God will not take away a life; He will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from His presence. (2 Samuel 14.14)
How many times do we hear of family situations that pit one member against another or result in black sheep syndrome and respond with, “I could never do that!”? How often does learning a believer’s been shunned by a faith community prompt us to exclaim, “That’s positively unchristian!”? When we care for one party in a broken relationship, how quickly do we accuse the other of “not trying” and “not understanding”? Objective clarity is a beautiful thing. It views issues through eyes unclouded by emotional uncertainty. It plainly indicates what’s right in principle, ignoring information and circumstances that tend to impede practicing the principle. When dilemmas that appear so clear-cut in theory rear up in real life, they’re never clear. As they say, life gets in the way, and the devil gets in the details. Factors specific to us destroy objectivity, assuring us we’re exceptions to the rule. Principle goes out the window and we muddle along as best we can. We muddle along. More often than not, we muck things up and spend a lot time explaining and apologizing for our behavior.
Principles are God’s guideposts to clarity. Rediscovering them, however, requires imposing objectivity on our situations—never easy and often seemingly impossible. Yet if we don’t divorce ourselves from our problems just long enough to identify principles we must activate, we’re apt to create new problems out of older ones and complicate complications. We need to listen when our hearts and friends urge us to step back and examine our difficulties without prejudice or self-pity. This is what a wise woman enables David to do when a family tragedy puts him at risk of mucking everything up.
David is living a father’s worst nightmare largely of his own making. The gutsy lad with the slingshot has grown into a superstar king intoxicated by his virility. His life is strung with impulsive affairs and marriages that produce dozens of children who never congeal into a single family. While he’s off ruling Israel, going to war, composing odes, and keeping an eye out for his next romantic conquest, the family takes care of itself. The price of his neglect doesn’t come due until his children are grown. Then all Hell breaks loose.
David’s oldest son and heir, Amnon, becomes infatuated with his half-sister, Tamar, and rapes her. The atrocity infuriates David, but he does nothing to avenge her. Scripture doesn’t explain why. As Israel’s king he’s obligated to sentence Amnon to death, the legal penalty for rape. More than a loving father’s reluctance to execute his own son may play into David’s decision, though. The nation is still reeling from his sex scandal—sleeping with Bathsheba and having her husband killed so he can marry her. By law, he too should have paid with his life. Yet God spared David by taking his and Bathsheba’s love child instead. So David’s not in the best position to convict Amnon; what looks like indifference to Tamar’s violation may be a merciful gesture. Then again, his apathy may be plain old denial. Tamar has divulged the rape by shedding her virginal gowns, smearing ashes on her head, wailing inconsolably, and shutting everyone out. One hears whispers from palace courts to farthest provinces: “Like father, like son.” Not dealing with Amnon saves David from revisiting his shame and admitting profound moral issues plague his house.
Whatever causes David not to seek justice for Tamar, loss of perspective prevents him from realizing it’s a most imprudent response—and his nightmare escalates into a full-blown horror. Absalom, Tamar’s full-brother, will not let Amnon go unpunished. His hatred seethes for two years. He takes Amnon to a sheep paddock where he kills the villain. Amnon’s murder devastates David. He’s immobilized for several days, during which Absalom vanishes. Once his grief abates, 2 Samuel 13.39 tells us, “King David longed to go to Absalom.” Yet, as with Tamar’s rape, he does nothing.
Paralysis (as opposed to patience) is a sure sign we’ve lost clarity to discern principles. In David’s case, what should be done is clear to all but him. Absalom needs to be reconciled. Yes, he took the law into his own hands. Had his father dealt with Tamar’s rape as Mosaic Law demands, however, Amnon would have been dead long ago. David can’t extricate himself from the problem to discern that as king, religious prelate, and father, he has higher principles to uphold. He loses two sons and irrevocably wounds a daughter by trying to muddle through.
Changing the Question
Observing David through his subjects’ eyes elucidates why Absalom’s self-imposed banishment raises grave concerns about the king’s fitness to govern. The legendary ruler, conqueror, poet, and (might as well say it) sex symbol bears no resemblance to the indecisive father who longs to reclaim his lost son yet hasn’t the will to act. Joab, David’s nephew and commander of his troops, realizes the king must regain objectivity to rediscover his principles. In a stroke of genius, he sends an incredibly wise provincial woman to beg David’s intervention in a theoretical crisis that’s almost identical to his. She says she’s a widowed mother of two sons, one of whom killed the other. Now the townspeople want to execute the killer, leaving her with no one to perpetuate the family name.
Since David doesn’t know her, he has no reason to doubt her story. He promises to issue an amnesty order to save her son’s life, opening the door for the wise woman to counsel him. “In giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again… But God will not take away a life; He will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from His presence,” she says. (2 Samuel 14.13-14) Her boldness is startling. More than that, her wisdom is stunning. She shakes David from his lethargy by asking, “Why can’t you do for Absalom what you’re doing for my son?” Had she left it at that, she easily could have angered or confused David. Before David can protest her logic, insisting her situation is no comparison to his, she gives him an example he can’t refute. “God finds a way,” she insists—a veiled reminder that God dealt justly with David without destroying him. “How can you not do for your own what God did for you?” she wonders. Changing the question changes David’s perspective. His clarity is restored.
The wise woman gives us an invaluable principle to contemplate. How many times have our failures merited banishment? Yet God always finds a way to bring us back. If it takes bending the law, God will do it. If it takes devising a new plan, God will do it. If it means baffling everyone who believes we deserve rejection, God will do it. God’s amazing grace teaches us that impossible as it may seem, there’s always a way to reject rejection and banish banishment. “God will not take away a life; He will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from His presence,” the wise woman insists. When we lose clarity, the question isn’t “What should I do?” It’s “What has God done for me?” That gets us to the real question. If God can find a way to reclaim me despite my failures, how can I justify doing less for those who’ve failed me?
Dear Lord, how many times do we find ourselves on the wrong side of right? And yet every time You find a way to bring us back to You. We pray Your help in keeping these moments of reconciliation vivid in memory so that we may find clarity that inspires and instructs when we lose our way. Amen.
If God always finds a way to reclaim us after we’ve failed, how can we justify doing less for those who fail us?