Posts Tagged ‘The South in the 1960s’

2 Samuel 19:1-14 (Part 3 of 3)
Joab Rebukes the King

The year was 1968 and America was a troubled nation. At the end of the winter season, President Johnson withdrew his name from the candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President. He was not going to run because he had become the lightning rod for both liberals and conservatives. Liberals hated him for his Vietnam policies. Conservatives hated him for his civil rights legislation. Into that political vacuum (without a sitting president running for re-election), the nation seemed to descend into chaos.

The spring of that year had seen two of its seminal leaders assassinated, Martin Luther King (April 4th) and Robert Kennedy (June 6th). That summer the inner cities of America’s great cities burst into flames. Race relations in the major cities were at the boiling point. The South was struggling with school desegregation. It was struggling with the race issue presented by desegregation but also with the fact that it was forced on the Southern states by the Federal government. State self-determination by Southern states had been a cry by its leaders since the end of the American Revolution. Add to that, desegregation signaled the end of the traditional race-based social caste system that had been in place in the South for centuries. In that changing culture, everyone was on edge about what could happen, what might happen, etc.

That fall in America, many college campuses were filled with protest against the war in Southeast Asia. The younger generations seemed at complete odds with the older generations. The traditions of the American past were all in question. Everything was tense. Everywhere you went in the country, regardless of region, there just seemed to be a powder keg feel to our country – as if people were ready to march in the streets at any moment.

As the time for the presidential election neared, it seemed as if the entire nation was unraveling at the seams, that we could no longer get along, that we couldn’t talk to each other anymore. There was some thought that America could not even survive. One of the turning points came during the presidential campaign, with a stop in a little town called Deshler, Ohio – about 45 minutes south of Toledo. The rural Ohio village was popular among whistle-stopping presidential candidates as two main lines of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad crossed there. However, by 1968, train stops by presidential candidates were no longer in vogue but stopping in Deshler still was and Nixon went “old school” and used a train to pull into town.

There, a photographer happened to catch a moment when a little 13-year-old girl picked up a placard, that somebody else had printed, from the side of the road. She found it, and as the motorcade passed she raised it over her head. The photographer captured that moment and it went across the nation and captured the imagination of the American people. It became, indeed, the slogan for that campaign. On that placard four words had been written: “Bring us together again.”

Cole was an eighth grader in Deshler; her father was the local Methodist minister while her mother taught third grade. On October 22, 1968, the day of Nixon’s stop in Deshler, Cole attended class as usual. hat afternoon, Cole attended the rally. The Nixon train pulled in, and the police lowered the rope which kept the crowd clear of the tracks. In interviews, Cole related that as the crowd surged forward, she dropped her sign amidst the pushing and shoving. Cole stated, “I wanted a sign to wave. I had lost my own placard and as the crowd moved forward as the train approached I saw this sign lying in the street and I just picked it up and held it high, hoping Mr. Nixon would see it.” That photo was seen by many in the Nixon camp and it became part of the Nixon campaign rhetoric from that point on in the 1968 elections.

As the 1960’s came to a close, with Nixon in the White House during his pre-Watergate years, what did bring us together again really mean? Were we longer for the past where we did not deal with the issues that were so broadly and openly discussed and just accepted things as they were? Were we wanting to “bring us together” by bashing our opponents into submission and getting them to acquiesce to our point of view.

1968 sounds pretty familiar then when we read today’s passage. Israel was a political mess after the Absalomic revolt. The nation had thrown itself behind Absalom for the most part. So much so that its rightful king, David, had to flee the capital city. Now, Absalom was dead. David was still alive. Everything was a mess. Political nerves were all exposed. In any other situation, in the ancient Middle East or even in modern times where there was failed coup, the rightful king would have destroyed and killed those who had thrown their support behind the defeated rebels. There were no hidden allegiances. Everybody was standing there in their underwear so to speak. Everybody was exposed. Tensions were high. Some did not want David back for fear that he would continue to be inept as he had been for several years since the Bathsheba/Uriah incident. Some did not want him back for fear of his retribution against his political enemies. Some did not want him back because David had arrogantly sinned. Some did not want David back because it was evident that he could not control his children. And then there was the rebel faction of the Israelite army. Things were just a big old fat mass. There needed to be a king. The country was a monarchy now. But David had enemies and he had baggage but he had the right to the throne. It was kind of like 1968 AD. The country was in turmoil.

Let’s read the passage, 2 Samuel 19:1-14, and see how David handles this very serious time in the history of Israel where the country seems to be falling apart at the seams from within:

Chapter 19
1 Word soon reached Joab that the king was weeping and mourning for Absalom. 2 As all the people heard of the king’s deep grief for his son, the joy of that day’s victory was turned into deep sadness. 3 They crept back into the town that day as though they were ashamed and had deserted in battle. 4 The king covered his face with his hands and kept on crying, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”

5 Then Joab went to the king’s room and said to him, “We saved your life today and the lives of your sons, your daughters, and your wives and concubines. Yet you act like this, making us feel ashamed of ourselves. 6 You seem to love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that your commanders and troops mean nothing to you. It seems that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died, you would be pleased. 7 Now go out there and congratulate your troops, for I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a single one of them will remain here tonight. Then you will be worse off than ever before.”

8 So the king went out and took his seat at the town gate, and as the news spread throughout the town that he was there, everyone went to him.

Meanwhile, the Israelites who had supported Absalom fled to their homes. 9 And throughout all the tribes of Israel there was much discussion and argument going on. The people were saying, “The king rescued us from our enemies and saved us from the Philistines, but Absalom chased him out of the country. 10 Now Absalom, whom we anointed to rule over us, is dead. Why not ask David to come back and be our king again?”

11 Then King David sent Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, to say to the elders of Judah, “Why are you the last ones to welcome back the king into his palace? For I have heard that all Israel is ready. 12 You are my relatives, my own tribe, my own flesh and blood! So why are you the last ones to welcome back the king?” 13 And David told them to tell Amasa, “Since you are my own flesh and blood, like Joab, may God strike me and even kill me if I do not appoint you as commander of my army in his place.”

14 Then Amasa[b] convinced all the men of Judah, and they responded unanimously. They sent word to the king, “Return to us, and bring back all who are with you.”

In this passage, we must reflect on David’s appointment of Amasa as the leader over the royal army. Why would David do that? He already had a commander-in-chief over his army in Joab. He had held this position for an extended period of time already. Why then would he remove Joab and install Amasa? When you really think about this appointment, it is a shrewd move on David’s part for several reasons.

First, Amasa had been commander of Absalom’s rebel army. By making Amasa his commander, David would secure allegiance of the members of the armed forces that had aligned themselves with Absalom. Second, by replacing Joab as the commander of the armed forces, David punished Joab for his previous disobedience (the killing of Abner and the killing of Absalom). Third, it is apparent from this passage alone (see 2 Samuel 19:14) that Amasa was a man of influence over the general public of tribe of Judah. All of these moves would help David restore unity in the kingdom of Israel. That was the most important thing to David. He wanted to restore unity. Even if that meant that he had to swallow his pride and offer a position to a rebel leader, he was willing to do that. Reconciliation was what was important to David. Moving the country beyond these years of malaise and rebellion was what David was about.

OK, so it makes sense in the political landscape of the kingdom Israel in the post-civil war period in the Davidic dynasty. It is a politically savvy move, yeah. However, what is it in this passage of Scripture that “we can take home” and apply to our lives. Before we get to the takeaway, let’s set the stage for it.

When you really think about it, not that not much has changed from David’s time to ours. And not much has changed from 1968 to 2018. In 2018, the history of fifty years ago seems to be repeating itself. We are a divided nation now in 2018 in ways that are somewhat like 1968. Back then, it was just the sheer volume of conflicts and the length that those conflicts had commanded attention, people just generally had frayed nerves nationwide. Tempers were short and division and violence seemed to be the only answer. We seem to be at the precipice of that same national attitude in 2018. We have lived now through probably a decade or more of partisan politics where neither side is willing to compromise. Add to that, we now have a President that seems to the Lyndon Johnson of this decade. We are an eerily similar nation in 2018 that we were in 1968. Normally, you would say “what a difference 50 years makes!” but now you would have to say, “what little difference 50 years makes!”

David held up the sign “bring us together again” when he appointed the commander of the rebel forces to be his new commander. What guts that took! This man would have just a day before killed David if he had come upon the opportunity. If David can reach across the political divide 3,000 years ago. Why can’t we do that today? Where is humility and seeking the greater good in 2018. The answer to the deepest problems that we have in the world today is not to be found in Washington? It is not with the Republicans, it’s not with the Democrats, it’s not with the Independents. The answer is with Jesus Christ, who came 2,000 years ago not to separate but to bring people back to God and to bring people together who have been separated by sin. We need reconciliation with God. Our world is broken and hurting because of millennia of cumulative sins of mankind under the sultry influence of Satan. In a world that is dying and bleeding. In a world that is permeated by hate. In a world where the gap between the rich and the poor is expanding. We are to be messengers of reconciliation. In a world where hate and political grandstanding are the norm on both sides, we are to be messengers of reconciliation. Only through reconciliation is there change. Only through reconciliation is there progress.

There is a better way that what we have right now. Jesus, bring us together again. Let it begin with us as Christ followers. Let us love those who are enemies of our political beliefs. Let us love those who are far from God. Let us be the ones that set the example to the rest of the world just as David does in this passage. Let us be the ones who hold the sign, “Bring Us Together Again!”

Amen and Amen.

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