2 Samuel 14:1-24 Speaking the Truth with Empathy Brings True Reconciliation
2 Samuel 14:1-24
1 Joab realized how much the king longed to see Absalom. 2 So he sent for a woman from Tekoa who had a reputation for great wisdom. He said to her, “Pretend you are in mourning; wear mourning clothes and don’t put on lotions. Act like a woman who has been mourning for the dead for a long time. 3 Then go to the king and tell him the story I am about to tell you.” Then Joab told her what to say.
4 When the woman from Tekoa approached the king, she bowed with her face to the ground in deep respect and cried out, “O king! Help me!” 5 “What’s the trouble?” the king asked. “Alas, I am a widow!” she replied. “My husband is dead. 6 My two sons had a fight out in the field. And since no one was there to stop it, one of them was killed. 7 Now the rest of the family is demanding, ‘Let us have your son. We will execute him for murdering his brother. He doesn’t deserve to inherit his family’s property.’ They want to extinguish the only coal I have left, and my husband’s name and family will disappear from the face of the earth.” 8 “Leave it to me,” the king told her. “Go home, and I’ll see to it that no one touches him.” 9 “Oh, thank you, my lord the king,” the woman from Tekoa replied. “If you are criticized for helping me, let the blame fall on me and on my father’s house, and let the king and his throne be innocent.” 10 “If anyone objects,” the king said, “bring him to me. I can assure you he will never complain again!” 11 Then she said, “Please swear to me by the LORD your God that you won’t let anyone take vengeance against my son. I want no more bloodshed.” “As surely as the LORD lives,” he replied, “not a hair on your son’s head will be disturbed!” 12 “Please allow me to ask one more thing of my lord the king,” she said. “Go ahead and speak,” he responded.
13 She replied, “Why don’t you do as much for the people of God as you have promised to do for me? You have convicted yourself in making this decision, because you have refused to bring home your own banished son. 14 All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him. 15 “I have come to plead with my lord the king because people have threatened me. I said to myself, ‘Perhaps the king will listen to me 16 and rescue us from those who would cut us off from the inheritance God has given us. 17 Yes, my lord the king will give us peace of mind again.’ I know that you are like an angel of God in discerning good from evil. May the LORD your God be with you.” 18 “I must know one thing,” the king replied, “and tell me the truth.” “Yes, my lord the king, “she responded. 19 “Did Joab put you up to this?” And the woman replied, “My lord the king, how can I deny it? Nobody can hide anything from you. Yes, Joab sent me and told me what to say. 20 He did it to place the matter before you in a different light. But you are as wise as an angel of God, and you understand everything that happens among us!”
21 So the king sent for Joab and told him, “All right, go and bring back the young man Absalom.” 22 Joab bowed with his face to the ground in deep respect and said, “At last I know that I have gained your approval, my lord the king, for you have granted me this request!” 23 Then Joab went to Geshur and brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. 24 But the king gave this order: “Absalom may go to his own house, but he must never come into my presence.” So Absalom did not see the king.
When Amnon, the crown prince died, Absalom becomes heir-apparent. Hence, it is even more pertinent for Absalom to return from exile and claim his rightful place to his inheritance. Joab, being sensitive to the political landscape and David’s changing attitude towards this fugitive son, contemplates a ruse involving a woman from Tekoa. The woman emerges successfully in convincing David through a parable to retrieve Absalom from exile. However, Absalom’s return did not lead to true reconciliation between father and son. On the contrary, it subsequently degenerates into betrayal and a full-scale civil war with Absalom hot on the heels of David. Today’s passage teaches us the importance of confronting one another with the truth spoken with empathy as a necessary step towards true reconciliation.
Pretend you are in mourning; wear mourning clothes and don’t put on lotions – Joab, upon sensing David’s readiness to reconcile with his wayward son plays the mastermind in engineering the return of Absalom. The true intention of Joab may be to ingratiate himself to Absalom, the heir-apparent following the death of Amnon, the crown prince. He settles for an indirect method of broaching the subject with David through a wise actress. His approach is surprisingly similar to Nathan’s use of a parable in confronting David’s sin in the earlier episode involving Bathsheba.
A woman from Tekoa is recruited to play the part of a widow whose clan is seeking to put to death her one remaining son. The woman presents her plight, which is basically a clash of moral obligation (of justice) and the pragmatic concern of preserving the family name. This may hint at David’s burden of subjecting Absalom to the implementation of the law as the royal family vie for justice: Now the rest of the family is demanding, “Let us have your son. We will execute him for murdering his brother. He doesn’t deserve to inherit his family’s property.” But because David longs for the return of Absalom to his side, he agrees to make a special exemption in favor of his banished son.
You have convicted yourself in making this decision, because you have refused to bring home your own banished son – The woman, having spoken about her plight must secure a binding oath from David before she confronts him with the real issue behind the parable. Having succeeded in obtaining a guarantee of safety for her imaginary son, she charges the king with his failure to retrieve his own son, an heir-apparent, not so much for himself but for the nation: …and rescue us from those who would cut us off from the inheritance God has given us. The wisdom of the woman is displayed through her stealthy composure in this delicate and potentially disastrous undertaking as the message must be delivered with precision without incurring the king’s wrath that could backfire.
All right, go and bring back the young man Absalom – While it does not take much to overcome the king’s hesitance in retrieving Absalom from exile. The woman reveals Joab as the mastermind behind her act but with a noble purpose to help David perceive things differently: …to place the matter before you in a different light. David, having obtained cooperative endorsement of his secret longing commands Joab to facilitate Absalom’s return. However, David continues to deal with Absalom at arms length, refusing to engage him in disentangling the knots of the bitter past: Absalom may go to his own house, but he must never come into my presence.
- True reconciliation involves repentance and the change of attitude. I know of couples and family members who choose to come back together without first addressing the underlying issues that estranged them. They are eager to reconcile for pragmatic reasons so that life may return to normalcy but only to break up again with more severe consequences. True enduring union involves revisiting issues and conflicts with an open mind, to confront one another with the truth spoken with empathy; it involves all parties suspending their personal voice to actively listen to others. Unless all parties make sacrifices to yield themselves to the centrality and the authority of God’s truth, there can be no reconciliation. David brought Absalom back from exile, but Absalom remains estranged from David as the underlying issues remain intact. David’s inaction yet again allows a potentially disastrous time bomb to continue ticking, this time with dire consequences as Absalom takes occasion to steal the hearts of the Israelites to overthrow his own father.
- People must keep working on underlying differences in values and vision in an open and transparent manner so as to reinforce unity. I observe that organizations have a tendency to be hasty in bringing new people into the fold without a plan of closing the gaps concerning values and vision. As a result, some newbies get hurt and become disillusioned when they struggle in vain to make sense of the new environment. Zeal, many a times translates into unrealistic optimism that underlying problems may be solved easily and quickly. Absalom is a case in point. While David is eager to retrieve Absalom from exile, irreconcilable differences continue to plague their relationship. The end as we know it, is a replay of a tragic demise of yet another son at the back of a civil war that almost split the nation. While organizations must lend empathy and space to incoming newbies, the newbies themselves must actively assimilate themselves into the organization’s culture and vision. People must be given the liberty to air their sentiments without being marked as naysayers and troublemakers; they must feel that their views are heard and taken seriously at a higher level.
Do you have an outstanding issue that continues to fuel estrangement among your family and church members? Perhaps it is time to bring to the surface the underlying issues and misgivings with the aim of achieving empathy and reconciliation. In doing so, trust and fellowship may be restored so that the community can move on to more pertinent things.
Dear Lord, help me forgive those who have wronged me. I will actively facilitate open communications and empathy so that reconciliation may ensue. Let your Spirit melt all bitterness and bring fresh hope towards a loving and heavenly community. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.