O, Absalom!

By Sherry Black

A Reading from 2 Samuel 18:19-33

19 Then Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, “Let me run, and carry tidings to the king that the Lord has delivered him from the power of his enemies.” 20 Joab said to him, “You are not to carry tidings today; you may carry tidings another day, but today you shall not do so, because the king’s son is dead.” 21 Then Joab said to a Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed before Joab, and ran. 22 Then Ahimaaz son of Zadok said again to Joab, “Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite.” And Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, seeing that you have no reward for the tidings?” 23 “Come what may,” he said, “I will run.” So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the Plain, and outran the Cushite.

24 Now David was sitting between the two gates. The sentinel went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he looked up, he saw a man running alone. 25 The sentinel shouted and told the king. The king said, “If he is alone, there are tidings in his mouth.” He kept coming, and drew near. 26 Then the sentinel saw another man running; and the sentinel called to the gatekeeper and said, “See, another man running alone!” The king said, “He also is bringing tidings.” 27 The sentinel said, “I think the running of the first one is like the running of Ahimaaz son of Zadok.” The king said, “He is a good man, and comes with good tidings.”

28 Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “All is well!” He prostrated himself before the king with his face to the ground, and said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.” 29 The king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent your servant, I saw a great tumult, but I do not know what it was.” 30 The king said, “Turn aside, and stand here.” So he turned aside, and stood still.

31 Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”
33 The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”


We tend to revere King David, remembering his defeat of Goliath. We’ve been taught he was a man after God’s own heart. Unless we pay close attention to the stories, we lose track of his dysfunction. David had eight known wives, plus more wives and concubines, and yet that wasn’t enough. David was also a murderer, having Bathsheba’s husband killed so that he could “have” her. Needless to say, his was a complicated and broken family.

Amnon was David’s first son, and Absalom his third. After David’s daughter, Tamar, was raped by Amnon, Absalom killed his half-brother, and Tamar lived on in Absalom’s household, a desolate woman.

David was certainly aware of these sins of his children, but he never held them accountable. Eventually, after some estrangement, David and Absalom live together in the same city, but they continue to avoid each other. Absalom grows in power and popularity, until finally there is a battle between his men and those of his father, the king. In the heat of battle, Absalom gets his head caught in a tree, and one of David’s loyal followers, Joab, kills him there.

In today’s reading David finally hears the truth, that his son is dead even though he had continually begged his warriors to spare Absalom. In his grief, David realizes that now he will never have the opportunity to be reconciled to his son; even granting God’s mercy, there is no guarantee their relationship will ever be restored. “O Absalom, my son, my son. Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son.”

We are broken; yet forgiveness and healing are possible, even in this life. Is there a truth you need to confront, or a relationship you need to mend, before it’s too late?

The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for ten years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.

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Today we pray for:

Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas
The Diocese of Central Ecuador (Episcopal Church)


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