
charm. He had a way with words.
He has a wife and sons and a beautiful, beautiful daughter.
And guess what he’s called her — Tamar, after his sister.
We live in an age that’s obsessed with beauty.
It’s a multibillion dollar industry.
Man looks at the outward appearance, driven by the external, but God
looks at the heart.

You know there’s a warning here.
Young women, young men, what are you looking for in a husband, in a wife?
I sometimes tell students at the seminary who are all astray about their
sense of call to the ministry because they married lookers.
They didn’t marry with a view to the ministry.
They didn’t marry with a view to being a minister in wherever.
They thought they were marrying a doctor.
They thought they were marrying a lawyer.
They married a looker and they looked at the outward appearance but
perhaps they didn’t look at the heart.
There’s a word of warning here.
Absalom will win the hearts of the people and perhaps even here you see
the seeds of it.

You know this chapter, it’s about failure.
It’s about David’s failure.
It’s about David’s failure as a father, to his children, to his sons.
He’s an absentee father. But
you know, the great, great thing is there’s Gospel for failures.
There’s Gospel for people like David.
God used David in extraordinary — God is teaching David extraordinary
lessons here. God is going to bring
him lower still. God’s going to
bring David right down because God intends to use him.
Do you know, I don’t want to send you away depressed tonight.
I want to send you away with this thought — God uses failures.
This failure God used to write the songbook of the Bible.
It’s through this failure, according to the flesh, that Jesus Christ
came. That’s beautiful.
That’s beauty. That’s the
beauty of the heart of God, that He looks upon people like David, yes like me
and like you, and He says, “I love you.
I send My Son for you to bring you into My family and into My household
and into My kingdom.” Yeah, there’s
failure in this chapter, but there’s Gospel in this chapter too, because God
doesn’t use the successful and even in Absalom’s case the beautiful, but He
takes the weak things and the despised things and He turns them into something
that’s far more beautiful and far more glorious.
That’s the kind of God that we have.

Let’s pray together.

Father we thank You for Your Word and as we see it now in the life of David we
ask that You would hide this word in our own hearts and give us hope and give us
grace and give us courage, for Jesus’ sake.

Please stand. Receive the Lord’s
benediction. Grace, mercy, and peace
from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

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