2 Samuel 18:1-18 (Part 1) – When We Are Too Close to the Forest to See The Trees!

Posted: July 24, 2018 in 10-2 Samuel

2 Samuel 18:1-18 (Part 1 of 4)
Absalom’s Defeat & Death

There’s an old saying, “You’re too close to the forest to see the trees!” You’ve heard it before. Obviously, so have I! These old sayings are old sayings because they have great truths in them. We all have had situations in our lives where we are “too close to the forest to see the trees!” Have you ever been so close to a problem that you can’t make a good decision because you are “too close to the problem” or you have your heart invested in a situation too much or you are so “married” to a certain course of action that you cannot see a wiser choice. I think that we all have been there a time or two in our lives. This passage is about that kind of thing. There is a lot in this passage and we will spend four blogs on it, but for today, we will focus on David’s decision not to go to war with his troops.

The last time David did not go to war, at least as far as it is documented in the Bible, it did not turn out too well. The last time, he was back at the palace feeling like a king and not leading his troops he got in trouble by commandeering another man’s wife, having sex with her, getting her pregnant, trying to cover up the pregnancy, and ultimately ordering that the woman’s soldier husband be killed. Not exactly David’s finest hour.

Now, this time, David, as we think of him as this mighty warrior and skilled military tactician, seems to give in too easily to advice and stays behind … again. Is David getting soft? He doesn’t argue too much at all. He takes the advice pretty quickly and decides to stay behind. After what happened in the Bathsheba/Uriah incident, you’d think he’d be all-guts and ready to fight in this situation so as to prove to others and to himself that he was back to his old self again – cocked, locked, and ready to rock. However, he simply heeds the advice without much of an argument and remains behind. Is David being soft or is he being wise?

Let’s read this passage, 2 Samuel 18:1-18, for the first of four times, and then think this situation through. Let’s see if David is being soft or if he is being wise?

Chapter 18

1 David now mustered the men who were with him and appointed generals and captains[a] to lead them. 2 He sent the troops out in three groups, placing one group under Joab, one under Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and one under Ittai, the man from Gath. The king told his troops, “I am going out with you.”

3 But his men objected strongly. “You must not go,” they urged. “If we have to turn and run—and even if half of us die—it will make no difference to Absalom’s troops; they will be looking only for you. You are worth 10,000 of us,[b] and it is better that you stay here in the town and send help if we need it.”

4 “If you think that’s the best plan, I’ll do it,” the king answered. So he stood alongside the gate of the town as all the troops marched out in groups of hundreds and of thousands.

5 And the king gave this command to Joab, Abishai, and Ittai: “For my sake, deal gently with young Absalom.” And all the troops heard the king give this order to his commanders.

6 So the battle began in the forest of Ephraim, 7 and the Israelite troops were beaten back by David’s men. There was a great slaughter that day, and 20,000 men laid down their lives. 8 The battle raged all across the countryside, and more men died because of the forest than were killed by the sword.

9 During the battle, Absalom happened to come upon some of David’s men. He tried to escape on his mule, but as he rode beneath the thick branches of a great tree, his hair[c] got caught in the tree. His mule kept going and left him dangling in the air. 10 One of David’s men saw what had happened and told Joab, “I saw Absalom dangling from a great tree.”

11 “What?” Joab demanded. “You saw him there and didn’t kill him? I would have rewarded you with ten pieces of silver[d] and a hero’s belt!”

12 “I would not kill the king’s son for even a thousand pieces of silver,[e]” the man replied to Joab. “We all heard the king say to you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake, please spare young Absalom.’ 13 And if I had betrayed the king by killing his son—and the king would certainly find out who did it—you yourself would be the first to abandon me.”

14 “Enough of this nonsense,” Joab said. Then he took three daggers and plunged them into Absalom’s heart as he dangled, still alive, in the great tree. 15 Ten of Joab’s young armor bearers then surrounded Absalom and killed him.

16 Then Joab blew the ram’s horn, and his men returned from chasing the army of Israel. 17 They threw Absalom’s body into a deep pit in the forest and piled a great heap of stones over it. And all Israel fled to their homes.

18 During his lifetime, Absalom had built a monument to himself in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to carry on my name.” He named the monument after himself, and it is known as Absalom’s Monument to this day.

In this passage, we see that David shook off the funk he had been in since the Bathsheba/Uriah incident many years before. He had been floundering in indecision particularly when it came to his children. There had been no mention during chapters 12-17 about the expansion of the kingdom of Israel. It was all about how David’s young adult children had been running amuck and creating problems within the kingdom and within the royal family. What a mess this has been as we have seen.

Finally, now, with the kingdom is disarray and in the midst of a civil war that could well destroy the royal family and the kingdom itself, David awakens from the fog that he has been in. David took command. He wants to charge forward and save the kingdom. He seems to want to prove himself the mighty man he had been before sin wracked his life. However, in this instance, the best advice for him would be to stay behind. In this instance, he could not be objective. In this particular civil war, he was not fighting against some unrelated rebel with some ax to grind against the king. He was going to be leading the charge against an army led by his own son. How could he be objective in this situation? His love for his son would blind him to the military tactics that would assure victory and even the death of his son. With the death of Absalom, the uprising would be put down. That would be the objective for David’s men. Take Absalom out. Eliminate the threat. The same would be true for Absalom and his men. However, an angry, self-absorbed child like Absalom would have no qualms about eliminating his father. Thus, David, being a dad, would be at a military disadvantage in this case if he were to lead the charge into battle. He would have made decisions based on loving his son rather than trying to eliminate an opposing military leader.
The smartest thing David does here is to recognize his lack of objectivity. He recognizes that he would be making decisions that could put his men at a disadvantage and could lose many men trying to preserve Absalom’s life. He is wise enough here to realize that he needed to step back from the situation and allow his, more objective, military leaders to handle the fray. They would think tactically and not emotionally. He was smart enough to take the advice. He was smart enough to realize that he was too close to the situation to make wise military decisions. He would have made military decisions based on being a dad rather than a military leader.

So, what does that teach us that we can use here in the 21st century? I think that it teaches us that we sometimes have to admit that we cannot be objective about a situation and step away and allow ourselves time to see a situation clearly. Sometimes, we have become too married to a certain course of action that we cannot give up on it. We won’t to ram it through because it is our idea. We won’t admit the flaws of our plan because it is our plan. We get so married to our idea that pride kicks in. We get so married to our idea that we refuse to see its flaws. We get so married to our idea that it becomes part of us and thus any attacks on our idea is an attack on us.

Similarly, we sometimes are like David when it comes to our kids too. We cannot see the hard things that we need to teach them and must teach them. However, because we can sometimes be so unobjective when it comes to our kids that we keep giving them the benefit of the doubt and delay those hard decisions in raising them until it’s too late. There are things that we are not willing to see about our kids and we enable them and keep bailing them out. We keep thinking that if we just give this help they will get over the hump and grow up. We keep thinking that they are too naïve to learn the lessons they need to learn. We often refuse to see that they are manipulating us and know the key words and key phrases that will press our hand open with the handout. I know that I made these mistakes with my youngest daughter. And often the hard lesson is that in teaching them the hard lessons of life early on, it will pay off later. They will respect you and have a good relationship with you as they mature. However, if you fail to be objective and fail to be a real parent to your child instead of trying to be the cool parent, they will force your hand one day. When you do have finally be a hard parent to your child, they see it as taking their entitlements away rather than making them grow up. They will go into civil war mode with you.

I should have taken advice about showing my child a harder line. I should have not so spoiled her as I did. I should have not enabled her laissez-faire lifestyle such that she did not get her first job until she was almost 20 years old. When I did finally take away the final vestiges of support and took away those yes-es to the “daddy I need $100 til my next paycheck” and never demanding my money back, she went into a mode now where our relationship is about as strained as it can be. I still love her and would accept in my front door right this minute if she would just come home to me. However, I do realize that I did her a disservice by not being objective about the lessons she needed to learn in life.

Sometimes, we just can’t be objective when we need to be. In those cases, we must realize it and seek the advice of those who are not so close to the situation and that can see the situation objectively. That’s as about as practical advice as there is from the Bible.

Amen and Amen.

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