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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[2 Kings 15–18]

DAVID was a great and glorious king and a man according to the heart of God. But perhaps his very glory and success were calculated to blind him with regard to the true source of all his greatness, which came from God alone. Hence God allowed him to fall into the most grievous sins of adultery and murder. Being idle one day and looking from the roof of his house down upon people, he saw Bethsabee, the wife of Urias, one of his captains in the army, and being seized with a guilty passion he caused her to be unfaithful to her lawful husband. Then, in order to conceal his sin and to marry Bethsabee, he wrote to the general of the army to put Urias in the front of the next battle, so that he would surely be slain. Joab, the general, did as his Lord and master commanded. Urias fell in battle, and David took Bethsabee for his wife. Then came the prophet Nathan to him, and told him how a rich man with many sheep had robbed a poor man of his one ewe-lamb in order to entertain a guest, and when David in great indignation at such heartless conduct inquired after the name of the man, saying “He shall die”, the prophet answered: “Thou art the man.” David was thunderstruck by this retort, and confessed his fault and asked pardon of the Lord. He then composed the seven penitential Psalms, which ever since have been the consolation of all truly penitent sinners.

The Lord, seeing the sorrow of David, ordered Nathan to tell him that his sin was forgiven, but that nevertheless he must undergo many temporal punishments, and that the child that was about to be born to him should die. David, humbling himself before God, willingly accepted this and many other punishments inflicted upon him, and added, on his own part, the most severe penance in expiation of his sin.

The most terrible chastisement inflicted on David was the ingratitude of his son Absalom. Now Absalom was endowed with rare beauty of person, so that from the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. His hair was long and beautiful. And David gave Absalom a princely retinue of chariots and horsemen, and a guard of young men to accompany him everywhere.

Absalom was wont to rise early in the morning and stand at the gate of the palace, and when any man presented himself to ask justice of the king, he kindly inquired what complaint he had to make, and on hearing it always replied: “Thy words seem good and just to me; but there is no one appointed by the king to hear thy cause.” In this manner he made friends for himself among the people by wrongfully blaming his father.

Sometimes he would exclaim in the hearing of these people: “O that they would make me judge over the land, that all who have business might come to me, that I might do them justice!” Moreover when any man came to salute him, he put forth his hand and took him and kissed him. Thus he enticed the hearts of the men of Israel.

When he thought he had gained over all the men of Israel to his side, he asked his father to let him go to Hebron in fulfilment of a vow. David, suspecting no evil, allowed his son to depart. And when Absalom had reached Hebron, he sent messengers to all the tribes of Israel, telling them that when they heard the sound of a trumpet, they should say: “Absalom reigneth in Hebron.” And it came to pass that many of the people, not knowing his treachery, followed Absalom.

When David heard of Absalom’s revolt, he determined to leave the city, lest the citizens should suffer on his account. And having left the city with his attendants he came to the brook Cedron, his feet bare and his head veiled. And crossing the brook he came to Mount Olivet, where he wept for the guilt of his unnatural son and for his own sins. On the side of Mount Olivet he was met by a man named Semei, of the family of Saul, who threw stones and earth at David and cursed him: “Come out, come out, thou man of blood.” Abisai, full of wrath, cried out: “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? I will go and cut off his head.” But David answered: “Behold, my own son seeketh my life; how much more one of the house of Saul! Perhaps the Lord may look upon my affliction and render me good for the cursing of this day.” He saw the hand of God in this new trial.

Absalom, having resolved to destroy David and his army, went in pursuit of them. David however reviewed his men and placed brave captains in command, and said that he would himself march at their head. But this his men would not permit, saying that if ten thousand of them fell in battle, they would not despair; but that if he perished, all was lost. The king therefore remained in the city of Mahanaim, but he commanded Joab and his other officers, saying: “Spare me the boy Absalom.”


Fig. 44. Valley of Josaphat with Absalom’s Tomb. (To the right the Tombs of St. James and Zacharias.) (Phot. Bonfils.)

The battle was fought in the midst of a great wood, and Absalom’s army was cut to pieces. He himself fled, but he could not escape from divine justice, which pursues the wicked wherever they go. Having mounted a mule, he endeavoured to escape through the forest; but his long hair having become entangled in a tree, he remained hanging from a branch, while his mule passed on.

And word was brought to Joab, the general of the king’s army. Joab taking three javelins went to the place where Absalom was hanging from the tree, and with his javelins pierced the ungrateful, unnatural heart of the king’s son. Absalom still breathed and struggled for life, when some of Joab’s soldiers running up slew him with their swords. They then took Absalom’s body, and casting it into a deep pit in the forest piled over it a large heap of stones.

A herald was sent to David with news of Absalom’s defeat. David with the anxiety of a loving father asked: “Is Absalom safe?” When told that Absalom was dead, the king refused all comfort, and going up into a high chamber mourned his ungrateful son for many days. “Absalom, my son”, he cried, “my son Absalom, who would grant me that I might die for thee, Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!”

The people of Jerusalem, hearing of David’s victory, went out to meet him and carried him in triumph into the city.

The Omniscience of God. God knew of David’s secret adultery, and He knew that he was guilty of the death of Urias. For He sent Nathan to David, saying: “Thus saith the Lord: Why hast thou done evil in my sight?”

God is Good. Therefore the prophet said to the king: “The Lord has done good to thee.”

God is Merciful. For He forgave David his grievous sin: “The Lord has taken away thy sin.”

God is Holy. Therefore David’s sin was “displeasing to the Lord”.

God is Just. The sentence which God pronounced on David through Nathan was this: “I will raise up evil against thee out of thy own house”, and “The child that is born to thee shall surely die.” Both sentences were executed, and David suffered anguish of soul.

The Sixth and Ninth Commandments. When David looked on the wife of Urias, instead of at once turning his eyes from her and thinking of God’s Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife”, he allowed an evil desire to grow in his heart. Then, instead of resisting this sinful desire and calling on God for help against the temptation, he consented to it, and sending for the woman induced her to be unfaithful to her husband. He thus sinned against the ninth and sixth Commandments; and also against the fifth, by leading the woman to do what was wrong. Even this was not all, for his adultery led him to commit the further sin of murder. But did David kill Urias? Not directly, but his urgent command was the cause of his death, so that he really killed him by the hands of the Amorrhites, as much as the Jews really crucified our Lord by the hands of the pagan soldiers.

Tepidity. How did it happen that the royal prophet fell into this grievous sin? He had become tepid in prayer and was living an idle and comfortable life at home, while he sent his captains out to fight against the unbelievers. His fall gives us a useful lesson against laxity in the spiritual life, and teaches us that we should keep a careful watch over our eyes and turn them away from anything that awakes evil desires in our hearts: “Watch ye (over your senses and the movements of your hearts) and pray that ye enter not into temptation (New Test. LXIX).” “He that thinketh himself to stand (firm in what is right), let him take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

The evil of mortal sin. In order that David might see the enormity of his sin, Nathan put before him: 1. that he had sinned in the sight of God, and 2. that he had repaid with the basest ingratitude all the benefits which God had showered upon him.

True penance. David was not a hardened, obstinate sinner. He opened his heart to God’s grace and listened to the voice of his conscience, which day and night reproached him for his sin. He thus speaks in Psalm 30: “Day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me. I am turned in my anguish, whilst the thorn is fastened.” Then, by God’s merciful command, the prophet Nathan went to the powerful king and reminded him of God’s great benefits, candidly pointing out to him his grievous and twofold sin. David, quite crushed, fell upon his knees, penitently confessed his sin, without excusing himself as Saul did, and prayed for pardon. He did public penance, bewailed his sin (Ps. 6:7: “Every night I water my couch with my tears”), fasted and grieved, so that his sight failed him. During this period of contrite conversion he composed the penitential Psalms, in which he expressed his repentance in moving words, and humbly asked for pardon. Then Nathan went to him again and told him that God had forgiven him, though he would still have to suffer temporal punishment. From that time forward David met with many sufferings and misfortunes, which he bore patiently in expiation of his sin. Contrition, confession and satisfaction are the principal parts of penance and the necessary conditions of absolution.

Temporal punishment. Although the sin and its eternal punishment were remitted, David had still to suffer temporal punishment.

The Fourth Commandment. Absalom sinned grievously against this Commandment, by violating the laws of obedience and reverence which he owed David, as a son to his father and as a subject to his king. For firstly he spoke evil of his father, deeply grieved him and caused him to shed tears of anguish, and not only disobeyed him, but set himself up actively against him. Secondly, he wantonly blamed the king’s mode of government and, arms in hand, rebelled against the anointed of the Lord. He also sinned against the fifth Commandment by inducing a number of the people to revolt against their lawful sovereign.

The punishment for breaking the Fourth Commandment. Absalom’s unnatural and detestable conduct towards a father so worthy of love met with the punishment which it deserved. A terrible fate awaited Absalom. He did not perish in battle, for very early in the day he thought of saving his own life and took to flight. He believed he could escape from his pursuers; but, by God’s Providence, his head caught in a tree and there he hung in mid-air till Joab came and pierced his ungrateful, disobedient heart. He had hoped to be raised to the throne, but he met with the death of a criminal. His hair, of which he was so proud and which he had hoped to adorn with a royal crown, caught in the branch of a tree and brought him to his ruin. Instead of the sceptre which he had tried to grasp, three spears transfixed his treacherous heart. Instead of being crowned with the honour and renown he had coveted, he was buried in a dishonourable grave and his memory laden with infamy. In him God fulfilled His words: “Cursed be he who honoureth not his father and mother”; and this curse will fall on all those children who despise and neglect their parents, or cause them anguish of heart by their defiance and disobedience. How will it have fared with Absalom in the next world? For not only his father’s tears, but the blood of the 20,000 slain whom he induced to sin by his flatteries and promises will have accused him before God and cried out for vengeance.

The love of parents for their children. David’s love for his thankless son never changed. “O, that I had died for thee!” he cried. Parents often love their children much more than they deserve, therefore it is all the more heartless and ungrateful of children to offend their parents.

Gentleness and patience under suffering. It grieved David deeply that his own son should come out against him as a mortal enemy. His heart bled, and he shed bitter tears when he thought of the ingratitude and impiety of his child, the faithlessness of his people, and the misery which this civil war kindled by Absalom would bring on his country. Yet he neither complained nor murmured, nor did he curse his wicked son; but he bore all the suffering and injustice with patience and gentleness, saying to himself: “I have deserved all these misfortunes, for I have grievously sinned against God.” Thus we too ought to do penance for our sins, by patience under suffering.

Love of our enemies. Even as God forgave David his sin, so did David forgive those who sinned and rebelled against him. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” He who forgives from his heart is like unto the merciful God. There is something noble, nay, something divine, in forgiving and forgetting.

Pride, the source of many sins. The great sins of which Absalom was guilty sprang from pride. The beauty of his person and especially of his hair made him vain and conceited. Being the most beautiful he wished also to be the first man in the kingdom. He therefore rebelled against his royal father, and led his people into a revolt which cost many thousand lives.

The value of virtue. Do you like Absalom? No? and why not? He was a handsome young man, behaved very politely and courteously to the people, and knew perfectly how to say nice and pleasant things; so why do you not like him? Because he had a false, bad heart, and was a flatterer and a hypocrite. So you see that however handsome and pleasant a man may be, if he has a proud, bad heart, he is neither loveable nor worthy of respect, but on the contrary hateful and despicable in the eyes of God and man. It is only virtue which can give real worth to a man.

David, in crossing the brook Cedron in sorrow and tribulation, in his ascent of Mount Olivet, in his patient forbearance when outraged and insulted by Semei, and his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, presents a very striking figure of Christ.

APPLICATION. David is the model of a truly penitent man. Though he was a king, he humbly accepted Nathan’s reproaches and contritely confessed his sin. Are you ashamed to make a sincere confession of your sins? He, an Israelite, bitterly repented and bewailed his sin: you are a Christian, but where are your tears of repentance? This very day say one of the penitential Psalms as a prayer!

Keep a guard on your eyes; they are the windows of your soul. Drive any bad thought from your heart at once. Say: “Away with it!” and pray for help. Nathan’s words to David: “The Lord has done good to you: why have you done evil in His sight?” apply to you as well as to David.

Has your mother ever shed tears on your account? Have you ever injured or grieved or seriously irritated your father? In what way do you most grieve your parents? Have you truly repented of all sins committed against the fourth Commandment? Has your conduct towards your parents improved? Do you obey them at once and without arguing; or is it only when they scold and are angry, that you obey? Children, I wish for everything that is most good for you; that everything may be well with you on earth, and that you may be eternally happy in heaven. Therefore, because I wish this, I say most earnestly to you: “Honour and love your parents and obey them, or else you will know no happiness on earth and never get to heaven.” Woe to those children who do not observe the fourth Commandment!

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