Second Chances

Read: 2 Samuel 14

Now in all Israel there was no one to be praised so much for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. When he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight. There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar; she was a beautiful woman (2 Samuel 14:25-27, NRSV).

First things first. Those of you who have been following this series will appreciate the poignancy of that last line about Absalom’s beautiful daughter, Tamar. She is named, of course, after her Aunt Tamar who had been living as “a desolate woman” in her brother Absolom’s house since her rape at the hands of their half-brother, Amnon (2 Sam 13:20). Perhaps the birth of her beautiful namesake may have lifted the burden of her desolation just a little. In a culture that was not good at giving women second chances, perhaps Aunt Tamar got a scrap of one by living vicariously through her niece. We can hope.

The rest of the chapter revolves around whether Absolom will receive a second chance. He’s been banished because he murdered his half-brother, Amnon, the heir apparent. The fact that Absalom is next in line for the throne may hint at mixed motives, but the biblical storyteller just spills out the facts and lets us draw our own conclusions. The stated motive for the murder is revenge, pure and simple. If revenge is ever pure and simple….

General Joab features prominently in both bids to bring Absalom back from exile. In verses 1-24 he is the man behind the curtain, so to speak. Sensing that “the king’s mind was on Absalom,” Joab concocts an elaborate ruse to trap David into seeing sense (at least from Joab’s point of view.)  He enlists the help of a wise woman from David’s old stomping grounds to spin a tale designed to pull at David’s heartstrings. It’s all a pack of lies, of course, but it works like a charm. David—as Joab knows well—is a sucker for a good story. (Nathan’s parable of the “little ewe lamb in chapter 12 proved that!).

In the end, David figures out that he’s being manipulated and guesses that Joab is behind it all. By then, however, he’s come around to Joab’s line of logic, and he allows Absalom to come back to Jerusalem. Absalom still isn’t allowed back to court, however, so his “second chance” remains just out of reach.

Two years pass. Now Absalom decides to force Joab’s hand by setting Joab’s barley field on fire. (These two really do deserve each other.) At last, he has Joab’s full attention, and Joab agrees to plead his case before the king. The chapter ends with Absalom back in the king’s good graces. After Absalom’s suitably humble entry into the throne room, King David seals the reconciliation with a kiss.

The question that hangs as heavy as Absalom’s legendary hair is: What will Absalom do with his second chance?

Tune in next week….

Ponder: Why is David’s decision so difficult regarding Absalom? What’s at stake? Can you think of other examples where leaders have been caught between the personal and the political?

Pray: God of second, third, and seventy times seven chances, may we never take your grace for granted.