The king said, “He may return to his house, but he is not to see me face-to-face.” So Absalom returned home, but was not permitted to see the king. (2 Sam 14:24)
This is the day King David truly lost.
As a musician and Christian, I have always identified with the towering life and character of David, the psalmist. The cumulative weight of his story within the greater narrative of Scripture can easily sweep up one’s imagination.
And David is largely unparalleled in Scripture, save by the life of Jesus Himself, while even the Messiah is prophetically known as “the son of David”. But as soon as we set out to follow in this mighty man’s footsteps we find reason after reason for pause. In our haste we readily identify ourselves as the hero of a story, getting caught up in the kingly development of this chosen son of Jesse, and we suddenly come face-to-face with his brokenness. And the greatest example of this may very well be found in his dealing with his own son, Absalom.
No, David isn’t always the hero we want him to be. He suffers great losses. And this is not just because his story is riddled by the failures of adultery and murder. David’s greatest short-coming may be in that he eventually repeats the legacy of the house of Saul in his own, driving his son Absalom far from his heart. (2 Sam 14:24, 28)
It is true that no other Old Testament figure seems to know the heart of the Father like David, especially when He says, “If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.” (Psalm 139:8)
But David does not simply know this as some objective revelator, but as an extremely subjective one. We may well assert David would confidently sing this psalm because he had tested the outer most extremities of God’s presence, plunging into the hellish depths of his own waters, only to find God was still there all the way down.
One of the greatest ways the life of David speaks into my life is found in this wrestling with King Saul. The anointed leader-to-be, earnestly serves the people of God and thus becomes the war-sung hero that Saul once was. For Saul, everything is summed up in this, such that to lose his popularity is to lose the whole kingdom. Eventually, Saul is driven mad enough by maidens singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” that in a fit of rage, he tries to pin David to the wall with his spear.(1 Sam 18:8-12)
And this has unfortunately been the experience of many sons with their spiritual fathers: target practice. Men who have not learned for themselves what it is to be a beloved son. These men, like Saul, have far too often perceived their own worth from the adulation of the masses. If they ever did listen to the whisper of the Spirit, “You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased”, they didn’t truly believe Him. No, they learned to strive for their approval, their insecurities played upon like a harp by the myriad of sing-song voices in their heads.
Oh, we all have them. We all wrestle with these gremlins from time to time. The danger is that these men are no longer boys. They’ve quit playing with rocks and slingshots, taking aim at soda cans on the back fence. Now, they carry spears, and the strength to hurl them viciously at their eager and impetuous sons.
And while David had won mightily on many battlefields, he tragically misstepped when it came to the battle under the trusses of his own roof. Valiantly he trusted in the Lord against Goliath, dealt honor and respect when it came to Saul, and courageously brought the northern and southern kingdoms to a united Israel. Yes, great was the house of David in the eyes of all those nearby, but not for the sons who lived inside its doors. Especially not for young Absalom, who would be refused a return.
There may still, however hidden, be a bit of Saul lurking in David. I am strongly convinced by Gene Edwards’ A Tale of Three Kings in that there exists a bit of Saul in us all. We are often repeating the cycle of running from our King Saul only to find him buried in our own hearts, incessantly pondering, “How accepted am I? Am I losing popularity? Is someone clambering to take my place?”
The tragedy of Absalom is the tragic story of our children, mimetically becoming their fathers to find there’s room in the house for only one!
The aim and hope for my life is to build a house big enough for Absalom. I, too, am a son, driven-out by a father, whose house I left my home to serve. In hoping to have escaped King Saul forever, I am ever scrupulous to route out his anxious demons haunting my own soul. Even millennia later, we must learn to allow the outer Saul’s of our world to pierce our inner Saul, lest we take up his spear-throwing ways ourselves.
We need a vision for a bigger house, a different story. I am convinced something is terribly wrong when the elders of a house refuse even to imagine knocking out a wall, putting in fresh paint or doing whatever it takes for their children to make and share in their legacy among them.
Something is terribly wrong with a house of the Lord when it is bustling with elders whose children see no need to sneak out the back; they walk out the front unnoticed and forgotten.
So much greater then is the sin of a whole house, a lineage, filled with this brokenness of mankind, shoving their children to the edges of their world.
We need fathers who will see the zeal and fervor of their sons as cause for celebration. Fathers who will watch proudly as they ascend the hill of the Lord, however differently than their own path. Fathers who will give their hand readily and repeatedly, encouraging their sons and daughters to get back up, celebrate their successes and be unflinchingly present in their failures.
Let us say it: The house of Saul is a house too small.
Then, we might even quit building them.
featured image: “Saul Listening to David Playing the Harp”, by Erasmus Quellinus II