Aug 8th | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | 2 Samuel 18:5-9
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We’re concluding our summer sojourn with David this week. David has proven himself to be a quite complicated human being. His life has been filled with violence – as a warrior and as a king and as a husband and as a father. David was adept at bringing glory to God and bringing glory to himself. David is flawed, highly flawed, and his imperfections are on clear display for all to see.
The conflict that emerged between David and his son, Absalom, covers nearly six chapters of 2 Samuel. Professor Ralph Klein, of Luther School of Theology at Chicago summarizes the story:
It all started when David’s son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. David would not punish Amnon because he was his firstborn, leading Absalom to avenge his half-sister by killing Amnon himself. After Absalom had fled into exile, a wise woman from Tekoa told David a story that convinced him to bring Absalom back. Upon his return Absalom promised people that we would be a more just and righteous king than David, and after four years of political counter-counseling, he went to Hebron, David’s first capital, and raised an army that forced David to flee Jerusalem and go across the Jordan River to Transjordan. I’ve left out many of the twists and turns in this fascinating story, including Absalom’s public raping of ten of David’s concubines to show who was the real king.1
It would be difficult not to be reminded of the words from Nathan the Prophet that we heard last week. Following David’s abuse of his power and privilege, Nathan spoke the Word of the Lord, saying:
Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.2
What should have happened? David should have disciplined Amnon, and Absalom should not have made matters worse by taking the road of vengeful murder of his half-brother. Efforts were made to reconcile David and Absalom, but those efforts were fruitless. Absalom responded by initiating a civil war and was himself guilty of sexual violence. David’s army killed twenty thousand of Absalom’s men. Joab ignored three warnings to not harm Absalom.
The story is a tale of a broken, dysfunctional, defective, sick, and wounded family. It is also the tale of a broken, dysfunctional, defective, sick, and wounded royal administration.
In the days of the prophet Hosea, when Israel was having another round of challenges with idolatry, the prophet spoke the Word of the Lord to the people. He said:
For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.3
The statement is an agricultural one. What you would reap would depend on what you had sown. One does not plant corn and harvest carrots. Biblically, the “wind” is something foolish or worthless. Israel’s foolishness in following other gods would reap a whirlwind of trouble.
Much could be said of David’s dysfunctional family. His life and living – both good and bad – seem much like a sowing of the wind and a reaping of the whirlwind.
In the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Less, “Inherit the Wind,” We find ourselves back in 1925 at the Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a teacher, this time named Bert Cates, is accused of teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to his Hillsboro, Tennessee high school class. Cates is dating the daughter of the town’s pastor, Reverend Brown. The quote from the pages of Scripture that serves as the title of the play and of a central tenet of its message. From the Proverbs it reads:
Those who trouble their households will inherit wind,
and the fool will be servant to the wise.4
To “inherit the wind” means to gain nothing for your efforts, as one cannot capture or possess this force of nature. While the Reverend Mr. Brown and Matthew Harrison Brady technically win the case, Cate’s punishment is a minor fine, Brown’s relationship with his daughter is ruined, and the Hillsboro community becomes nationally known as a hotbed of intolerance of intellectual freedom.
These are all “unforeseen consequences.” David’s behavior infected his family and his nation in poisonous ways. David is called to account as he is forced to mourn for his son Absalom, not killed in battle, but killed in homicide. The pain he inflicted on those who loved Uriah the Hittite is now visited on him. The punishment for his sin is powerful and breaks even the hardest heart.
“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!
Would I had died instead of you,
O Absalom, my son, my son!”5
Our words and actions all too often have “unforeseen consequences.” We say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing and it comes back to haunt us. We listen to the wrong voices and follow where they lead us and find ourselves surrounded by disaster. We insist on our own way and destroy friendships and familial bonds. We trouble our households and inherit the wind.
We’ve done that as a nation. We are as divided as never before, save – perhaps – at the time of the Civil War. We have become partisan and parochial, prejudiced and predisposed to insist on our views while demeaning the views of others. We fight because we like to. We consume disinformation and outright lies as though they were gospel.
We have been careful to “feather our own nests” while failing to care for those entrusted to our care. We have allowed more to become poor and the few rich to become richer. We have permitted people to live less than human lives in hunger, poverty, and homelessness. We are suspicious of those who need assistance of any kind, assuming that they are where they are because they are lazy and slothful.
We have rejected the wisdom of science and embraced the foolishness of uninformed opinion. We have allowed a pandemic to be turned into a political statement. With over 600,000 of our neighbors dead, there are still those who will not concede that the virus is real, nor will they do the right thing and take precautions against infection and spreading the virus.
And, even more sadly, we sometimes do it in our families. We speak harshly and act cruelly toward those we are called to love the most. We make sweeping declarations that cause pain and leave scars. We literally “trouble our households and inherit wind.”
What can we do? We can repent from the fractious way we are living. We can abandon the apparent necessity to be at odds with one another. We can return to the way of life God intended for us – life in community, life in mutuality, life in kinship, life in cooperation. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, writes in his book, Not in God’s Name:
Too often in the history of religion, people have killed in the name of the God of life, waged war in the name of the God of peace, hated in the name of the God of love and practiced cruelty in the name of the God of compassion. 6
If the world is to be redeemed, it will be only when people of faith begin living their faith with honesty and clarity.
In the face of lies and falsehoods, we must speak the truth strongly, but kindly. In the presence of hatred, we must offer the example of love and compassion. Where arrogance and conceit hold sway, we must be people of humility and modesty. Rather than fuel division and strife, we are to be peacemakers and agents of reconciliation.
In the whirlwind of our times, this will not be easy work. But it is critical work if the reign of God is to be established on earth. We cannot join with those who trouble the house. The wind is blowing too strongly already.
And where does the story end? It ends in grief. David is shattered and weeps for his dead son. He probably weeps, in part, because it was David’s own actions that brought this moment to be. David failed to understand that our actions all too often result in unforeseen consequences.
Let us live honorably, peacefully, humbly, morally, and righteously. Let us be light in darkness, hope in despair, truth in the midst of deceitfulness. For those who live in this way and walk in this path can be assured of God’s presence.
For now and evermore. Amen.
1) Working Preacher, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
2) 2 Samuel 12:10-12
3) Hosea 8:7
4) Proverbs 11:29
5) 2 Samuel 18:33b
6) Sacks. Not In God’s Name, p. 3