Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
2 Samuel 13 – Another drama unfolds – I remember the first time I read some of these stories when I was teaching Middle Schoolers (7th graders) at Friends Academy. I could hardly believe I was reading the Bible! Some of the stories, I didn’t think 7th graders should read. Old-fashioned me.
Anyway, David’s son, Absalom (his son by wife Maacah—3:3), had a sister named Tamar. His half-brother Amnon (by wife Ahinoam—1 S 25:43) is enamored of her. He gets his cousin Jonadab (his father’s brother Shimeah’s son), a crafty man, to help him corner her by pretending to be ill. When his father asks how he can help, he can suggest getting Tamar to help him by preparing his food, etc. This happens, and when Tamar is thus brought near him, he forces himself on her despite her pleas.
But then “Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her” (13:15). She, on the other hand, seems to want to be with him, but he cannot stand to have her near. She behaves very strangely. Am I mistaken, or is Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet not made to act in a similarly strange way?
Her behavior raises the suspicion of Absalom. David finally is put on notice and he becomes very angry, “but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn” (13:21). But Absalom hates Amnon. Two years after this happens, Absalom arranges for Amnon (and his other brothers too) to come to a sheep-shearing event at Baal-hazor near Ephraim. There, he has his servants kill Amnon. The others flee, but David mistakenly hears that all his sons have been killed by Absalom (13:30). It is the cousin Jonadab who tells David that only Amnon has been killed, and also that it was Absalom who did it and had planned to do it from the day Amnon raped his sister.
Absalom runs away, but the other sons return to David. Absalom goes to the king of Geshur [Golan Heights in Syria today] and stays for three years. “David mourned a long time for his son Amnon; but when he got over Amnon’s death, he was filled with longing for his son Absalom” (13:39).
2 Samuel 14 – Joab senses that David is fretting about Absalom, so he sends to Tekoa for a wise woman to come and help by pretending to be a mourner with a story—using a tactic similar to that used once by Nathan (getting to David through his imaginative identification with a person going through what he is going through). She comes and pretends to be a woman who had two sons, one of whom killed the other. She says her family is insisting that she turn over the guilty son to be punished by the family with death, but she does not want to lose him too. The king says he will help her by giving orders to the family to leave the son alone. When he says this, she goes on to bring the point home to him—“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. But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence” (14:14).
This is the condition of every one of us “in the fall” – guilty of sin against our “brothers,” alienated from the “family of man.” God will not rest easy until we are brought back to him again. Where David once was brought to repentance and restoration as a result of his own sin – with Bathsheba, now he must be brought to see that his own son, Absalom should be forgiven and restored to the family. Unfortunately, Absalom will NOT respond with humility and repentance.
The king sees that Joab’s hand is in this, and the woman admits it. These stories are pretty complicated psychologically. Remember that Joab himself felt obligated to avenge the death of a brother by Abner. Now he is acting as an advocate for Absalom, who also acted upon a conviction that the wrong done to his (Absalom’s) sister was justly avenged.
David accedes to Joab’s request and has Absalom brought back, but he is not to be permitted back into the king’s presence. Now, Absalom is a beautiful man. He had three sons and a daughter whose name also was Tamar. After three years, Absalom tries to get Joab to effect a reconciliation with his father, but Joab does not respond to his summons. Twice he calls on him, but he does not come. So he sets fire to Joab’s fields. He gets Joab’s attention and the reconciliation comes about: “he came to the king and prostrated himself with his face to the ground before the king; and the king kissed Absalom” (14:33).
But this drama is not over yet – Absalom has ambition and rebellion in his heart.
Mark 12 – Jesus tells a parable of a vineyard that is protected by a fence and watchtower. Every year the vineyard owner’s servants—sent to collect his share of the produce from the tenant farmers who are working the vineyard—are beaten and sent away empty-handed. The third is killed. Finally he sends “his beloved son,” expecting them to respect him. But they kill him too (12:8). Jesus says the man will eventually come and destroy the tenants and “give the vineyard to others” (12:9). Again, only fear of the crowds keeps the leaders from pouncing on Jesus (12:12). They are the tenant farmers tending the vineyard of the Lord’s people.
This parable tugs a little against a left-wing predilection I have in favor of workers over owners, who do nothing but provide the business and then collect a share of what the workers have produced. I know the owners have a role; they buy the land and the seed and make an opportunity to labor and earn a living available to those who have no money to make such investments. If you’ve ever seen the movie Matewan about a seminal coal miners strike in the early 20th century, you may remember a similar problem one young Christian minister had with another of Jesus’ parables – the one about paying workers equally regardless of the time they’ve spent laboring. But, I think it is important to see that what Jesus is talking about with God’s sovereignty over His creation is substantially different from the “sovereignty” earthly rulers and authorities have over those who labor for them.
They try again to entrap him by asking him a question about payment of taxes, but Jesus refuses to be put in the role of rebel against the state. The Sadducees try to trap him on the intricacies of resurrection faith. Jesus tells them when we “rise from the dead, [people] neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (12:25). The scribes take their shot by asking him what the greatest commandment is, but he gives them an answer they respect. Jesus acknowledges the wise response of the scribe by assuring him that he “[is] not far from the kingdom of God” (12:34).
Teaching in the Temple Jesus seems to say that the Messiah cannot be David’s son because David called the Messiah Lord. He also teaches them that it is wrong of the scribes to put on airs of holiness when they “take advantage of widows and rob them of their homes, and then make a show of saying long prayers” (12:38). And he points out the greater holiness of the poor who give all they have to those who make offerings of the surplus wealth they can comfortably dispose of (12:44).