2 Samuel 18:33
And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom…
I. FOR EVEN A FOND PARENT, IT IS VERY WEAK TO GRIEVE MORE FOR A LOSS THAN FOE THE CRIME WHICH BROUGHT IT ON. This wild outcry of David is essentially mistaken in its sentiment. That lie was patient was evident enough; but that he saw God's hand avenging wrongs done against God, and launching the retributions of the Divine law upon an offender who had defied God, nowhere appears. The utterance of grief he makes assumes only soreness and pain. Absalom was his favourite; this downfall had come suddenly; the catastrophe was remediless. His boy had died in the act of rebellion against his father and his king. But not even a word of sorrow or shame or humiliation passes his lips. Sometimes mourning reaches so supreme a height of personal grief as that it is mere egotism and tends towards sheer selfishness.
II. IT IS BETTER TO LIVE HONESTLY FOR ONE'S CHILDREN THAN JUST TO WISH TO DIE FOR THEM WHEN THEIR RETRIBUTION COMES. The fact is, we miss the proper feelings of the occasion here in David's form of expression. His language is extravagant; it was very rough to tell those soldiers, who had imperilled their lives again and again that clay to sustain his kingdom, that he wished a gracious providence had taken his life instead of that of the chief rebel they had fought. Think how almost brutal it was to say that he would have died happy if only Absalom were alive again! With that creature for a king, what would have become of the kingdom? A mere sense of personal bereavement moved him. He became unmanly, unknightly, and inconsiderate. But our main trouble must be found with the absence of every sort and measure of self-examination in David; he sends not one glance of his eye backwards over those vast mistakes of the past which he had committed in rearing that child. He makes no allusion to an offended God, except to point his reckless asseveration with the mention of his name. One would think that the king must have had, even in these successes, some misgiving now and then; something like those thoughtful acknowledgments which history records in the dying utterance of William the Conqueror: "Although human ambition rejoices in such triumphs, I am nevertheless seized with an unquiet terror when I think that, in all these actions of mine, cruelty marched with boldness." We wish David had lived always for Absalom's instruction and mourned a little less for his defeat.
III. PUBLIC DUTIES SHOULD CHECK THE INDULGENCE OF NOISY PERSONAL GRIEFS. We all admit that the human feeling of the king in an instance so severe is pathetic and poetic. But at that time an awful field of blood was wild with cries of desperate pain from the dying and around the dead. Twenty thousand of Israel's loyal soldiers lay on the plain of battle; and all that David seemed to care about it was that his boy Absalom was killed likewise. Once we saw in the palace at Amsterdam a bas-relief representing the sternness of the ancient Brutus. Everybody recalls the classic story of the Roman ruler whose two sons, Titus and Tiberius, were among the conspirators that planned the overturning of the government. He sat in judgment upon the enemies that had threatened the realm; or did he hesitate to do the justice they deserved upon all alike. He caused those two sons "to be scourged with rods, in accordance with the law, and then beheaded by the lictors in the forum, and he neither turned aside his eyes nor shed any tears over them, for they had been false unto their country and had offended against the law." And then the well-known dictum of his was pronounced, which these patriotic Dutchmen have perpetuated in their king's judgment hall: "A man may have many more children, but never can have but one country, even that which gave him birth." David certainly had very little of that firm justice which made Lucius Junius Brutus historic.
IV. THE DEATH OF AN INFANT CHILD MAY QUITE POSSIBLY BECOME A GREATER COMFORT TO ITS PARENTS THAN THE REBELLIOUS LIFE OF ANOTHER CHILD WHO GROWS UP TO BE A PAIN AND A SHAME FOR EVER. The counsel was long ago given to bereaved Christians by one who understood what it was to be in mourning: "Do not ask that the enveloping cloud be ever entirely taken up from your home; it never will be; but it may become so luminously transparent that you can see bright stars through it." When David's little child in earlier times was stricken with death, he fell down heavily sorrowing over the affliction before the Lord; but he said, in wise and strong confidence of a submissive faith, "I shall go to him, but he will not return to me." But now he could only pour out hopeless wails of grief; for Absalom appeared to have no future in which he could expect or in which he wished to share. Many of us have seen in Westminster Abbey a beautiful alabaster cradle, with an infant's face just showing itself from beneath a coverlet wrought in delicate stone apparently spread over the figure. It is the tomb, as the inscription relates, of Sophia, daughter of James I., who died when only three days old, in 1607, and to that brief record is added this verse for an epitaph:
"When the archangel's trump shall blow, and souls to bodies join,
Millions will wish their lives below had been as short as thine."
V. THERE IS A SAD MEANING IN THE WORDS "TOO LATE." Most of us wish we could live parts of our lives over again, to make some corrections. Especially we think of the example we set or the words we speak or the deeds we do in the presence of our intimates, perhaps even of our children. David does not help the case much with any behaviour of his in this story. But we begin to feel, I am sure, that his wrong-doing had something to do in the formation of Absalom's character and in the fixing of Absalom's doom. For we carry in mind the truth of the old couplet:
"Who saws thro' a trunk, the' he leaves the tree up in the forest.
When the wind casts it down, is not his the hand that smote it?"
But there comes a moment in which one feels that all regrets arrive too late for any good to come forth from them: no hope now!
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!