31 Then the man from Ethiopia arrived and said, “I have good news for my lord the king. Today the Lord has rescued you from all those who rebelled against you.”
32 “What about young Absalom?” the king demanded. “Is he all right?”
And the Ethiopian replied, “May all of your enemies, my lord the king, both now and in the future, share the fate of that young man!”
33 [g]The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.”As my devotional bible points out, it is absolutely heartrending for a parent to watch helplessly as their child destroys their life by sin. But different commentaries have different thoughts regarding David's response to Absalom's death.
Matthew Henry's concise commentary: Some think David's wish arose from concern about Absalom's everlasting state; but he rather seems to have spoken without due thought. He is to be blamed for showing so great fondness for a graceless son. Also for quarrelling with Divine justice. And for opposing the justice of the nation, which, as king, he had to administer, and which ought to be preferred before natural affection. The best men are not always in a good frame; we are apt to over-grieve for what we over-loved. But while we learn from this example to watch and pray against sinful indulgence, or neglect of our children, may we not, in David, perceive a shadow of the Saviour's love, who wept over, prayed for, and even suffered death for mankind, though vile rebels and enemies.
My Life Application Bible: Why was David so upset over the death of his rebel son? (1) David realized that he, in part, was responsible for Absalom's death. Nathan, the prophet, had said that because David had killed Uriah, his own sons would rebel against him. (2) David was angry at Joab and his officers for killing Absalom against his wishes. (3) David truly loved his son, even though Absalom did nothing to deserve his love. It would have been kinder and more loving to deal with Absalom and his runaway ego when he was younger.
MacArthur Study Bible: In spite of all the harm that Absalom had caused, David was preoccupied with his personal loss in a melancholy way that seems to be consistent with his weakness as a father. It was an unwarranted zeal for such a worthless son, and a warning about the pitiful results of sin.
From enduringword.com: 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.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage: 2 Samuel 19:11-20:13, John 21:1-25, Psalm 120:1-7, Proverbs 16:16-17
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