A Tragic Victory (2 Samuel 18)

Absalom should not have died that day. It was unjust, avoidable, a tragedy. I’ve mentioned a few times recently the difference between comedy and tragedy. Comedy ends in victory, joy and celebration. The protagonist is better off at the end than at the start. Tragedy ends in disaster for the central characters.Is your life in danger of being a tragedy? Remember, this is not about what is happening at any one point. Right now, you may be successful. There may be lots of good things happening. You may be popular with your friends, doing well at work, financially comfortable, physically healthy.  You may even seem to be doing well spiritually, using your gifts, respected in the church. Yet, if your life is not right with God then you are heading to tragedy.

It may ship-wreck a ministry. Sadly, we have heard too often of prominent Christian leaders whose reputation is now destroyed and find themselves outside of Gospel ministry. But it’s not just big names. I remember a friend of mine who was intelligent, sharp a great communicator, able to preach. Yet over time it became clear that he was drifting from the Gospel until he eventually denied that Jesus is God. Today he has little to do with the Bible or church.  Another friend was a gifted children’s worker. Yet one day, he came home from running the children’s club, packed his case and deserted his wife and children.

You will realise from this that it isn’t just ministry and gifts in danger.  If your life is not right with God you are heading to ultimate tragedy. You will die in you sin and you will face eternity in hell.

The Excuses with which we deceive ourselves

How did disaster creep up on Absalom?  Well, looking at the events of the past few weeks, I want to suggest three ways in which we can deceive ourselves and hide from the truth.

  1. Absalom had been justified in his anger – his brother Amnon had done evil and his father had not dealt with him. Absalom was the younger, active, better ruler

That’s what we do so often. We justify our actions. We see people failing, behaving badly and we see ourselves as the ones to sort things out. We either become harsh legalists judging others or we opt out “If they are like that, why should I bother?  We can even blame God instead of seeing that suffering and evil are the consequences of our sin.

  1. Absalom was simply fulfilling God’s discipline on David -divine providence is at work

This can lead to fatalism. Why am I doing what I am doing? Why am I the way I am?  Well, it’s God’s sovereign will isn’t it. Do you see what happens here? We twist something that is true about God and use it as an excuse. I have no choice, it was always going to be like this, if not me, then someone else ….

The Bible is clear that we are responsible for what we do. This is about the state of your heart. Do you love God, do you desire to please him, are you motivated by love for others?

  1. Absalom was David’s beloved son and David had given strict orders.

Now, this is the focus of this chapter, so let’s look in a bit more detail at the events

David’s Orders (v 1-5)

David musters his army. He wants to lead them into battle. Contrast this with  the Bathsheba crisis where David failed to go out at the head of the army. Now however, it is them who tell him he should stay and send them out.

David is worth 10000 men. He is priceless. He is worth more alive than dead. He is Absalom’s target. It doesn’t matter how many men survive if he falls. It doesn’t matter how many of Absalom’s men fall if David falls.

David wants them to keep Absalom safe -his love for him Note, clear command from the King. His title is repeated frequently throughout reminding us that authority lies with him, even though he is in exile.  He is still the King.

Defeat (v 6-8)

Absalom’s army are defeated.  We are told that more were lost to the forest. David’s men better were probably better equipped for guerrilla combat in treacherous territory.  Practically we can see that David’s army  picked the right ground to fight, there is wisdom in this.

There is also the sense here that the forest itself fights for David.  Nature was on the side of God’s king

Death (v9-18)

Absalom gets caught in a tree. The Forest fights against him too. H was trapped and  vulnerable. Joab wanted him killed. The soldier who found him responded by insisting that disobeying the king was not an option. Once again someone is priceless. The soldier won’t do the henchman’s job for bags of silver. Joab was furious and frustrated and does the job himself.

Absalom hangs from a tree trapped in no man’s land between heaven and earth. It’s possibly that he has got his head firmly stuck but we may also be meant to link this to his long luscious locks. His outer strength and beauty fail him.

There’s a sense of mocking comedy here, of irony. Mighty Absalom has been shamed. Remember the Law said “Cursed is he who hangs on a tree.”

News (V19-33)

Joab wants to send ‘the Cushite’ an expendable foreigner to herald the news. If the king doesn’t react too well then it won’t be an Israelite’s life in danger. Joab knows he has gone against David’s orders and taken matters into his own hands.

Ahimaaz son of Zadok is determined to go with the good news to the King. Does he think he will be rewarded? Joab tells him there’s no reward coming his way.  He persists, gets permission to run and overtakes The Cushite and tells David that the battle is won. He praises God who has delivered David.

David asks after Absalom “the lad.”  Ahimaaz claims not to know because of the confusion of the battle. Basically, he bottles it when re realises that the King will not react well to the news and lies.

The Cushite arrives and tells David the sad news that his son has died in battle.

David mourns his son. This is tragedy.


What has happened here? Well, this is a story of a King who is greatly loved and of great value (worthship, worship). The King has authority but his rebellious, wayward, arrogant, usurping son ends up tragically shamed, cursed, dead. Now, in David and Absalom’s story, there are all sorts f human factors going on and David is frail and plays his part. But all the same, it points us to another tragic story.

There is a good, King, a God who is love, a loving father. He is the King who controls the whole of nature. He is the King whose word is truth. He has poured out his love to us. We have rebelled against him.  Even still, he is still the true King.

We are sinners. We try to live as though God is not in charge. We fail to love him back with our whole hearts. We reject him as King but we also reject him as Father.  We are Absaloms. Sin brings shame, curse, death.

If you have not put your trust in Jesus, then your life is a tragedy. If you are continuing to hold onto sin then you are on a tragic trajectory.

From tragedy to comedy – how can my life be turned around?

Someone was telling me the other day about how they witnessed an accident. They said “I could see it happening and there was nothing I could do to stop it.”

Do you feel like that in your own life? You are watching your own unfolding tragedy. You can see no way out. You can see the direction you are heading. I suspect that for every person who is oblivious to the tragedy ahead there is someone who can see it but thinks “There’s no way out.” You know that you are in a mess. You are in deep with a wrong relationship, your debt is spiralling out of control, you are sucked in to an unhealthy addiction, you have said and done things and your marriage is hurtling towards divorce.

Last week, Jonathan talked about how these are things we run away from. We hide. We are scared to tell anyone. We think we will be condemned because there is no hope.

Here is the good news. You and me, deserve to be with Absalom and that tragic fate is ours. Howver, someone has taken our place.

–          Jesus became Absalom for you and me.

–            Jesus hanging from a tree

–           Jesus between heaven and earth,

–          Jesus a spear plunged into his side, cursed, shamed, dying.

All of that for you and for me. That day he changed the story. Because of that day you can be forgiven.  Because of that you and I can say that whatever our circumstances now. “It is well with my soul.”

“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul”