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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

February 22, 2019

The "Absalom effect"

Filed under Sabbath Thoughts

King David's son Absalom avenged the rape of his sister by his half brother Amnon by having his servants kill Amnon. Amnon was David's eldest son, Absalom his third son. After Amnon's death, Absalom was separated from his father for three long years, living in exile in Geshur with his maternal grandfather Talmai, king of Geshur.

Absalom was of royal lineage on both sides of his family, being David's son and also the son of Maacah, daughter of Talmai, King of Geshur. Since David's son Chileab is not mentioned after his birth, it could be that he had died, thereby leaving Absalom as David’s oldest surviving son and heir to the throne.

After returning to Jerusalem from Geshur, another two years went by before Absalom got to see his father David. Despite David's initial refusal to see Absalom, Absalom was well known in Israel and admired: "Now in all Israel there was no one who was praised as much as Absalom for his good looks. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him" (2 Samuel 14:25). He was obviously viewed as a leader — or potential leader — in Israel.

Once restored to royal standing, Absalom began a clever political campaign to gain influence. Absalom presented himself as a man of the people by appearing to show great concern for the public welfare.

"Now Absalom would rise early and stand beside the way to the gate. So it was, whenever anyone who had a lawsuit came to the king for a decision, that Absalom would call to him and say, What city are you from? And he would say, Your servant is from such and such a tribe of Israel. Then Absalom would say to him, Look, your case is good and right; but there is no deputy of the king to hear you" (2 Samuel 16:2-3).

There were problematic cases in Israel needing a resolution. But was is true that there was no representative of David to hear the complaints? The Bible doesn't tell us. If so, why didn't Absalom go to his father and suggest to him that he expand his service to the people by providing more deputies to hear complaints?

Absalom didn't do so because he had an agenda. What was his motive? Was it quiet revenge against his father David for the years of isolation? Was it unbridled ambition? Was it an unrecognized extreme need for recognition? Whatever the motive was, Absalom became a source of division in Israel:

"Moreover Absalom would say, Oh, that I were made judge in the land, and everyone who has any suit or cause would come to me; then I would give him justice . . . In this manner Absalom acted toward all Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel" (2 Samuel 14:4, 6).

And Absalom's campaign led to a coup attempt against his father David and to his own death.

The lesson for us? Recognizing that there are problems to be resolved among the people of God is not wrong. Sympathizing with those who have problems — whether real or imagined — in a way that isolates the leaders of God's people from those whom they serve causes division. And God hates anyone "who sows discord among brethren" (Proverbs 6:19). We need to be on guard against the "Absalom effect" among God's people today.

With these thoughts I wish everyone a rewarding Sabbath!

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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