A few months ago I was reading the story of David and Absalom, and found myself quite struck by David’s response to his son’s death.
First of all, what a dysfunctional family! Incest, rape, murder, rebellion. It’s difficult to imagine worse things. Absalom is trying really hard to hurt his father, in overtly spiteful ways. And of course David is no “saint” either. I find it easy to imagine that Absalom was watching closely when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then tried to cover his tracks by murdering her husband.
So in many ways Absalom’s rebellion could simply be the reaping of the seed David had sown. But I was struck by how, even in the midst of the ugly cruelty Absalom was unleashing on his father, David never allows his heart to grow cold toward his son.
Even after bald-faced rebellion, David never hardens his heart against his wayward son. When he hears of Absalom’s death, he doesn’t smile smugly or shrug nonchalantly. He weeps openly.
The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
To hear a gut-wrenchingly beautiful aural imagining of this event, have a listen to Eric Whitacre’s choral piece “When David Heard” (embedded below).
In reading the story, here’s what I was struck with: perhaps this is what it means that David was “a man after God’s own heart.” Despite David’s many faults, he had a heart like God’s: Weeping over his wayward children, willing to die in their place, never allowing their rebellion and cruelty to harden his heart toward them.
Yep, sounds about right, especially when I think about the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.