The relational breakdown between David and his son Absalom is one of the more tragic stories in the Bible. In this message we will learn what David didn’t do to prevent this relational breakdown. If David had confronted instead of avoiding, paid attention instead of ignoring, and communicated instead of remaining silent, a lot of the family heartbreak would have been prevented.
I think some of the saddest words in all the Bible are words that we’re going to look at in a moment.
And I want to warn you, this part of David’s story may be difficult for you to hear. It reveals what happens when we refuse to repent and change, and what happens when we make conscious decisions to remain on a path that has caused and continues to cause relational heartbreak.
We’re going to look at a time in David’s life when he neglected his children, avoided confrontation when it was desperately needed, and wouldn’t resolve problems or reconcile relationships.
We’re going to see how the sins of a father get passed down from one generation to the next.
We’re going to look at a time when David hears back from his troops, after they’ve just been victorious in war, that the one who tried to seize his throne was now dead.
And this rival, his opponent, his enemy, was his son.
And he remembers in that moment when Absalom was born and all the dreams he had for his little boy. And he wonders, “How did it come to this?”
And he says, “O Absalom, my son, my son, if only I could have died.”
He stands overlooking the city and weeps.
Let me ask a question: Do you think David loved his son Absalom? I mean he wept uncontrollably when he got news of his son’s death. He said he would have died in Absalom’s place, and I think he meant it.
I think he loved Absalom.
Which makes me question whether or not love is enough?
I don’t think it is. At least not the kind of love that’s based primarily on strong emotions.
Love – your love and mine – must do certain things. Love must act in certain ways if it’s really going to help the one you love.
One thing is for certain: David and Absalom did not end up where they did for no reason at all.
Relational breakdowns never just happen.
There were crossroad moments in the story of David and Absalom when crucial mistakes got made, when if another road had been taken things might have turned out so differently.
And today I want to look at some of those crossroads, and I want to talk about what love must do to minimize the chance of relational heartbreak.
The story today is in
2 Samuel 13
I want to give you a quick sense of the extent to which David’s family was messed up. You may not know much about this because he’s a character in the Bible that’s so prominent.
And because we sometimes think we invented dysfunctional families in the 21st century, I want you to see how far back they go.
Here were David’s family issues:
Years of total estrangement
That was David’s family. My guess is your family is not more dysfunctional than that.
2 Samuel 13:1-13
David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar. And Amnon, her half brother, fell desperately in love with her. Amnon became so obsessed with Tamar that he became ill. She was a virgin, and Amnon thought he could never have her.
But Amnon had a very crafty friend—his cousin Jonadab. He was the son of David’s brother Shimea. One day Jonadab said to Amnon, “What’s the trouble? Why should the son of a king look so dejected morning after morning?”
So Amnon told him, “I am in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”
“Well,” Jonadab said, “I’ll tell you what to do. Go back to bed and pretend you are ill. When your father comes to see you, ask him to let Tamar come and prepare some food for you. Tell him you’ll feel better if she feeds you.”
So Amnon pretended to be sick. And when the king came to see him, Amnon asked him, “Please let Tamar come to take care of me and cook something for me to eat.”
So David agreed and sent Tamar to Amnon’s house to prepare some food for him.
When Tamar arrived at Amnon’s house, she went to the room where he was lying down so he could watch her mix some dough.
Then she baked some special bread for him. But when she set the serving tray before him, he refused to eat. “Everyone get out of here,” Amnon told his servants. So they all left. Then he said to Tamar, “Now bring the food into my bedroom and feed it to me here.”
So Tamar took it to him. But as she was feeding him, he grabbed her and demanded, “Come to bed with me, my darling sister.”
“No, my brother!” she cried. “Don’t be foolish! Don’t do this to me! You know what a serious crime it is to do such a thing in Israel. Where could I go in my shame? And you would be called one of the greatest fools in Israel.
Now notice David, the father, is so clueless about what’s going on in his own family, that not only does he not notice Amnon’s obsession with Tamar, David actually is the one to set up Tamar going in to take care of Amnon.
And she goes in to serve him food, but Amnon tries to get her to sleep with him, and she refuses.
Now, he’s stronger than her, and so he rapes his own half-sister.
Look at verse
2 Samuel 13:15-17
Then suddenly Amnon’s love turned to hate, and he hated her even more than he had loved her. “Get out of here!” he snarled at her.
“No, no!” Tamar cried. “To reject me now is a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.” But Amnon wouldn’t listen to her. He shouted for his servant and demanded, “Throw this woman out, and lock the door behind her!”
I want you to notice one thing here that we’re going to come back to later in this message. After the rape is done, Amnon calls to his personal servant and notice how he refers to Tamar, “Throw this woman” — this woman — not “Tamar,” not “my sister,” but “this woman.”
This is an interesting theme that runs throughout David’s story. Very often, when one person is sinning against another person, they’ll avoid using the person’s name or referring to their relationship with that person as a way to kind of dehumanize that person.
We saw it in the story of Bathsheba where a servant tried to warn David by saying, “Isn’t this Bathsheba? The daughter of Eliam? The wife of Uriah?” “Isn’t this someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone with a name?”
But to David she was just “that woman.”
We saw it with Saul, when he was angry at his son, Jonathan, for trying to protect David. He said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman,” not “my son.”
In the New Testament, we see it in the story of the Prodigal Son. The elder brother says to his father, “This son of yours has squandered your money,” not “this brother of mine.”
We all do this when we’re involved in sin against someone. We don’t want to think of them as “my brother,” “my sister,” “my neighbor.” It’s just “that man.”
Amnon rejects Tamar: “Throw this woman out, and lock the door behind her!”
We’ve talked about warning lights already in this series. There’s a warning light that should go off for us when we begin to depersonalize or objectify another human being.
A warning light should go off for us because either we’re about to do something we’re going to regret, or we’re in the middle of some sin that we’re probably trying to hide or justify.
I just want you to imagine what it must have been like for Tamar in that situation. Think about what went on in her heart and spirit when she hears the sound of the door being locked behind her.
This is an innocent girl, and one day a door opens up and she walks into a room, and then she walks out and the door is closed behind her. And in between those two moments, her life has been destroyed.
And yet in the darkest moment of her entire life, Tamar is the only person in this story who shows integrity and courage.
Amnon was counting on her keeping her mouth shut about the whole deal. He thought she would pretend like nothing happened, but Tamar didn’t go along with his plan.
Look at verse
2 Samuel 13:18-19
So the servant put her out. She was wearing a long, beautiful robe, as was the custom in those days for the king’s virgin daughters. But now Tamar tore her robe and put ashes on her head. And then, with her face in her hands, she went away crying.
Tamar is proclaiming in a very public way what it is that her brother did to her.
And you have to appreciate the courage that it would have taken for her to do that. Because she risked the possibility that she might not be believed, or that someone would have thought that she lured him into this.
But she refused to be intimidated by Amnon to cover up evil. She heroically took a stand and then waited for justice to be served.
She was essentially betting her life on the fact that her father would do the right thing. She was betting her life on David’s character. She was waiting for her father, who was said to be a man after God’s own heart, and who had all the power of the throne behind him to set things right – to do something, to stand up for her, to show at least a small measure of the courage that she has shown.
When Tamar’s brother, Absalom, found out what had happened, he invited her to live in his home.
So she lived with Absalom, and the days went by and the weeks and the months and they thought, “Surely David will take action. Surely he’ll do something.”
Here’s what the writer of Scripture says,
2 Samuel 13:21
When King David heard what had happened, he was very angry.
But as far as we can tell, he did nothing. He didn’t lift a finger.
Why not? The writer doesn’t say.
Maybe he was preoccupied with being king. Maybe he was afraid of what Amnon might do in response.
Parents are like that sometimes. Sometimes parents need to do real hard things, say real tough words, but they’re afraid of what their children will do back and so they don’t do anything.
I think there might be another reason.
Think about Amnon’s behavior. He lusted after a woman, and then he figured he could use his own power and position to take what he wanted from her and then discard her when he was through.
Where do you think he may have gotten an idea like that?
I think maybe David was paralyzed by his own fallenness. But for whatever reason, at the moment in his life when he most needed to take action, as a father, he did nothing.
David who faced Goliath, who endured Saul’s threats, who led a nation, didn’t lift a finger to save his daughter.
Now this was a huge decision point for David. He could have taken one of two paths in this situation.
And the same is true for you and me. And we’ll talk about those two paths in a moment.
Alright, so David is at a crossroads. He could go one of two ways. And the same is true for you and me. We can either:
Confront or Avoid
This is the moment in a relationship where a relational breakdown occurs, and you’re aware that something is wrong.
You can either confront the situation or you can avoid it.
And I want to consider what this means for you and me.
Let’s say there’s a problem that needs to be addressed or confronted, but addressing it would be hard. It would take courage, so you remain passive and hope the problem goes away.
Maybe it’s someone at your work or someone in your small group who has a character issue or an attitude problem, and there’s a wall building between you.
And you know it. And you could talk about it. You could address the problem. It might get messy, but you could do that.
But you find it’s easier to avoid it.
And if you avoid it long enough, you can kind of get used to living with it month after month, sometimes year after year like David did.
Maybe you complain about it to a third party.
*Maybe for you it’s a parenting deal.
*Maybe there’s something wrong with your relational world, and you know it.
*Maybe the problem is with a friend.
*Maybe it’s with a significant other or a spouse.
*Maybe it’s with your boss.
*Maybe it’s with a co-worker.
*Maybe it’s someone at Blue Oaks.
I’ll tell you as strongly as I know how to tell you: Don’t wait for it to go away.
I don’t know what it will take, but love enough to confront it head on with as much skill, and wisdom, and grace as you can, but head on, because if you don’t, it will get worse. If you wait until you’re forced to do something, it will get worse.
In any relational world, especially in a family, when sin is not dealt with directly, it leads to more sin.
If you forget everything else I say today, don’t forget that. When sin is not dealt with directly and effectively, it leads to more sin.
And that’s what happens with David. Two years pass.
Two years of humiliation for Tamar; two years of passivity for David; and two years of vengeance that is building up for Absalom.
Absalom is becoming a very dangerous man. And whatever respect he had for his father is leaking away. It’s being replaced with contempt.
Until the day comes when Absalom decides that if his father is too gutless to do anything, he’ll take matters into his own hands. And that’s what he does.
2 Samuel 13:23-29
Two years later, Absalom invited all the king’s sons to come to a feast. He went to the king and said, “My sheep-shearers are now at work. Would the king and his servants please come to celebrate the occasion with me?”
The king replied, “No, my son. If we all came, we would be too much of a burden on you.” Absalom pressed him, but the king wouldn’t come, though he sent his thanks.
“Well, then,” Absalom said, “if you can’t come, how about sending my brother Amnon instead?” “Why Amnon?” the king asked. But Absalom kept on pressing the king until he finally agreed to let all his sons attend, including Amnon.
Absalom told his men, “Wait until Amnon gets drunk; then at my signal, kill him! Don’t be afraid. I’m the one who has given the command. Take courage and do it!” So at Absalom’s signal they murdered Amnon.
Absalom finds an excuse to get his brother, Amnon, out of the capital, away from everyone, and then he says to his servants, “First, get Amnon drunk, and then we’ll take action.”
Now where do you think he may have gotten an idea like that? Remember who got Uriah drunk?
So Absalom ends up avenging his sister by killing his half-brother.
And he knows he can’t stick around, so Absalom runs away and goes into exile.
So we have the violation of Tamar; and there was a two-year period when David did nothing. Now Absalom kills his brother, and he’s in exile for three years.
Once again, during that three-year period, David does nothing.
Finally Joab, the chief-of-staff for David, intervened. He got David to promise that Absalom could return from exile and not be harmed. Absalom could come home.
So after three years in a distant country, Absalom comes back to Jerusalem.
Now imagine for a moment what’s going on in Absalom’s heart and mind. He wonders as he comes to the gates, “What is dad going to do? Will he be harsh? Will he be tender? Will he forgive? What will he say?”
This is going to be a defining moment in Absalom’s life. Everyone has these moments, and this is going to be one for Absalom.
Then David made one of the greatest mistakes of his life.
2 Samuel 14:23-24
Then Joab brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. But the king gave this order: “Absalom may go to his own house, but he must never come into my presence.” So Absalom did not see the king.
Notice how the text doesn’t talk about David as the father. “The king gave this order.”
This scene makes me think of the prodigal son where the prodigal son comes home and the father runs to welcome him. I wonder what went through the heart of Absalom as he returned.
When Absalom most needed a father who would listen to him, pay attention to his confusion, to his anger, to his bitterness, to his hurt, he could not see the king.
Now this is another decision David needed to make.
And you and I need to make a similar decision. Will we:
Pay Attention or Ignore
What Absalom needed most at that moment was a father who would be aware of what was happening in his life. He needed a father who would pay attention, and David wasn’t there.
So Absalom tries to reach his dad, again, through Joab.
2 Samuel 14:28-29
Absalom lived in Jerusalem for two years without getting to see the king. Then Absalom sent for Joab to ask him to intercede for him, but Joab refused to come. Absalom sent for him a second time, but again Joab refused to come.
Absalom says to Joab, “Help me see my dad. I’ve got to talk to my dad.” But Joab wouldn’t even return his calls because Joab knew David’s response.
*For two years, Absalom lives in Jerusalem.
*He sees the palace every single day.
*Everyone knows what’s going on.
*Everyone knows Absalom is not allowed to see his father.
*He’s humiliated in front of all these people, but he can’t see his father.
*Finally, he gets desperate, so this is what he does:
2 Samuel 14:30-32
So Absalom said to his servants, “Go and set fire to Joab’s barley field, the field next to mine.” So they set his field on fire, as Absalom had commanded.
Now, what Absalom is doing here is trying to get Joab’s attention. He isn’t trying to do any damage. He made sure he got caught.
Then Joab came to Absalom and demanded, “Why did your servants set my field on fire?”
And Absalom replied, “Because I wanted you to ask the king why he brought me back if he didn’t intend to see me. I might as well have stayed away. Let me see the king; if he finds me guilty of anything, then let him execute me.”
Can you imagine the level of frustration and anger in the heart of a person when the only way they know to get someone’s attention is to set a field on fire?
And people will do that.
People want the loving attention of friends, parents, a spouse, but if they can’t get it any other way, they’ll set fields on fire.
Sometimes they do things to hurt themselves – start drinking excessively, use drugs, break laws, things like that.
And it may be when people do these things that it’s not just defiant rebellion, it’s not just foolishness, maybe it is, but sometimes it’s not.
Sometimes what’s really going on is just kind of setting a field on fire, desperately hoping that someone will pay attention to them.
So this is another huge relational crossroad. When things get difficult, when things get confusing, when things get hurtful, love pays attention. Love really listens and observes and watches and cares.
I wonder for the people in your life, especially the difficult people in your life, do you really pay attention to them?
Absalom sets a field on fire and then look what happens:
2 Samuel 14:33
So Joab told the king what Absalom had said. Then at last David summoned his estranged son, and Absalom came and bowed low before the king, and David kissed him.
Now Absalom spends the next four years undermining his father – two years of passivity, three years in exile, two years living in Jerusalem, never seeing each other face-to-face, and now Absalom spends four years undermining his dad, trying to overthrow him, trying anything to hurt his father.
You know there’s another thing about Amnon, the half-brother that was killed. Not only did Amnon violate Absalom’s sister, we also learn in 2 Samuel 3 that Amnon was the firstborn of David’s sons. He was the rightful heir.
When he was out of the way, Absalom had kind of a clear path to the throne except, of course, for David.
So Absolom began to stir up a rebellion against his father.
He does things to humiliating his father in the most degrading manner you can imagine.
So David ends up fleeing for his life to the wilderness.
And then David, who was a warrior from his youth, who had led so many campaigns for so many decades, now has to lead one more. Only this time it’s against his own son.
He and his troops prepare for battle. And he strategizes with his generals, and they tell him he must stay behind. So he does.
So they go to battle.
And I don’t know if you know this but Absalom was very proud of his hair. He would let it grow real long.
Well, while he’s riding through the trees, his hair gets caught in the thickets of a tree, and Joab find him dangling from a tree and kills him.
Now finally, the message comes to David that Absalom is dead.
And David has that moment of clarity that sometimes comes when it is too late.
And the writer says that the king was shaken. Shaken, because suddenly he sees so clearly the life that was entrusted to him, the baby that he held in his hands so many years ago.
The child who adored his father, the little kid that would play soldiers, that would play David and Goliath and always wanted to be David when he played because he wanted to be just like his famous daddy.
He thinks about the bitterly disillusioned brother and the misguided rebel who sees his father publicly being acclaimed by the people and leading them all in worship, but knows another David, a private David, a darker David.
The king is shaken because he thinks of all the things he could have been, but now will never be. He thinks of the father that he wanted to be, could have been, but wasn’t.
He thinks of all the stupid choices he made, like all of us make so many times.
And his heart breaks for his son.
And this is the final decision David needed to make. He missed the opportunity because Absalom has died, but David needed to decide to either…
Communicate or Regret
Love confronts… and doesn’t avoid.
Love pays attention… and doesn’t ignore.
Love communicates… and doesn’t regret.
And you may be listening today because there’s a relationship that’s breaking your heart, and there are words that you need to say.
And if that person, like Absalom, were to die, and you, like David, were to be left behind, you would suddenly have a moment of clarity that too often comes when it’s too late.
And I don’t want that to happen to you.
So I want to ask you today – what words do you need to say?
*Maybe it’s, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
*Maybe it’s, “I love you.”
*Maybe you’re kind of like Absalom today, and the words that you need to come to say are, “I forgive you.”
*Maybe it’s, “Let’s try again.”
*Maybe it’s a son or a daughter, or a mom or a dad, or a brother or sister.
*Maybe it’s a friend, or an ex.
*Maybe God is prompting you today.
*Maybe it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
*Maybe there are weeks or months or years of distance or stubbornness or pride of self-protection from a heart that hurts.
But I urge you today as seriously as I know how: Do not do what David did. Do not assign yourself a lifetime of regret.
If there are words that need to be communicated in your relational world, say them and say them soon.
Don’t let another week go by without saying them.
I want to say one last thing. Maybe you’re here today and, like David, you’re feeling that it’s too late for whatever reason. And you need to learn as David did that as long as a human heart beats there is healing and grace and forgiveness available at the foot of the cross.
And David’s life was not over yet, not even at this point. Although it felt like it, it was not, and God had great things in store for him still.
God can free you from any relational brokenness you’ve experienced.
But I just want to say if you still have it within your time and power to say the word that most needs to be said. Don’t wait.
Alright, let me pray for you.
Blue Oaks Church