Discerning Good and Evil

Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 13 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/17/2016 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
2 Samuel 14

“Discerning Good and Evil”

Wisdom. In both last chapter and this chapter there is a theme of wisdom. Last chapter we saw Amnon get evil advice from Jonadab. There in chapter 13 verse 3 Jonadab was described as a crafty man, but if you remember I said it was literally the word for wise. And now again, in this chapter, verse 2, there is this wise woman from Tekoa. And it’s the same word in both situations. Jonadab and this woman from Tekoa are both described as wise. Yet in last chapter, we saw that Jonadab’s wisdom was an unrighteous wisdom. Well, what about the wisdom of this woman from Tekoa? And behind her, what about the wisdom of Joab who set this all into motion? And what about the wisdom of David here in finally deciding to receive back Absalom without any punishment? That’s the question that’s before us.

This is a somewhat difficult question. It’s difficult because the passage doesn’t explicitly comment for us. It just reports the events. And it’s hard from a pastor’s stand point because many commentaries do the same thing and try to find nuggets of wisdom from this Tekoa women’s logic. There is much in this women’s argument to commend itself. She makes a decent case. And yet that’s the hard part about wisdom. Wisdom, in cases like this, needs to take the facts, and the laws of God, and try to understand how they apply to the situation. In Absalom’s case, we can have a lot of sympathy for what he tried to do. He wanted to vindicate his sister who was so horribly treated by Amnon. And of course his father did nothing to vindicate Tamar or judge Amnon. And so we can understand why Absalom did what he did. But his murder of Amnon was still the act of a vigilante. He was taking the law into his own hands. And so what did justice require to be done to Absalom? Wisdom would have to be applied in light of God’s law and biblical teachings. But is that actually what Joab and this woman of Tekoa are doing? Is that what David does here? That’s the question we’ll be considering today. Did they use godly wisdom, or man’s wisdom? And so I hope as we consider today’s passage, that we would also be confronted with this same challenge. When faced with difficult decisions, there is a temptation to craft some way to get what we want, even when we know otherwise. In such cases we need God’s wisdom, over man’s wisdom.

So then, in thinking about wisdom, let us begin by considering the pitch this so called wise woman from Tekoa gives King David. Notice the backdrop for this. Joab finds this woman. He’s the engineer behind it. And the reason is in verse 1. It was because the king’s heart was concerned about Absalom. Knowing what we know about Joab from the rest of Scripture, he’s a very practical man, not to mention ruthless man, and he seems to be the kind of person concerned with politics and power. And so when Joab wants to help David’s heart which is so concerned about Absalom, we can imagine his underlying motivation. Joab knows that a kingdom is not going to be run very well as long as the king is emotionally distracted. And to put it another way, there is nothing here about Joab’s motivation being for justice. Joab doesn’t do what he does because it’s the righteous thing to do; he does it to solve his problem of having an emotionally distracted king.

So, he enlists this so called wise woman. She tells David of this heart wrenching story about two sons, one who ends up killing the other, and then how her relatives want to have the remaining son put to death for murder. The woman explains how sad this would be for her, as it’s her only remaining son, and her family inheritance would end up being lost without any heir. Now of course this wasn’t a real story. We see it in the text in verse 2 and 3. Joab puts her up to telling this story. The plan is that once David rules in her favor, then she is to turn it around on to David’s situation with Absalom. Joab and the woman are trying to convince David that it would be righteous and just to receive Absalom back without any punishment.

And in some ways her argument is convincing. She brings out the notion of competing principles. In other words, sometimes two parts of Scripture are in tension with each other. They don’t necessarily contradict each other, but you have to use wisdom to know when one effectively supersedes the other. In her case, she acknowledges that the son did in fact kill the other son. But she tries to paint extenuating circumstances that should keep him from being punished with death as a murderer. She points out that if he is executed for this, then her husband’s name and inheritance would be cut off, as this remaining son is now the only heir to the throne. The idea of a family safeguarding their inheritance in the land was one of these principles from the law that would have competed here with the law about how to handle murderers. In other words, her argument is how can you safeguard the inheritance, if you execute the remaining son? She also tries to paint this as some kind of brotherly spat as brothers tend to do, not some premeditated murder, but something done in the heat of a fight. We of course do distinguish between degrees of murder, and so we can understand this argument as well. And later she also appeals to the mercy and grace of God, which of course David himself has personally known; so again we can appreciate this part of her argument.

And yet this all being said, I believe we should see this all as still falling short of making a wise argument to bring home and restore Absalom. Let me give you some things to think about. Step back with me and ask a question. Does this whole parable which is then turned around on David sound familiar? Well, it should. It is very much like what Nathan the prophet did back in chapter 12 to confront David on his sin with Uriah and Bathsheba. It looks very similar at first when David in both situations thinks this is an actual judicial case that is being brought before him, only to have the situation turned around and it actually be about him. And yet, when we look at the differences between Nathan’s parable and this one, I think this one should actually look to us as more like a bad parody.

Think about it. First, notice the difference in the source for each of the parables. The source for Nathan’s parable come from the Word of the LORD. The source for this woman’s parable come from the words of Joab. Remember, Joab is not painted in Scripture as a very godly man. Second, notice that David’s response to Nathan’s parable is different that his response to this woman’s parable here. When Nathan gave the parable, David was furious and came to an immediate verdict. Here, however, that reaction is not there. Look at verse 8. David’s first reaction contains no description of emotion. In fact, it sounds like at first he’s going to send the woman home and make a decision later. She is not able to get the desired verdict from David until she pleads with him further in verse 9 and then yet another time in verse 10. Finally, she gets a clear verdict from David which he then issues in the name of the LORD. And so her case in and of itself was not that convincing nor clear cut for David to answer.

And then you see her make the twist and apply the matter to David. This is in verse 13. She accuses David that his actions against his son are actions against the people of God, because he won’t bring back home banished Absalom. Now, I don’t know about you, but that seems a bit of a reach. Yes, I can see some similarity between Absalom’s situation and the woman’s parable, but there is also difference. It seems the crucial point of the woman’s parable is that this son was the remaining son, and the husband’s name and inheritance would be snuffed out from the land if he died. But that is not the case with Absalom. If Absalom were put to death for his crime, then David still has many other sons that could fill Absalom’s shoes. Yes, Absalom was presumably the heir apparent, but in this case, there were many other sons of David that could serve as king. In other words, not only was the wisdom in David’s verdict of the original parable questionable, but it is also questionable how much that parable would serve to inform David’s verdict concerning Absalom. The two different cases have some similarity, but some difference too.

And so the ultimate point I’m trying to make here, is that the wisdom of this woman and Joab is not necessarily wise according to God’s eyes. In other words, it may be human wisdom, but not necessarily God’s wisdom. This begs the question in verses 17 and 20 when the woman makes a big deal to David about his wisdom. She calls for David to have the wisdom as an angel from God in this matter. But does he? This brings us now to our second point to consider David’s response. You see, in David’s so called wisdom here, he agrees to let Absalom come home. But he adds a qualification. Absalom won’t be allowed to see the king.

This is an interesting initial response of David. I think it shows the internal controversy David was going through. David, a man after God’s own heart, had been already afflicted in his heat about Absalom. According to his heart, he wanted Absalom restored and returned. We’ll see even later, when Absalom commits treason next chapter, that later on David still has the unconditional love of a father for Absalom. And yet surely David hadn’t brought him back before this point because he didn’t feel he could do so and keep justice. Even now, when Joab and this woman try to present it to him as the righteous thing to bring Absalom home, evidently David still has some internal misgivings about this. And so he permits it, but yet it’s not really a reconciliation.

I think of in the Old Testament, when Israel sinned with the golden calf, God told Moses he was going to wipe them all out and restart just with Moses. So Moses pleads to God. At first God relents from wiping them out. But then he says that because they were a stiff-necked people he would not go with them into the Promised Land. Moses again pleaded with God. Moses recognized that to be merely forgiven of their sin, but not restored in the relationship, meant something major was still not good and right between them and God. And that’s the problem here with David and Abasalom’s relationship. It’s somewhat like if God justified us in Christ, but did not adopt us in Christ or did not make us his people. There would be something greatly missing.

And so Absalom eventually acknowledges this himself. It’s an interesting turn of events when Absalom calls for Joab’s help in this matter. Joab up to this point has served as mediator between David and Absalom. But now at first the mediator won’t come to Absalom. It takes Absalom first setting fire to Joab’s field to get his attention. Then, finally, Joab comes to Absalom, and hears his concern. Absalom’s words are bold. Look at verse 32. Absalom says, “If there is any iniquity in me, let him execute me.” Joab brings the message to David who does ultimately restore him with a kiss.

But isn’t this telling? You see, vigilante Absalom doesn’t seem to have learned anything through this whole ordeal. That last quote of him shows that he has justified himself in his own eyes. He does not bring out the tone of one who has received mercy for his crime. He doesn’t seem to have a contrite heart. Rather, his actions show that he hasn’t learned his lesson. I’m referring to how he burns down Joab’s field. Now, I have to admit, this makes me want to laugh, but in reality, who does that? If you don’t get a call back, does that justify you burning down their field? Of course not. It’s more of that vigilante spirit coming up. More than that, it’s a spirit which basically says that he is king and lord of all, and he gets to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. And that is the same problem for Absalom that will resurface next chapter, when Absalom commits treason and steals the kingdom from a time from his father.

And so I think it’s this field burning coupled with the treason of the next chapter, that shows how the wisdom of Joab, and the women of Tekoa, and of David, failed here. With the absence of any real chastisement or punishment from David, Absalom doesn’t seem to have learned anything through all of this. Absalom seems to think himself innocent in all of this, and just continues going on acting like he is king and lord all the way to the point of declaring himself that next chapter.

And so this chapter almost looks like people are all doing the right thing. It almost looks like wisdom prevailed. It almost looked like Joab was some helpful mediator and reconciler. It almost looks like David was the wise king acting amidst a complicated situation. But really this was David avoiding the hard choice of standing up for justice. He failed the first time in enforcing justice when Amnon raped Tamar. And he fails again here in not enforcing justice when Absalom murders Amnon in vigilante murder. I understand that this would have been hard for David. He had failed in these sorts of sins himself and God had given him mercy and grace. And yet that was not his job here. His job was to act as king and judge. If God wanted to grant mercy to Absalom, God could send the prophet Nathan to declare that. And so surely David’s decision to restore Absalom like this was another weak point in David’s kingship. In both this chapter and last chapter he’s seen as so weak, so impotent in his ability as king to do the right thing.

And yet here is where we see God’s grace. Why is it that God did forgive David, when on the other hand, Scripture does not show this with regard to Amnon, nor Absalom, nor even Joab ultimately? Why do we remember them so negatively, but David so positively? Even when David will continue for many chapters to make many mistakes? The answer is that it is because David is a man who has known the grace of God. He’s one whom God has worked in his heart. Absalom doesn’t seem to even recognize grace from his father when he receives it. But David’s life is marked by such recognition. Even here in these last two chapters, this is all a part of how God is working in David’s life. This is chastisement that God is bringing to David. God is allowing David to see the sort of sin that he did by witnessing it in his sons. God’s discipline in David’s life brings repentance and a contrite heart to David. So we recognize God’s fatherly care for David to carry him along in his faith. And we can relate to David in all this, as those who have known the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, it’s something that the woman from Tekoa said in this passage that reminds us of all of this. I refer to verse 14. There she acknowledges the fact that we all ultimately die. Yet, she also says that God at the same time seeks to “devise means” so that his banished ones may not remain outcasts. Interestingly, that word for devising means is the same word used of Abraham in Genesis 15:6 to talk of how Abraham’s faith was imputed to him as righteousness. This Tekoan woman had some questionable counsel, but her words in verse 14 have truth. God does devise a way to save people. And he has done that in Jesus Christ. He has found a way to both satisfy justice and reconcile his estranged chosen ones. Jesus provides the mediation and reconciliation that Joab could not. Jesus makes a way to have both grace and justice when in this situation David couldn’t find a way to make both happen. King David forgave Absalom at the expense of justice. But King Jesus forgives us by satisfying justice by saying, “On me be the guilt.”

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Romans 11:33 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.

Brothers and sisters, see the wisdom of God in how he devised a way to save us. He found a way to have both mercy and justice. It’s in Christ! Let us then know this wisdom through faith in him. And let us then as we live in this world, recognize the inferiority of the wisdom of the world. Let us be on guard of even our own hearts that want to try to rationalize evil by calling it good. Let us pray that God would grant us the wisdom of God even as we have personally been united to such wisdom in our relationship with Jesus Christ. For he is the wisdom of God that has come down from heaven. And he lives in us by his Spirit. Let us seek for the Spirit then to grant us wisdom as we search the Scriptures and look to apply them to our lives. All to the glory of God. Amen!

Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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