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Co-creating with God in every phase of life

July 16, 2017, Speaker: Rev Enoch Keong (2 Samuel 13:1-39) Part of the 2 Samuel sermon series, preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service

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Title: Co-creating with God in every phase of life
Date:16th July 2017
Preacher: Rev. Enoch Keong

We are told of a triple tragedy in this morning’s passage: a princess became victim of incestuous rape and she ended up living a life of desolation. The prince who committed the crime was in turn assassinated by his half-brother. And this other prince was estranged from the royal family for being the avenger. The 39 verses we read are much about these 3 young persons’ intentions, their schemes, their emotions, their speech and their actions, so much so that the chapter looks like it’s a story about them.

But let’s look again at how the opening is worded, “Now Absalom, David's son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David's son, loved her. (v.1I)” I supposed it’s fair to say that no reader needs to be reminded that the 2 princes are David’s son. The double emphasis is therefore to make sure that readers don’t get it wrong, in that the story herein is actually a continuation of David’s story that began with these words, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. (12:10)”

These are God’s word to David, the sword in the pronouncement thus far translated into the death of the first son he had with Bathsheba, and now the death Amnon. The people around David suffered mishaps and deaths, but it is actually the punishment on the king for despising God. So, although the focus is temporarily shifted to the 3 young persons, it is still David’s story that we are reading. It’s a bit like some superhero movies where we keep seeing the villains in action. In some movies we seem to see more of the villains than the hero, but the movie is after all still about the superhero.

So what can we know about David during this phase of his life apart from him facing divine punishment? First we see something through the words spoken by Tamar just before she was violated. In trying to dissuade Amnon’s advancement, she says, “…please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you. (v.13c)" What she meant is that their father David will allow her half-brother to marry her, and all he needed to do is to ask. This sounds strange, because Israel has laws like this in their law book, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister [an euphemism to say a brother shall not take one’s sister to bed], your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home. (Lev 18:9)”

The same law was reissued a second time in the book of Deuteronomy with greater seriousness and enthusiasm injected, "'Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'”

Tamar is suggesting here something that contradicts the law, amounting to saying that David will approve incestuous marriage. Did she mean what she says? Or was it a clever thing she did to get out of that situation? I like to say the chance is 50/50, but I don’t think we can do that. To say the very least, what Tamar suggested was a real possibility. David the king and the country that he led probably did not have much regard for God’s law at that point of time. Otherwise, Bathsheba should have been dead being an adulterous. And David, adulterer plus murderer, should have been dead twice over. Maybe the scholars are right, that "there is indeed little indication that the Torah ever shaped Israel's life in practice." [1]

Though Tamar’s words, we see that David could be one who has little or limited regards for God’s law. And knowing about the sword that will never depart from his house did not seem to have made David more obedient to God. To be sure, to say that David will approve incestuous marriage is only a possible reading of our text, since the author says nothing more than telling us what Tamar said. But the possibility is on the high side. More importantly, for us, I think this possibility points to tangible possibilities in ourselves. God revealed his will to us through his Word. We know them, but to what extend are we shaped by it? We read in the Ten Commandments, do not murder. But have we never ever caught ourselves performing character assassinations with our tongue? We read also in the Ten Commandments, do not covet your neighbor’s house or wife or possessions, but haven’t we think and act in a less Christian manner because of what our neighbors and our friends have? Tamar’s word suggests that David would flow along with culture and doing what people want to see happening. For us, with what or with who do we flow along?

Next, we will look at the way David responded to Tamar’s plight. Verse 21 reads, “When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.” And then? There’s no ‘and then’ to talk about in this case. David only blows his top and that’s all. We are not even sure what his anger was about. Was he angry with Amnon for committing the crime or with himself for sinning and in turn invited God’s punishment? Or was he angry because the family’s name is now tarnished? All we know is that he was very angry but did nothing either to educate the perpetrator or to help the victim. A Hebrew (Qumran) and the Greek version (Septuagint) of Second Samuel sought to explain why he did not punish Amnon, “He would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, because he was his firstborn." In other word, favoritism is the culprit. As for Tamar the victim, it appears that the father, who sent her to perpetrator’s house, is happy for her to be now quietly tucked away behind Absalom’s doors.

Very angry, yet did nothing. David’s inaction is very much out of character with himself to begin with. David is a king known for administering justice and equity to all his people (8:15).To be very angry and yet do nothing is also being out of sync with the Old Testament view of anger. The Old Testament sees anger as a human emotion capable of generating actions. And there are enough instances in the Old Testament where anger is even viewed as something positive, that is, an impetus that would put things right when they are wrong. An example would be King Saul. There was a time when the Israelites were oppressed by another people group. And it was Saul’s anger and the actions generated by his anger (1 Sam 11:6) that got them through that rough patch. Anger leads to actions, and I guess we can say that David had personally experienced action through anger when Nathan prophesied the sword on his family.

So, although not always the case, anger in the Old Testament is often a positive emotion that leads to constructive actions. But herein, anger led to inaction. In other words, David wasted his anger. David failed as a king and a father. He has also failed as a representative of God on earth for not executing justice and equality. In choosing to do nothing, David has probably fueled the next 2 tragedies that could have been prevented if he had acted justly.

With David and his inaction as a negative demonstration, I like us to revisit the theme of our June Pitstop held last month in Melaka. Our camp theme was “Co-creating Our lives with God”. We emphasized in the camp that life involves an active involvement and interplay by God and ourselves, that God takes us seriously to co-shape the future. We asked earlier the question, “With who or what do we flow along?” In light of our camp’s focus on co-creating while bearing in mind the negative outcomes of David’s inaction, I suggest this as answer: “with God and his Sprit, doing what we can as representatives of God on earth.”

2 Sam 13 to 20 is much about co-creating. Interestingly, when we read these chapters, we will find only one direct statement about what God is doing. In 2 Sam 17:14, there it says that, “For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom.” The absence of such statement however does not mean that God is not in the picture. In fact, God is always in the picture, and the author helps us see this by telling us about the choices people made and consequences they faced. David’s anger led to inaction. Or we should say, David chose inaction, the consequence is that Absalom in turn chose to be Tamar’s avenger and what God wanted to happen came to pass – David experienced divine punishment.

Friends, are we able to recall what we heard from last year’s sermon series on Ecclesiastes? There’s an emphasis made in the book that resonant so very well with 2 Samuel and our camp’s focus: Seize the day, remember? The book brought up this theme 6 times all in all? Life is unpredictable, so enjoy life and do our best, seize the day. The time we have in hand is given to us moment by moment, so let’s enjoy and use each moment to the fullest. Time to rest, rest. Time to play, play. Time to love, love. Time to work, work. Time to speak up, speak up. Time to administer justice and equality, don’t hold back. For tomorrow depends on how we seize this day. Sorry to criticize David for being passive, but his negative demonstration has indeed something to teach us. That as Christians, life is to be lived by seizing the day, co-creating the future with God.

We are not done with David for this morning as yet; we still want to take a peek at this father after the eldest son was assassinated. The story ended with these words, “And David mourned for his son day after day. So Absalom fled and went to Geshur, and was there three years. And the spirit of the king longed to go out to Absalom, because he was comforted about Amnon, since he was dead (vv.37b-39)”. Here, the author is either being very playful or perceptive. The author tells us that David mourned for his son, but which one? Could the author be suggesting that David chose inaction be because he is lost, very lost, lost to the point that although he knows that he is sad, he doesn’t know why, for who or for what?

But one thing is clear; David longed to go out to Absalom. But again, all we see is inaction. David again stopped at feelings, and he waited and waited. The situation in the story has indeed gone from bad to worse. But God is still at work, God can still show grace and neither God nor man is done with co-creating. David should not have remained passive and paralyzed though the situation looked bad, he could have asked Absalom to come back. And that was exactly what happened in the next chapter, but the one who pushed for it was one of his generals and not the king who is paralyzed with inaction.

David is one who has committed the same crime as Absalom but was shown grace. And so his failure to reach out to Absalom tantamount to a failure to extend the hesed he had received. We have here another negative demonstration by David.

And may I take the liberty to draw from this a necessary reminder: We don’t go about killing, but we may be capable of character assassinations as mentioned earlier, and many other things. And as like David, we are also shown grace. Grace flows into our lives, into our unworthiness. As we go on co-creating our lives with God, how about we do it by being a channel of the grace we received, actively extending God’s grace to other?

[1] Goldingay J., Men Behaving Badly, Patermoster Press., 2000. 260.

2 Samuel 13

13:1 Now Absalom, David's son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David's son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David's brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. And he said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister.” Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’” So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. And when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.”

Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon's house and prepare food for him.” So Tamar went to her brother Amnon's house, where he was lying down. And she took dough and kneaded it and made cakes in his sight and baked the cakes. And she took the pan and emptied it out before him, but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, “Send out everyone from me.” So everyone went out from him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes she had made and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. 11 But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” 12 She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. 13 As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” 14 But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.

15 Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!” 16 But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. 17 He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.” 18 Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves, for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. 19 And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went.

20 And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom's house. 21 When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. 22 But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar.

23 After two full years Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king's sons. 24 And Absalom came to the king and said, “Behold, your servant has sheepshearers. Please let the king and his servants go with your servant.” 25 But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome to you.” He pressed him, but he would not go but gave him his blessing. 26 Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you?” 27 But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king's sons go with him. 28 Then Absalom commanded his servants, “Mark when Amnon's heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Do not fear; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.” 29 So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king's sons arose, and each mounted his mule and fled.

30 While they were on the way, news came to David, “Absalom has struck down all the king's sons, and not one of them is left.” 31 Then the king arose and tore his garments and lay on the earth. And all his servants who were standing by tore their garments. 32 But Jonadab the son of Shimeah, David's brother, said, “Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men, the king's sons, for Amnon alone is dead. For by the command of Absalom this has been determined from the day he violated his sister Tamar. 33 Now therefore let not my lord the king so take it to heart as to suppose that all the king's sons are dead, for Amnon alone is dead.”

34 But Absalom fled. And the young man who kept the watch lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, many people were coming from the road behind him by the side of the mountain. 35 And Jonadab said to the king, “Behold, the king's sons have come; as your servant said, so it has come about.” 36 And as soon as he had finished speaking, behold, the king's sons came and lifted up their voice and wept. And the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly.

37 But Absalom fled and went to Talmai the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son day after day. 38 So Absalom fled and went to Geshur, and was there three years. 39 And the spirit of the king longed to go out to Absalom, because he was comforted about Amnon, since he was dead.

(ESV)