Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom; my son, my son Absalom; if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)
Absalom’s rebellion crumbled as quickly as it seemed to first succeed. After the immediate victory of forcing his father King David out of Jerusalem, he listened to bad advice and refused to quickly follow up on the initial success. He waited until an army was gathered and he could lead the army – and when he led the army into battle they were quickly defeated.
Though David gave precise orders that Absalom was to be captured alive, Joab – a military man long associated with David – nevertheless killed a helpless, surrendered Absalom. Our verse for this week describes David’s reaction to hearing the news of Absalom’s death.
We read that “the king was deeply moved.” The Hebrew idea of “deeply moved” implies a violent trembling of the body. David felt completely undone at hearing the news of Absalom’s death. Certainly David knew this might happen – yet he was this moved at hearing the news. We can understand David’s strong reaction by understanding that in part, David was so deeply moved because he knew that he supplied the soil this tragedy grew from.
– The soil came from David’s indulgent parenting. He found it difficult to say “No” to Absalom, so the son grew up thinking he was entitled to everything he wanted. In part, David’s grief came from knowing that if he had done a better job of bringing up this privileged son, he might be alive today.
– The soil came from David’s sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, after which God promised David: The sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife . . . I will raise up adversity against you from your own house (2 Samuel 12:10-11). The tragic and violent death of Absalom was a partial fulfillment of this promise.
– The soil came from David’s own sinful indulgence of his passions and smaller rebellions against God, which sins and weaknesses were magnified in his sons. Like any parent, David wished his sons and daughters would turn out better than he did. Yet often, the small sins in the parent are magnified in the children. Quite to his own horror, David found this to be true regarding Absalom.
There is a subtle revelation of this in David’s anguished cry: “O my son Absalom; my son, my son Absalom.” David mourned so much for Absalom because he really was his son. David saw his sins, his weaknesses, and his rebellion exaggerated in Absalom. Morgan explains this idea: “This surely had a deeper note in it than that of the merely half-conscious repetition of words occasioned by personal grief. The father recognized how much he was responsible for the son. It is as though he had said: He is indeed my son, his weaknesses are my weaknesses, his passions are my passions, his sins are my sins.” (Morgan)
David carried this sense of identification with Absalom to the point where he said, “If only I had died in your place.” David wanted to die in the place of his rebellious son. What David could not do, Jesus did by dying in the place of rebellious sinners. This is the cry of God’s heart – to restore rebels by dying in their place. Thank God that He did for His rebellious children what David only wished he could do.