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The Battle in the Forest

Psalms of David

The author of many psalms in scripture is David King of Israel - he was; a friend, servant, warrior, lover of God, chosen one, adulterer, murderer, and father. He loved God’s word deeply and was a man after God’s heart in 1 Sam 13:14. David trusted that God’s word was alive and relevant for life. He faced sorrow from his bad choices and others' hatred. David repented quickly and mourned his failures, knowing he had sinned against the heart of God.

Psalms reveal David's story of sin, suffering, betrayal, desertion, and oppression. It is crucial to examine the lament and understand the situations that led him to such a state of redemption. We can gain much insight from the background stories, and this is one of these examples.

Absalom, the third son of King David by his wife Maacah, appeared to have everything going for him. However, like other tragic figures in the Bible, he attempted to seize something not rightfully his. Absalom's story is of pride and greed, depicting a man who sought to thwart God's plan. Ultimately, his life resulted in a violent downfall.

The Story of Absalom

The Bible describes Absalom as the most handsome man in all of Israel, "flawless from head to foot" (2 Samuel 14:25). He only cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy, and it weighed five pounds. It seemed like everyone loved him.  Absolom moved with grace and charisma - pride was his faithful companion.

Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar, who was a virgin. Another of David's sons, Amnon, was their half-brother. Amnon fell in love with Tamar, raped her, and then rejected her in disgrace. (2 Sam 13) For two years, Absalom kept silent, sheltering Tamar in his home. He had expected his father, David, to punish Amnon for his actions. Absalom's rage and anger seethed into a vengeful plot when David did nothing.  David had disregarded justice, and Absalom had consumed the venom of unforgiveness, nurturing the desire for David's demise.

One day, Absalom invited all the king's sons to a sheep-shearing festival. While Amnon was celebrating, Absalom commanded his soldiers to kill him. After the assassination, Absalom fled to Geshur, northeast of the Sea of Galilee, to his grandfather's house. He hid there for three years. David deeply missed his son. According to 2 Samuel 13:37, David "mourned for his son day after day." Eventually, David allowed Absalom to return to Jerusalem.

Over time, Absalom began to undermine King David's authority, speaking out against him and gaining support from the people. Under the guise of fulfilling a vow, Absalom went to Hebron and began building an army, proclaiming himself as the new king. When King David found out about the rebellion, he and his followers fled Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Absalom sought advice from his advisors on how to best defeat his father. Before the battle, David instructed his troops not to harm Absalom. The two armies fought at Ephraim in a large oak forest, resulting in the death of twenty thousand men. David's army emerged victorious. As Absalom rode his mule under a tree, his hair became caught in the branches. The mule ran off, leaving Absalom hanging helplessly. Joab, one of David's generals, thrust three javelins into Absalom's heart, and then ten of Joab's armor-bearers surrounded Absalom and killed him." To the surprise of his generals, David was heartbroken over the death of his son Absalom, the man who had tried to kill him and steal his throne. David loved Absalom dearly. His grief revealed the depth of a father's love for his lost son, as well as regret for his own personal failures that had resulted in many family and national tragedies."

The events mentioned raise disturbing questions: Did Absalom murder Amnon because David had failed to punish him? The Bible does not provide clear answers. However, when David was elderly, his son Adonijah rebelled, similar to Absalom. Solomon had Adonijah killed and executed other traitors to secure his reign.

Absalom means "father of peace," but he did not live up to his name. He had one daughter and three sons, all of whom died early (2 Samuel 14:27; 2 Samuel 18:18).

Absalom had strengths. He was charismatic and easily drew other people to him. He possessed some leadership qualities. He was weak when he took justice into his own hands by murdering his half-brother, Amnon. Then, he followed unwise counsel, rebelled against his father, and tried to steal David's kingdom. Absalom emulated his father's flaws instead of his virtues. He let selfishness govern him rather than God's law. When he attempted to thwart God's plan and overthrow the rightful king, he brought destruction upon himself.

David's heart agonized over his son's rebellion.  Yet, history rendered in scripture illustrates the law of consequence.  One apathetic disregard for justice sets the stage for a sequence of choices leading to perdition.  The battle in the forest echoes through the ages.  The tragic end marks the importance of responding justly, facing the poverty of courage, and letting God be the one that moves the heart towards righteousness. 

Sling and stone were not enough to battle the giants within, so David ardently pursued God's favor and protection. God delivered and defended David in the most interesting ways.  The rebellion was met by the justice of God and executed in the forest where the woods devoured more than the sword.  Samuel 18:8.  In the following Psalms the palpable pain and reliance on God is shared by the King of Israel. 

I encourage us to meditate on them and find your own voice to express our lament and repentance. It's important for all of us to clear the air with God - He will not disappoint us.

Psalm 4 - For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

Psalm 12 - For the director of music. According to sheminith.  A psalm of David.

Psalm 13 - For the director of music. A psalm of David.

Psalm 28 - Of David.

Psalm 55- For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.

Psalm 62 - For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David

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