After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run ahead of him. Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the road into the gate; and when anyone brought a suit before the king for judgement, Absalom would call out and say, ‘From what city are you?’ When the person said, ‘Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel’, Absalom would say, ‘See, your claims are good and right; but there is no one deputed by the king to hear you.’ Absalom said moreover, ‘If only I were judge in the land! Then all who had a suit or cause might come to me, and I would give them justice.’ Whenever people came near to do obeisance to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of them, and kiss them. Thus Absalom did to every Israelite who came to the king for judgement; so Absalom stole the hearts of the people of Israel. At the end of four years Absalom said to the king, ‘Please let me go to Hebron and pay the vow that I have made to the Lord. For your servant made a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram: If the Lord will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will worship the Lord in Hebron.’ The king said to him, ‘Go in peace.’ So he got up, and went to Hebron. But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, ‘As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then shout: Absalom has become king at Hebron!’ Two hundred men from Jerusalem went with Absalom; they were invited guests, and they went in their innocence, knowing nothing of the matter. While Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city Giloh. The conspiracy grew in strength, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.
‘O what tangled webs we weave.’ Absalom was a charismatic character like his father David. Today’s reading is about his plot against his own father to gain power. By going to Hebron, he was returning to his home town (2 Samuel 3 v 2) where he anticipated finding support from loyal friends. Being apparently good looking, and somewhat vain, he hoped to win the hearts of the people by his good looks. Today he might be regarded as ‘a celebrity’ who today might appear on ‘Towie’. Clearly, he is a somewhat shallow character.
This story raises questions about motivation. The motivation in question might be that of our political leaders, or indeed ourselves, searching for status and personal power over others. They and we adopt the “I am always right” attitude, even when that is not the case. In our worship, or our relationships with others, why do we do what we do or say? Is it simply for personal gain of some sort or another? What many regard as the norm today is but a reflection of what was going on in Absalom’s life. What might the alternative be?
In a number of past devotions there has been reference to an individual’s comfort zones, where people are seeking to be safe in a non-threatening situation. But we have been urged to take up our cross daily. That could well involve being the servant of all rather than the leader of all. It might also involve our surrendering something we regard as valuable so that others might gain. I once worked for a Welsh Congregationalist whose lifestyle was the very opposite of that portrayed by Absalom. Regardless of the cost to himself in both time and money, the needs of others came well before his own needs. A man respected by the whole community. Unlike Absalom, he did things the right way according to his faith in Jesus. May that be our experience also.
O God, in this season of reflection, help me to find the people who are calling me to change my ways and to search my heart. As the Winter deepens, may my heart be stripped bare, so that when comes the Spring, I can rise renewed and flourish into life. Amen.
The Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired minister worshipping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex