The Spoiled Prince
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 25 August 2001
My story today is about a young man whose life ended in tragedy. I am sure most of you have heard of him - his name was Absalom, which literally means "father of peace". If ever there was a more inappropriate name, this was it. And yet he plays such a significant rôle that six whole chapters are devoted to him in the Bible. Not one single good word is said about him in all those chapters. So what is he doing there? Why did Yahweh place before us in great detail the story of this young man? What are we supposed to learn from him?
Absalom was the son of King David and his wife Maacah, from Geshur in Syria. She must have been a beautiful woman for her son was of extraordinary beauty too. And you may remember that Absalom was renowned for his long, attractive curly hair. Absalom had a lovely sister too called Tamar. And then we learn that Absalom's half-brother, Amnon, fell in love with his own half-sister, Tamar. Worse than that, he became so absolutely obsessed with her that he could think of nothing else. He was so consumed with lust for her that he started losing weight. And then, with the help of the son of one of his father's brothers, he began to plot how to trap Tamar and take her by force.
From one young man being filled with lust a whole train of events was set in motion that was to lead to one tragedy after another. Amnon rapes Tamar, ruining her. And once he has violated her, we learn something astonishing - from supposedly "loving" this beautiful half-sister we learn that he hates her with equal passion. How can "love" suddenly be turned to "hate"? Indeed how is it that we often hear stories of people being passionate in love one minute and then hating each other's guts the next? How is this possible? The answer, of course, is very simple - they never truly loved in the first place. What they called "love" was nothing more than lust - the desire to conquer and own someone's heart or body.
Amnon was a big fool, but perhaps in many ways the bigger fool was his father for never having taught him properly about true love, honour, virtue and integrity. It is indeed a tragedy that we use the word "love" in so many different ways, because true love is not a passionate obsession with a member of the opposite sex but something intensely self-sacrificing. True love, as Christ taught us, is to forget self and to serve others.
But there was no way of stopping Amnon. Evil was conceived in his heart and he took it to its logical and fateful conclusion. He raped his own sister. At once there was a chain reaction. Firstly, David was rightly furious. A terrible sin had been committed. And Absalom also was furious. As a result of the violation of his sister, hatred was born in his heart. For two years Absalom plotted to revenge his sister. He arranged a party and when Amnon was drunk, he murdered him.
Now you see, there are lots of things happening here. Amnon wasn't punished. King David ignored Yahweh's laws requiring the death sentence for rape and incest and let his son get away with it because he was his son and he was an absolute monarch. This was one of David's fatal weaknesses - he was partial. And partiality breeds injustice. Then Absalom became a murderer, taking the law into his own hands which his father should have executed. For three years Absalom hid away in Geshur in Syria and all this time what did David do? He longed for his son! As the pain of Amnon's death passed, so he wanted reconciliation with Absalom. And yet he knew he had no choice but to have him executed.
The plot gets thicker - it is as good as an Agatha Christie novel in many ways - and David is then tricked to pardon his son Absalom by his military commander Joab. To cut a long story short, Absalom is brought back from exile and he raises a family. And we are told that he had a daughter whom he named Tamar after his sister, and she too was very beautiful. For two years Absalom was forbidden from seeing his father.
The story gets worse and worse. Prince Absalom next tries to undermine his father's popularity by setting himself up as a judge. But unlike his father who obeys the Laws of Yahweh strictly, Absalom starts pardoning people left, right and centre. He gives light sentences to those who should have stiff ones. He makes sin appear to be of no consequence and lets people get off with the most ridiculously generous judgements. As a result he does two things: first, he undermines God's moral principles and the standard of the nation declines. Secondly, he undermines his father's popularity. Who do the people love more? Why, of course, the man who lets them get away with crimes! But what are Absalom's motives? Does he let the people off with light sentences because he is a good man? Far from it - he is plotting to win the people's hearts and foment rebellion - he wants to steal the throne. All of this goes on for 40 years - Absalom is crafty, laying a solid foundation for his revolt, gradually undermining the nation by disobedience to Yahweh. It's one of Satan's oldest tricks which he has used again and again. Those of us who have been around a while often wonder how it was possible that our modern society has degenerated so much in such a short space of time. The younger people don't know because they don't remember what it was like before. And those present who are in their 70's and 80's will remember what it was like even longer back. And they will tell you that the changes in morality have been enormous.
One unrepented sin leads to another. And it was basically King David's fault for not stemming the tide. He should have executed his son Amnon and brought peace to his family and to the nation, but he let misguided love overwhelm all justice and common sense. His excuse was mercy - but mercy is not some power we can wield arbitrarily. For mercy to have any meaning at all it has to be firmly linked to justice, and therefore to Law. Take these away and mercy simply becomes indulgence in sin, and nothing more. And that is the kind of society we live in today where criminals are protected and the innocent are punished. Justice in many instances has been turned on its head. Only recently I read in a British newspaper of a farmer who, in defending his property against violent robbers, shot one of the intruders and killed him. Now the farmer is in prison and there was talk of him being fined to support the dead criminal's family! Yes, that is what happens to justice when mercy is misapplied. Justice ceases to exist and the law becomes contemptible.
You would have thought that this story in the Bible would have awakened people to a lively sense of reality, but of course people don't accept the Bible anymore, do they? They call it a cruel book because they hate Yahweh's Laws and they hate true justice. And apparently they don't care when the innocent get penalised.
King David's neglect of justice led finally to open civil war. Many thousands of people died. It was a disaster for the nation. Civil war always is. It created such animosities that after his death his Kingdom split into two and after a while both Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were destroyed. You would be surprised how one sin can multiply and spread far and wide like a deadly cancer. And the origin of all of this was actually King David himself when he, like his son, lusted after a woman that was not his and murdered her husband.
And yet David was a warm-hearted man. He was caring, compassionate, and quite unlike the murderous despots who existed in the surrounding nations at the time. But he had a weakness - he was a doting father. He loved his children more than the truth, and that is fatal. To do that is to show partiality, and partiality is ungodly. Yahweh hates it. Though He is our Heavenly Father and loves us all deeply as only a father can, he is utterly and completely fair and just. Take away law and you have anarchy, moral decay, death and destruction. David was biased. It was his weakness.
But David was no tyrant. He genuinely loved people and easily won their love in return, both men and women. His wives adored him. Affection was part of his nature. And then this good looking boy came onto the scene and he could scarcely take his eyes of him. He was mesmerised by his beauty, just as we suppose he had been by his mother.
Now Absalom was not just a handsome man. The Bible tells us that "no-one in all Israel was so greatly admired for his beauty as Absalom". And O, how fatal was that beauty. It is bitterly ironic that men and women are in a mad scramble for beauty and yet it is one of the most dangerous things spiritually to have. Beauty puffs up pride and leads to vanity in all but the strongest souls. Beauty is in many ways a terrible burden to carry because it leads souls astray. Look at the problems Abraham's wife Sarah had - she was so gorgeous that everyone who saw her could not take their eyes of her. The Egyptian Pharaoh and a Philistine King went as crazy as Amnon had done when he saw Tamar and would have killed Abraham in order to make his wife theirs. Only by Yahweh's intervention was Abraham's life spared and Sarah's chastity preserved.
As you look through history at the bloody wars that were fought over beautiful women you realise how dangerous beauty can be is. Cleopatra springs to mind, of the obsession of Caesar and Mark Antony had for her.
Beauty so easily leads to vanity. And do you know what the word 'vanity' actually means? It means "emptiness", and empty people run the risk of being unable to achieve any kind of stature as regards character. And empty people have great difficulty in finding and taking hold of eternal life. And parents who spoil their children actually put their souls in fearful jeopardy. For good looks are a kind of wealth - beauty is highly prized by the world. You can be totally stupid and morally reprehensible but if you are beautiful doors start opening up for you - but not necessarily doors to good things. Yah'shua (Jesus) said: "How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God" (Mt.19:23) - not impossible, but hard - and He went on to say that "to God everything is possible" (Mk.10:27). To be born beautiful is to be born with a heavy burden indeed, and to be born with money as well is to be born with an unbearable burden. I praise God I was born with neither as I am sure vanity might have consumed me and lead me down a false path, just as it eventually did with Solomon. Only those who are truly in Christ know how to handle beauty and wealth, and to handle it in such a way as to bring praise to God and away from themselves.
Do not think that I despise beauty or wealth for I do not. I just consider them a major spiritual handicap. Absalom had both of these as a King's son. Worse, he was popular, though he obtained his popularity at the expense of truth and righteousness. That triple combination was fatal - it led inevitably to a great and terrible fall.
The fault with King David was a lack of proper domestic discipline. It is one thing for parents to discipline their children but they must also learn to discipline themselves not to give their children too much - too much money, too much pleasure, too much attention. The easier course is to give way, to give in, and to follow the fashion, and to do so out of sentiment, especially if the child is ill, weak or has some disability. Now to combine wisdom with love does not come easily to any warm-hearted, generous person, let alone parent, but real kindness is the outcome of achieving it.
I read somewhere of a young man who had suffered a severe accident which would leave him for the rest of his life without the use of his hands. One day, lying in a hospital bed, he longed for a tin of his favourite sweets (candy), and called for the nurse. She came, listened to his request and went away to fetch a whole tin from the hospital shop which she placed on his chest. For an hour at least he struggled with that tin, endeavouring to tear the cellophane wrapping with his teeth in order to get at the it. He eventually achieved it. Next he faced the daunting task of unscrewing the tin to get at the sweets. He struggled for another hour trying to open the tin using the inside of his elbow and trying every possible way which didn't require the use of his hands. But he never managed to open that tin. Finally, the nurse cam to him and opened it for him and gave him a sweet to eat. "If ever you are to make a success of your life when you leave this hospital," she said, "you'll have to learn how to do things for yourself - somehow". Now I am absolutely sure that that girl would have loved to have waited on that brave young man hand and foot, but for his good, she did not. I call that discipline of the highest order.
Of this sentiment King David knew nothing, and the result was a spoiled child, a conceited man, a schemer, a rebel, a man of violence, and almost a destroyer of a whole kingdom. Am I exaggerating in what I say? No, not at all, not in the case of Absalom. Read the story for yourself in 2 Samuel, chapters 12-19. It will hold your attention to the bitter end. And remember this, the consequences of actions come in proportion to the size of the stage on which they have to be carried out.
I know my children wonder if sometimes I am too harsh on them. Some other people may think I am too soft. I know I am tempted to be like King David - I was once sorely tempted to show my children favouritism and I had to fight it. Being tough like that nurse is a hard battle for me, and seeing my children suffer sometimes breaks my heart. But I force myself to do what is right, and believe me, it is one of the toughest things to do. It is only the knowledge of Yahweh's commandments and the long-term fruits of such discipline learned through my own experiences with my parents that persuades me to continue in it.
The final trait in Absalom that I want to dwell on was his ambition. Absalom was a very ambitious man. When anyone possesses gifts, man or woman - brain-power, skills, physical beauty, wealth - it is natural to want to capitalise on them. Nor is this wrong. Gifts are there for using, not for wasting. Ambition is not a sin. Everything does, however, depend on the methods the ambitious are prepared to employ, and the lengths they go to achieve their goals. And of course, we must be sure that our ambition is right and noble in the first place.
Absalom would stop at nothing. And what was particularly dangerous about him was that he was not hot-headed. He had a way with people ... he was patient -- virtues in other circumstances, but fatal in these. Had he been a hot-headed blunderer, he would have come to grief a lot earlier. It's when bad traits and good traits mix together - when good traits are used to serve evil ones, that the greatest danger lies. Absalom was cool, calculating and scheming - he was prepared to wait for years to achieve his purposes, but when the moment for striking came he would strike hard. Blood on his hands did not worry him, nor the burning of his neighbour's field of barley to bring him to his heel. Even so, the king, knowing all this and all but toppled from his throne (for it was his throne that Absalom wanted), excused his son to the disgust of his followers, so besotted was he on his favourite, spoiled and undisciplined son. And isn't it interesting how like Satan Absalom is? Lucifer was the most beautiful angel in creation, the second most powerful being in the universe. The other angels looked up to him and admired him for his beauty and intelligence. But it went to his head. Like Absalom, Satan waits patiently for the right moment to strike, and when he strikes, he strikes hard! When we look at Absalom, we are looking at a mirror of the father of lies ... and a son of a good-hearted, kind and caring king whose major weakness was his lack of self-discipline.
And so it is we come to the final scene of this story - a rather macabre scene of Absalom dangling from a tree, caught by his hair as he rode his mule beneath it in that last rebellious battle. His pride - his luxuriant hair - was his undoing. Thus alone, helpless and desperate, the outraged commander of the king's army, sick of this young bragging traitor, seized his opportunity to thrust him through with well-aimed weapons. So Absalom's short and showy life came to its violent end - a pit in the forest for a grave and a great heap of stones raised upon it for a memorial. Ambition can bring a man to his ruin for all the undoubted gifts he possesses, if he has been led to believe that he alone counts.
It may surprise you to learn that in these six chapters there isn't a single word from God about the whole episode. There is scarcely any mention of Him in the story's ins and outs. For Absalom, God wasn't in the equation of his life at all. But for us, recounting this story, there is most certainly a vitally important word from Yahweh. And it is this: God is no almighty, doting Father. God does not spare the rod and spoil the child. God does not steer His children away from the troubles of life even when they are looking to Him and trusting Him. God does not leave sorrows out of our life because we put our trust in Him. God is certainly concerned for our temporal welfare, but far more interested in our eternal destiny. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us of this salient truth:
"And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
"My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives."
(Heb.12:5-6, NKJV - cp. Prov.3:11-12).
Comments from Readers
 "I love reading and this one [was] worth it...as a parent this is very useful. I am not monarch but like King David I love my child...thanks for this, learned a lot. Yahweh bless you!" (YS, United Arab Emirates, 28 October 2015)
This page was created on 18 October 2001
Last updated on 28 October 2015
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