August 9, 2009
?Proper 14
2 Samuel 18:5-33

Drugs almost killed the young father of the 10-year-old girl, but he escaped from that lifestyle; and by the time his daughter was in high school, he was completely free-or so he thought. He recognized the signs and tried to stop her; but when his daughter was a sophomore, filled with beautiful potential, an overdose took her life. He felt the tortuous grief of losing a child, the helpless frustration of watching the habit that led to her death and heavy pain of regret for the example he set for her. He had been freed from drugs, but she had been enslaved. Why didn’t he die instead of her? Why was he forgiven and given life when hers was taken?
Grief is always complicated; so is sin. When you add sin to grief, the sorrows are multiplied. We can’t begin to explain them; at best we struggle to describe them. The colliding of grief and sin is the essence of our story. Chapter 18 has the harshest elements of the story, which begins in chapter 15 and is brought to conclusion in 19. A literary device used to tie this twisting plot together is the city gate, which was often the place where judgments or rulings were issued in ancient Israel. It was a place and symbol of justice. The image of the king sitting “in the gate” gave a sense of security that the king was fulfilling his role and the nation was being led.

I. Beside the Gate
Absalom started his treasonous rebellion against his father by usurping the king’s role of judge. The story begins with Absalom “standing beside the way to the gate” (2 Samuel 15:2). It was here, through strategically favorable judgments, that he gained the devotion of many of the people. In his planning and mustering an army to defeat his father, he was setting up a situation where death was required-either his or his father’s. Though he had the larger army, the advantage of having a mule to ride and the support of most of Israel, he could not escape God catching him in his rebellious pride. In spite of David’s clear orders not to kill Absalom, David’s general, Joab, acts to save the kingdom and kills the treasonous son.
The events leading up to Absalom’s death and those that follow are a twisted series of events and numerous characters. Eventually David, who is both the king and the traitor’s father, hears of the death of his son. There is a collision of grief, frustration and regret.

II. Over the Gate
God makes sure we know the place where David goes to mourn. As this collision of emotions overtakes him, he retreats to a room “over the gate”(2 Samuel 18:33). Losing a child is enough to emotionally paralyze, but added to that is the deep regret for the lessons he gave to Absalom in adultery and murder. Then heaped on top of those incapacitating emotions is the frustration that Absalom brought this on himself. David cries out, wishing that he could have died instead of his son. In this situation there had to be a death, for there cannot be two kings; and justice demanded that Absalom die.
In a broader view of biblical truth, sin always demands the justice of death. It doesn’t take much for us to hear the gospel message that Jesus did, in fact, die instead of us. Though David doesn’t stay in the room over the gate, he does stay in that paralyzed place of grief, regret and frustration.

III. In the Gate
Joab, once again takes action as he confronts David with the responsibility of leading the nation at such a vulnerable time. If David doesn’t act to unify the nation, things will become even worse for him and for the nation. The text says, “So the king arose and sat in the gate” (2 Samuel 19:8). David took his place as the leader of the nation in spite of his extreme personal pain. David would continue to be the king of Israel.
This could speak to us of David’s great strength and leadership, but David is not the real hero. Is it Joab? He certainly plays a major role, but it is David who is king. Who then? It is the One who put David in power and promised to keep him there.
Even when life brings catastrophic events that paralyze our emotions, God will still keep His promises, and God will still rule. Our God will always be “in the gate” so we can somehow move on with life.

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