At one point, Absalom arranged for the brutal murder of a half-brother, Amnon. He had raped Absalom’s sister, Tamar. Absalom then fled to a safe place in Syria where he remained. His father David banned him from returning to Judah.
Joab, the commander of David’s army, managed by a bit of trickery of his own, to have the ban lifted. But the king’s condition was that Absalom would never have a face-to-face with his father. Joab used his influence to lift this condition too and David and his son were reconciled.
But some time later, the Scriptures tell us, Absalom put into play an ambitious scheme to wrest the kingdom from his father. As a show of strength he first began traveling about the area in a chariot with fifty men running before him.
Then he started to ingratiate himself into the favor of people by intercepting them as they came to seek just judgments from his father. Absalom bestowed favors. Using such manipulations, across four years he drew to himself a substantial following. Then came the day when he put his scheme into play.
The image of David, the rightful king, fleeing his son’s treachery is heart-rending. He and his loyal followers left the city, moved past the Mount of Olives and descend toward the Jordan. On the farther side of the Jordan David formed his troops into companies of thousands and of hundreds and divided them under three commanders. They would all live in the open air day and night. A battle was certain.
And what did David do while he waited? He had a poet’s heart and if we take the topic at the head of psalm three at face value he turned his experience into poetry. It reads: “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.”
O Lord, how many are my foes! / How many rise up against me! / Many are saying of me, / “God will not deliver him,” (verses 1,2)
Every Christian life comes upon its moments of great testing. The crisis is especially acute when that moment involves a betrayal by someone close and dear to us – even within the family. We are nearly overwhelmed.
But you are a shield around me, O Lord; / you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. / To the Lord I cry aloud, / and he answers me from his holy hill. (verses 3 and 4)
The ESV translates verse four in the past tense: “I cried aloud.” It is as though David encourages himself by recalling God’s past deliverances. In our desperate moments we too sometimes need to reinforce our faith by remembering past moments of divine intervention.
I lie down and sleep; / I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. / I will not fear the tens of thousands / drawn up against me on every side (verses 5 and 6).
Again, the ESV puts this passage into the past tense. The psalmist is remembering past daunting moments when after recalling the faithfulness of the Lord he could lie down and sleep, waking up refreshed. If God was faithful then, he must have asked, why not now? Recalling past deliverances increases our faith for the present danger.
Arise, O Lord! / Deliver me, O my God! / Strike all my enemies on the jaw; / break the teeth of the wicked (verse 7).
At this point, the psalmist may have had a twinge of fear that God was not interested enough: “Arise O Lord.” We have been there too with such impatient thoughts. After all, a war is brewing. And thinking warring thoughts, he considers the opposing side by the analogy of fierce animals whose defeat will take strong measures.
From the Lord comes deliverance. / May your blessings be upon your people (verse 8)
The psalm ends with a strong note of confidence in God. And the focus broadens from a personal entreaty to a concern that all God’s people receive his blessing – a good ending for any time of worship.
The story of Absalom’s life is tragic. His death is tragic too. There are no traces of personal faith in his history. But the contrast with his father is instructive. David was not a perfect man. But he was a man who knew how to call on God in the overwhelming situations of life. That’s an important example for us in our desperate moments.