Monday, April 4, 2011

2 Samuel 14, 15 Absalom: Peace vs Silence חָרַשׁ vs אֲבּישָׁלוֹם

AbsalomImage via Wikipedia
Absalom's life seems to have revolved on such a cruel play on his name which means "my father is peace". On events that really mattered to Absalom, his father was quiet;  a double entendre peace?  So, what is this peace?

From the Strong's concordance, the Hebrew word שָׁלוֹם (shalom) or peace means safety, tranquillity, contentment, friendship, and generally sound relationships.  

During his earlier years, David trusted in God to resolve the conflicts and troubles in which he was embroiled. So, the quiet and peace David demonstrated in his earlier years was the outworking of his trust in God's Sovereignty.

When Tamar was violated, it would appear that David was quiet more out of resignation and habit than in actively trusting in God to work things out for the good.  He kept the form of being still, but without the power of God working through circumstances.  David's quiet was an empty shell that could bring no comfort or solace to his children, Absalom and Tamar.  They saw their father as weak and ineffectual.

Initially, Absalom, in Hebrew, אֲבּישָׁלוֹם ('Abiyshalowm), sought peace through justice, which his father, King David, was unwilling to dispense.  Can peace ever exist unless both parties feel that justice is served?  As the injured party, Absalom's disenchantment with his father and his family,  caused him to drift away from whatever understanding he may have had of the God of Israel.
Though David had endured much injustice at the hand of King Saul, he clung to his faith in the Sovereign God of Israel.  Because he trusted in God's Sovereignty and in God's justice, he himself never sought vengeance on King Saul.  For several years, King David avoided all military conflict with King Saul, because Saul was God's anointed ruler over Israel.  David seemed to subscribe to the command in  Exodus 14:14  "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be quiet  חָרַשׁ ."  In Hebrew חָרַשׁ (charash), means quiet as in silent or still.  This implies that you can be calm or quiet, because God will fight for you. David trusted that God would take up his cause.

Possibly David just expected his son to behave in the same way.  Because Absalom was described as being unusually handsome with luxurious hair, David too may have just assumed that he was also blessed with the knowledge of God.  The people of Israel took Absalom's appearance to be a sign of majesty.  

Maybe the real failure here was that David did not adequately teach his son Absalom about the God of Israel who would hear Absalom's prayers.  Or maybe, because Absalom was the son of a mixed marriage, his mother was the daughter of the King of Geshur, he never really learned about the God of Israel.  

Since two years passed before he exacted revenge on his brother Amnon by murdering him,  Absalom did not act on impulse.  He probably explored other avenues of justice before taking matters in his own hands.  Even though David knew just how angry Absalom was, he didn't do anything to make peace between the brothers.

Over time,  David may have come to think that the avoidance of conflict was the same as having no conflict or grievance.  It seems that David erronueously equated the avoidance of conflict as the way of peace.   David could also have equated silence with peace.

Absalom stayed with his grandfather, the King of Geshur, for three years before being permitted to return to Jerusalem.  Through all of this, King David is portrayed as a passive party.  During the two years preceding Amnon's murder, David never censured or punished his son Amnon for his violence against his very own daughter.  David's inaction caused frustration, anger, bitterness, and an escalating sense of injustice to grow in the hearts of  Absalom and Tamar.  Surely, as children of the King,  justice should have been afforded them.  

 During his years of exile, Absalom no doubt nursed his grievances against his father.  Perhaps he didn't feel as valued as his step-brothers.   Possibly the King of Geshur himself counseled Absalom on what steps to take to effect justice, not just for his grand-daughter Tamar, but also for the people of Geshur.  It could be that Absalom saw the unavenged rape as a crime against his mother's people.

 After Absalom's three year absence, Scripture states that David's spirit longed for Absalom.  He missed him and loved him.  In the same way that David didn't know how to take a stand on the violence perpetrated against his daughter, he didn't know how to bring his exiled son Absalom back to Jerusalem.  Joab contrived a scenario which allowed Absalom to return to Jerusalem.

 Even though Absalom returned to Jerusalem, David refused to see him .  There was no feast celebrating Absalom's return; there was no attempt to justify Absalom's murder of Amnon; there was no public affirmation of Absalom; there was just no communication at all.  An additional two years of silence passed before Absalom briefly met with his father.  But that was too little too late.   Absalom's sense of injustice had reached a critical mass.  

 Eventually, Absalom acted on his highly developed sense that his father was unjust and therefore unfit to be King.  Where David so revered God that he did not presume to fight against Saul,  God's anointed, Absalom did not care about God's anointing of his father.  Absalom simply saw David as an ineffectual, foolish, flawed human being who needed to be retired.  Forgetting that it was God who chose Israel's Kings, Absalom decided that he himself would be the best choice for Israel.  

 While  Absalom sat at the city gates, where justice was dispensed, for four years, he counseled Israel that they wouldn't find justice with King David.  Since Absalom acquired a huge following, it appears that his experience of injustice at the hand of his father reverberated in the hearts of Israel.    Absalom promised Israel that he would be a far better judge than his father.  He called on Israel to crown him the new King.

 Over twenty thousand men lost their lives in the revolt that Absalom led against his father.  During this battle, Absalom's thick hair ensnared him in the low lying branches of a tree, thus trapping him and making him an easy target for David's men.  As soon as Absalom was killed, the battle ended.

David however, first publicly and then silently mourned the death of his son.  Silence colored every aspect of David's relationship with this son.  Sometimes peace is confused with silence, but the two are not the same.  

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for charash (Strong's 2790)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011. 4 Apr 2011. < http://
Strongs=H2790&t=KJV >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for shalowm (Strong's 7965)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011. 4 Apr 2011. < http://
Strongs=H7965&t=KJV >

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