Reading between the lines

The past few weeks, depending on which Lectionary cycle is used, you may have heard the continuing story of David – or at least, selected highlights.
This week, as David’s son is killed in battle, to David’s distress, the need to read between the weeks’ gripping episodes is greater than ever. Why is David’s army fighting soldiers led by his son? Why do they kill the king’s son, against the king’s direct orders? Why, when his son was hellbent on destroying David and his kingdom, was he so distraught at Absolom’s death?
The last is, perhaps, the simplest to answer. Absolom was David’s son. And he was beloved.
Between the lines read out in church week by week, a whole soap opera (and not a g-rated one) has been written concerning the wives, concubines and children of David (no signs of traditional, “biblical” marriage or family structure here), and the violence done between siblings which has led to the apparently unhealable rift with which we are faced in today’s episode.
Yet David still longs and hopes for healing. He has tried to walk a line which does not condone Absolom’s more bloody behaviours, but which does not disown him. And even in the face of personal, political and total betrayal, David offers his protection to his son, telling his soldiers, “deal gently with him.” And all the people heard him.
When news comes of the king’s victory, his first thought is for his son.
He never thought he would have to do battle against his own beloved boy.
Later, as David fasts and cries for his son, his commanders take him to task for failing to celebrate the return of his surrogate sons, his soldiers, so he washes his face and pulls himself into his kingly demeanour and does his duty by them.
David, the shepherd of his people, no longer the ruddy, handsome youth, is in these days as faithful, as forgiving, as gracious as he knows how to be. He has learnt, from his own grievous errors, the dangers of using other people for his own satisfaction, visiting his lust and violence upon them. His penitence has left him changed: gentler, slower to anger and swifter to offer mercy.
Reading between the lines, we can only guess at the guilt and pain he saw in his own sons’ sins and sudden deaths. Yet his greatness is perhaps reflected, even more than in his political and strategic victories, that the lines of life have left him mostly softer around the edges rather than harder; he has allowed God to cleanse his harrowed heart, and renew a right and royal spirit within him: the spirit of a human, imperfect shepherd, who nonetheless loves each last lamb of his flock.

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One Response to Reading between the lines

  1. heidiannie says:

    This is one of my favorite stories- Hoping even in the midst of battle for redemption and renewal of relationship- David reflects the heart of our Father God. Love.

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