In 1 Samuel 15 is the heart of the rebel disclosed. What lies in his heart? If only he were king, he would do it better! It is always easy to see how we would do it until it is our time to do it!
I watched from the bottom of a waterfall in Oklahoma as various divers dove from the top of the falls to the frothy blue pool before me. A group of young people bet that I could not do it. In that group was the young girl I later wanted to marry.
With their daring taunts in the porches of my ears, I decided I would do it and I began to climb to the top. I pictured in my mind the marvelous cliff-dwellers of Acapulco. I saw my arms, swan-like, swept back, sleekward. I saw my chest and abdomen bent like the glorious hood ornament on a ’47 Buick. My legs tapered off in a graceful arc of intention with only the tiniest jet stream facing backward from my pointed toes. Today, Turner Falls! Tomorrow the Black Cliffs of Acapulco!
Then suddenly I was there, and I turned to look where I must dive. I must hit the tiny little patch of blue between huge rocks, like shark’s teeth reaching upward to devour the divers. Finally I did not dive at all; I only fearfully jumped and perished beneath the pounding waters for hours before I finally came to the surface again.
In 1 Samuel 15 is hidden Absalom’s lament, “If only I were King, I would do it better.” He, of course, never lived to be king so we have no idea how he would have managed.
But rebels are dreamers and all that they envision is Utopian. As the rebel Lenin would improve on Czar Nicholas II, or Castro would improve on Bautista or Ortega on Somosa, so Absalom would improve upon David.
Rebel dreams usually are more savage than kind! They pick the moments when the establishment is at bay.
So Lenin rides through Sweden on a sealed train when the Czar has resigned and the imperial army is in rags. Mao moves against Chiang when Japan has China at bay.
Absalom … well, he moves against a father whose age and house have lost their taste for war.
But never mind the son — what is the father doing? Does he rage and rail against his self-serving son? Does he want to crush him in the coils of war, of hate and destruction.
As the soldiers leave, he whispers to his high general, Joab, “Deal gently with the young man Absalom, for my sake! No matter his hostility — answer him only in love!”
“CARE JOAB!” cries the weeping king.
Joab curls his lip and moves out to lead the army.
The helmets catch the sun. The king cries over the battlements in a voice made faint by iron rims on cobblestone, and windy, dusty distance.
Every rebel is loved: swallowed up in his self-concern, he is loved. And every rebel might be saved. That is what it means for Christ to enter the pain of this world.
If we would help Christ with the rescue we must enter the world beyond the church. We would rather do our saving work where almost no one is lost — the church. So we sing thirty-two verses of “Just As I Am” for three struggling primary children who are standing in the pew, trying to think what Big Bird would do. But at last they come, saving not just their souls but our reputations. Now at last we can go to the Evangelism Conference with confidence.
Children are precious to God but are they our best shot at evangelistic reputation? Are there rebels with more stature?
Is there not someone not already wooed by the Gospel Network — a genuine non-cable watching sinner not traumatized by over-exposure — a macho sinner with a one-Playboy, three-wife, four-martini-per-day aroma about him? What of these class-A renegade, lost-forever rabble? Where were they? How did we miss them?
They were there all around our churches, yet never in them. Between margaritas, they often sobered enough to answer the doorbell and answer the questions, if anyone had been there to ring and ask.
The first question in caring is not, “If you were to die, do you know for sure …” The first question is, “How are you?”
“How are you?” I ask you! I am struck dumb that no plan of salvation I know teaches us to ask three questions, only two. But those who care begin by asking, “How are you” and after “How are you?” “How are Madge and the kids?”
“Madge and the Kids?” I ask you? Simple and lovely niceties that show how much we care and, as the cliche goes, people don’t care how much we know till they know how much we care. Rebel-catching is rarely done by our clever schematics. We waste a lot of time trying to question and answer people into the Kingdom of God. Maybe we ought to try caring people into Christ.
Rebels rarely ask for rescue. There is something in them that cries out for it. Absalom would likely have it different. Do you not see that some of Absalom longs for his father? In his mind, and only in his mind, will he help seize the royal palace and kill his father. In his heart there is a yearning to embrace the very father his heart would kill. Rebels always have two forces tearing their insides out — they want to fight and they want to be loved.
Can you not remember that awful struggle of your rebel heart against God? You fought Him as He tried to lift you from your sin, yet you reached for His embrace. You did not want God, yet you wanted all of God that you could hold. “Crucify” we cry against Christ while we choke the words to silence, dumbfounded at our words.
We are the rebels and hateful lovers, the loving-haters of the great Almighty who loved us, and we have too philosophically been like Pooh walking the river bank and making conversation while Eeyore is in great trouble, floating downstream on his back:
Pooh: “Did you fall into the river, Eeyore?”
Eeyore: “Silly of me, wasn’t it?”
Pooh: “Is the river uncomfortable this morning?”
Eeyore: “Well, yes, the dampness you know.”
Pooh: “You really ought to be more careful!”
Eeyore: “Thanks for the advice.”
Pooh: “I think you’re sinking.”
Eeyore: “Pooh, if it’s not too much trouble, would you mind rescuing me?”
William M. Fletcher,
The Second Greatest Commandment
(NavPress, 1983), p. 57.
How can we know or understand the rebel’s burden of heart?
We are Christians, little Christs — little rescuers of a sinking world. How do they tell us they are sinking? How do they cry out to us? By ignoring us. By closing the door in our faces, even when we have the Four Spiritual Laws written all over them. How do they say, “Would you mind rescuing me?”
They speak their needs in hiding phrases. Listen to their crying hearts and know their self-protective rhetoric. “If you died today would you …”
“Please … please … I think my spiritual life is a very personal thing …”
“I never discuss religion!”
“I’m quite happy in the church I never go to.”
“I’m Episcopalian, you know — thoroughbred — registered, papers and all.”
“I gave my heart to Brother Moseby when I was ten. It is enough.”
“I send ten dollars to Sister Victoria of the Miracle Crusade every time her make-up gets thin.”
“I don’t believe in organized religion.”
“My father was a Baptist, my mother was a Methodist and I’m a somnambulist.”
“Yes, I understand, but would you mind if I ask you a couple of questions? Nothing hard, it will be like on ‘Jeopardy.’ Your category is ‘chest pains, I.C.U. and paramedic evangelism’.”
Still, there is something to this question and answer business. They are there longing for the encounter if we can get the questions and leave all the answers right. Fight it out with life.
And they are loved and we are their lovers — we bear the word of faith — saving faith. But hear the last thing our King whispers over the battlements as we choke down the last donut and leave the evangelism training room, “Please care. Deal gently with the young rebel, for my sake.”
Apathy is the great sin of the church.
If there was anything that Absalom prided himself on it was his afro. Naturally, his Father’s cabinet had protested. Most of the time when they passed Absalom in the corridors of the palace and Absalom said “Shalom” they said, in flawless Piel imperative, galech — which, being interpreted, is, “Get a haircut, you wild kid!” Absalom got a little tired of it all.
Rebels sometimes have a way of wearing their hair a little funny. If the straights have long hair, they get crew cuts. If the straights have crew cuts, they wear it long. The key thing is just don’t look like the establishment. Well, most of the king’s men looked like Telly Savalas, so Absalom decided to look like Michael Jackson.
It took him a long time, but sometimes as he’d gaze into a mirror he could hear them saying galech and he’d fluff his hair and think, “Oh, that I were King!” His hair got so thick that he couldn’t even get his helmet on. Rebels are not always too practical. He was a fighter, that’s all that mattered — he could assault his assailants, helmet or no! And he would win! And he would slaughter the sleezy little sabers of Zion … the imperalists of Jerusalem. The king would pay in blood when he faced Abso, the Afro — Rambo of Judah — and the Bolshevists of Beersheba.
It amazed King David how no one saw Absalom’s finer points. He was a child of God! Unaccepted, ridiculed, social outcast. Yet, his very name, Absalom, meant “Father of Peace.” And it is funny that the king never noticed how long his hair was!
My, how God loves those we feel are so very odd, so different. God loved him from the womb, and so all rebels. The king had watched the child grow and each new step had held promises of life.
Rabindrinath Tagore wrote, “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.” And even as the King, like every father with a new son, looks at his baby, his heart too hopes.
“My son will do it without stumbling where I have stumbled. He will love where I have lusted. He will serve God where I have served only myself!” And David held that little lump of life called Absalom, lifted him into the sun and cried:
You are the trip I did not take
You are the pearls I cannot buy
You are my blue Italian lake,
You are my piece of foreign sky.
(Anne Campbell)
Now the child, all bright with hope, is a lost rebel.
Still, rebels have dreams. They are beautiful dreams; plans, lifesized blueprints that always spell success. The boy turned man cannot see the truth of Freud’s dictum. He is driven by that odd “castration complex” that he will yet best his father, own more and be greater.
“Yes,” he thought one night as he fluffed his afro and inserted three rings in his right ear, “I will be greater than my father!” He looked again at his magnificent hair and thought of his father’s thinning, graying pate.
“Tomorrow we will meet and after the battle all of my dreams will be a reality,” thought Absalom.
Life sometimes knows only the management of demons. It is Joab, not Absalom, who picks the battlefield. Joab — establishment — who greases his hair down and looked like an old hair oil advertisement. Still, Joab can get his helmet on! And he does pick the battlefield … not the plains of Ephraim but the thickets of Ephraim, not at all the kind of place you should wear an afro.
So the day ends in tangled shame, and they meet; the slicked-back wethead and the afro. And Absalom is hanging by his hair in the tree. His rebellion is now dreamless. And somewhere in some old Aramaic inclusion it must say that the old warrior looks at his hated foe and says again galechl And then he listens and the very breezes whisper the old king’s words, “Care Joab … care Joab … care Joab!”
But Joab takes three spears and drives them through the heart and the rebel dies! He is dead! Caught in the tangled thickets of an existentialism he did not understand.
But the rebel is not the only thing that died … it is the major part of the old man’s heart. And as each messenger comes he asks again … “Is the young man Absalom safe?” Ahimahaz is sure they have won the battle! But that is not what the old man wants to know. The Cushite comes and tells the rebel’s final tale:
“May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise against you to do you harm be as that young man is!”
And the father weeps. Like King Lear holding the dead Cordelia: “Oh, Absalom, be not dead!”
“Please stay a little … I am old now and these same crosses spoil me …”
No, no, no … no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life
And thou not breathe at all.
Oh, Absalom, thou’lt come no more
(Lear, V, iii, lines 278-313).
Never, never, never, never, never!
And the King was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept! And as he went thus he cried,
“Oh, my son Absalom,
My son, my son Absalom
If only I had died in your place
Oh Absalom, my son, my son!”
(2 Samuel 18:33).
And thus is the unclaimed love of a father, like a great diamond, Star of India, exposed in the window of a pawnshop. A thing of great value made cheap, even lost.
It is the parable of the prodigal son dying in the pig-pen far from the father who would have embraced and loved him. And what is the sin of the elder brother in this Old Testament parable? Not bitterness but apathy.
God alone grieves the loss of rebels! Apathy — who comforts a king when a rebel dies? No one much. They saw only the rebel’s long hair and remembered his Bolshevism. But not the king! He weeps.
Apathy bakes casseroles for church fellowships while battles rage in the woods of Ephraim. And turnpike-wide, they drive forward like lemmings into hell. Churches don’t cry. Seminaries don’t cry. Book stores don’t cry. Only God cries!
For they are lost … perished and gone!
Not just lost. Not just perished in hell, but hanging in the tangled thickets of life, trying in their last moments or first to make meaning of it all. Waiting for a kinder Joab who can weep with God. We shoot our wounded, too — Joab-like — in the thickets of Ephraim.
Drugs, booze, the cancer ward, the divorce courts … The cities themselves are the thickets! And God weeps and waits, and Jesus, levitating from Olivet, cries out, “Into all the world …”
Please care … please care … please care.
Don’t take a plan of salvation … or any other plan.
Take me, the dying Christ, and get to the hurting world before Joab does! For they hang in tangled woods with tangled minds!
There was but one word which would have delighted David that day. And only one word which will delight God in our day.
“There is a Cushite at the door. He brings with him a rebel he spared in a tangled wood. The soul he brings weeps and begs for forgiveness.”
And the young Absalom would cry:
“Oh Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight! I am no more worthy.”
And the father would draw his kneeling form into an embrace and cry,
“Nonsense! Your brokenness has made you worthy! Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and shoes for his feet and a ring for his hand … For this my son was dead but is alive again! He was lost and is found.”
But unlike Jesus’ parable, the joyous father would continue,
“It is not just the found that are special. The finders, too, are special. Wait, young Cushite, … where do you go? Why do you leave this party? The lost is found.”
And the Cushite would say,
“Oh, Father, the world is a tangled, dying place. The woods are full of hanging forms. Be ready with your love … I’ll bring another! I must go now! Joab … the heartless, loveless secularian … walks the woods killing your children.”
And the Father would say,
“Yes, go … tell them all to wonder at my love.”
And Carlyle cries,
“(For) the man who cannot wonder is but a pair of spectacles behind which there is no eye.”
(Thomas Carlyle)
Tell each hurting and lost person of my extravagance:
I offer every lost one:
More sky than he can see
More seas than he can sail,
More sun than he can bear to watch
More stars than he can scale.
More breath than he can breathe,
More yield than he can sow.
More grace than he can comprehend.
More love than he can know!
(Ralph W. Seager)

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