On January 3, 2008 an important man died. In Brooklyn, NY, this one time executive of a Fortune 500 company breathed his last, He had prepared his own lavish funeral. His body was dressed with a stunning Italian suit. Guests for the funeral have already been notified of the viewing and coming funeral. It will be well attended, because he provided for an elegant luncheon to follow, along with the reading of his will. Had he not done so, he knew the funeral parlor would be empty. You see, he was powerful, but he had no friends. He had wealth, but he had no admirers that did not want a “piece” of him. He knew it well enough. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, he didn’t want the only emotion at his death to be some old house keeper anxiously pawning the bed curtains. He carefully organized a memorial to himself, paid an expensive price to have his hair and face “redone” to look almost alive. He even chose what china would be used to have a dinner in his honor. He even chose his burial plot and had the carving of the tombstone cut without the date, ready to go. He was a man that left his own memorial, his own “standing stone”. Once a man of great power – now he was reduced to memorializing himself.
Three thousand years ago, a man faced a similar predicament. His life hadn’t left any deep marks on others. He was powerful, but pitiful, all at the same time. He had no children, and the Bible says at the end of his life (2 Samuel 18:18) “in his lifetime (he) had taken and set up for himself a pillar which is in the King’s Valley (in Jerusalem).” His end was tragic, the consequence of failed parenting and a rebellious spirit. Yet, he was loved. What went wrong?
Two men awoke that morning on opposite sides of a battle line. Only one would live to see the sunset. Both faced momentous decisions. Only one faced the darkness encamped with real friends that he developed over a lifetime of serving people. The difference in the crisis was how the men shaped life before the crisis….
Key Principle: How we deal with pain can be the key factor to our success in life.
A Few Observations about Absalom that may teach us:
This morning I can only chose pieces of Absalom’s story for our Scripture reading so I’ve divided it into six small sections.
Before we proceed with his appearances, listen to the description of the young man Absalom – 2 Samuel 14:25, 26. “Now in all Israel there was no one to be praised so much for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. When he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, 200 shekels by the king’s weight.”
1. Let’s begin with where Absalom first comes into the Biblical text in 2 Sam. 3. Absalom rose out of the text of Scripture in a time when his dad was rising to the throne, terribly busy with important alliances. Absalom was a middle child, the product of a minor alliance with the King of Geshur and a wife supplied to seal the deal (2 Sam. 3:1-5).
2. Absalom next appears, years later, when the public scandal of his father broke the news and his war campaigns of his father were pushing the message of scandal off the front pages to allow the King to reemerge as the obvious hero of his day (2 Sam. 13:1). He is not the subject here, but is a secondary player in the story of the rape of his sister by a half-brother Amnon. A few things to note about this encounter, though. Here Absalom observed three important things about his father that helped shape his course in life.
- First, he learned that it was not difficult to manipulate his dad, as he saw Amnon accomplish (13:6). He did it by observation of his parent, when his parent was unaware of his eyes. Doubt that he understood this? He would later use the same tactic in 2 Sam. 13:26-27).
- He also learned how his (now fallen) dad reacted to sin in the life of those he had charge over. In other words, he found a guilt spot in his dad that left him vulnerable to under reaction. He found a moral soft spot brought on by his dad’s own compromise! (13:21).
The writer of Proverbs was Solomon, the younger brother of Absalom. I want you to read with me a portion of Proverbs 3 that illuminates the meaning of the fifth commandment, words that Absalom should have had taken heed of as a young man.
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare will they give you. . . Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”
When Solomon wrote those words more than likely, Solomon pondered the undisciplined life of his brother, Absalom as he penned the words, “do not rely on your own insight,…be not wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” And Solomon probably shed tears as he wrote “let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you.”
- Finally, he experienced how his dad reacted when something that was both unjust and hurtful to HIM. The silence on the issue of his pain was deafening until Absalom could bear it no more (13:23). Injustice breeds dissatisfaction and anger, and the language of anger is rebellion. Absalom was culpable, but dad bore some real responsibility!
3. The third appearance of Absalom is when he decided to be judge and jury for his half brother Amnon, and have him killed (13:24-39). A closer look a this passage reveals more lessons that shaped the young man:
- He learned where he could turn (a family ally) that would NOT cause him to face consequences (2 Sam. 13:37-38). There are people we love to turn to because they love us and protect us. Yet, they don’t truly help us because they refuse to be involved in shaping us into responsible people. Grandaddy Talmai was one such man.
- He learned from his dad’s silence that his pride and other political considerations were worth more to his dad than a relationship with him (13:39). Dad may say he loves me, but I am apparently not worth the chase!
- Even when he was brought back into his father’s good graces, he no doubt heard that it was because dad was “talked into it” (14:21). Dad never reached of his own accord. It seemed he was a political pawn.
- Add to that the reality that his dad kept him from coming to see him, and feeling fully loved and accepted (14:24-28). You may say, “Wait! He should be disciplined for the killing of his brother!” That is true enough, but David neither pardons and forgives, nor punishes. The passivity on his part was planned in the text. Passive parenting leads to deep feelings of insecurity and pain in children, even adult children!
4. Absalom now forces his way into our story. Discontent to sit for another month to await some word directly from his dad on his own future, the idle son set on fire the fields of the chief of staff of David, to finally convince the man of his serious desire to have audience before his dad (14:30). Can you imagine that? The child had to misbehave and agitate people close to his dad to get any response to from his dad! How painful to look into the mirror each day and see yourself, but know you are utterly invisible to your parent.
There are THREE MYTHS ABOUT PAIN:
God’s children are not supposed to suffer pain.
If I hurt, there must be something wrong with me.
If I hurt, there must be something wrong with God.
“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures suffer pain; therefore does God lack goodness or power, or both? None of these. Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”-C. S. Lewis
One Pastor told the story about a boy who grew up in a rural community that specialized in growing tobacco. Their first summer job was to weed the crop and most of the time he and his fellow workers would walk the seemingly endless rows with a hoe, scuffing out weeds in relative comfort. But sooner or later when they got close to the fence, they ran into thistles- hundreds and hundreds of these little thistles. They looked harmless enough, but you couldn’t scuff them out with a hoe; you had to get down on your knees and pull those prickly little things out by the roots. You know, bitterness is a lot like those little thistles. We can put away hurts and pains, but the only way to get rid of bitterness is to fall to our knees and root it out through prayerful dependence on God.
HOW TO RESPOND TO PAIN
–Remember that God knows what He is doing, even when we have no idea.
“Tomorrow morning,” the surgeon began, “I’ll open up your heart…” “You’ll find Jesus there,” the boy interrupted. The surgeon looked up, annoyed. “I’ll cut your heart open,” he continued, “to see how much damage has been done…” “But when you open up my heart, you’ll find Jesus in there.” The surgeon looked to the parents, who sat quietly. “When I see how much damage has been done, I’ll sew your heart and chest back up and I’ll plan what to do next.” “But you’ll find Jesus in my heart. The Bible says He lives there. The hymns all say He lives there. You’ll find Him in my heart.” The surgeon had had enough. “I’ll tell you what I’ll find in your heart. I’ll find damaged muscle, low blood supply, and weakened vessels. And I’ll find out if I can make you well.” “You’ll find Jesus there, too. He lives there.” The surgeon left. Later, he sat in his office, recording his notes from the surgery, “…damaged aorta, damaged pulmonary vein, widespread muscle degeneration. No hope for transplant, no hope for cure. Therapy: painkillers and bed rest. Prognosis:,” here he paused, “death within one year.” He stopped the recorder, but there was more to be said. “Why?” he asked aloud. “Why did You do this? You’ve put him here; You’ve put him in this pain; and You’ve cursed him to an early death. Why?” The Lord answered and said, “The boy, My lamb, was not meant for your flock for long, for he is a part of My flock, and will forever be. Here, in My flock, he will feel no pain, and will be comforted as you cannot imagine. His parents will one day join him here, and they will know peace, and My flock will continue to grow.” The surgeon’s tears were hot, but his anger was hotter. “You created that boy, and You created that heart. He’ll be dead in months. Why?” The Lord answered, “The boy, My lamb, shall return to My flock, for he has done his duty: I did not put My lamb with your flock to lose him, but to retrieve another lost lamb.” The surgeon wept. The surgeon sat beside the boy’s bed; the boy’s parents sat across from him. The boy awoke and whispered, “Did you cut open my heart?” “Yes,” said the surgeon. “What did you find?” asked the boy. “I found Jesus there,” said the surgeon.
– Accept what you cannot change. “David got up from the ground . . . he said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept . . . but now that he is dead, why should I fast’” (2 Sam. 12:22-23).
– Don’t exaggerate your pain, play it down and pray it up. After David’s baby died, “he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” (2 Sam. 12:20).
– Focus on the good you have left, not the bad that was lost. “David comforted his wife . . . she gave birth to a son and they named him Solomon” (2 Sam. 12:24).
– People will hurt you, but God replaces grudges with blessings. “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Luke 5:22).
5. The fifth time we see Absalom in the text, he is plotting the coup that will oust his dad from the throne. By now, the fruits of his misshapen life are easy to see. He is selfish (15:1), manipulative (15:2-6), and deceitful (15:7-8). These ingrained sins carried Absalom through the rise of the coup, and the despicable acts during his short lived time of the throne (2 Sam. 16:15-17:4).
6. The final chapter of his life was the battle between the forces of David led by Joab and the forces of Israel by the usurping son Absalom (2 Sam. 18:1-18). Last time we noted that Absalom died, hung in a tree by his hair, a spear in his heart. That heart was already broken. We end this message where we began. With a man’s death.
How we deal with pain can be the key factor to our success in life.
On January 3, 2008, an important man died. He had few earthly riches. His body was used up. The love of his life preceded him in death. He quietly slipped into eternity in the presence of his dear friends and loved one. His footprint on the earth was deep and well placed. He loved many people, and they loved him. He cared for things eternal, and God smiled on his life in amazing ways. He even had the joy of sharing Jesus and leading an 80 year old woman to salvation in the closing days of his life. He doesn’t have a grave stone. His body is being used by science. He didn’t need to find a way to have people remember him. They already do!