Faithlessness and Murder Are Chronic Human Failings
King David had a son, Absalom. Absalom was physically the most attractive man in Israel, without a single blemish anywhere on his entire body (2 Samuel 14:25). His heart, however, was a different story.
Absalom hated his older half-brother Amnon because he had violated Absalom’s sister, Tamar. Absalom allowed his hatred to simmer, plotting against his brother, patiently waiting for the moment to kill him.
His opportunity came two years later. After harvesting the wool from his sheep, Absalom planned a celebration party and deceived his father into sending Amnon to participate. While David questioned Absalom’s motives, Amnon came suspecting nothing. He ate and drank, apparently enjoyed the party, and then he died when Absalom ordered his men to strike him down.
Brother-slayer had betrayed his father’s confidence. Faithless murderer; his guilt lay heavy on his own head. Ironically, having committed the sin of Cain, he awarded himself Cain’s punishment, banishment, as he fled Israel for three years.
His exile was fully deserved, yet unwanted. Absalom longed to return. His friend, Joab, provoked David’s conscience by reminding him that God “devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him” (2 Samuel 14:14). So after three years, David allowed himself to be maneuvered into letting his son’s murderer, the one who had broken faith with him, return.
Why did David allow him to come back, unpunished? Perhaps he saw too much of himself; a self he didn’t like. It’s hard to mete out justice to someone who does the same things you have done. Did he feel again the weight of his own faith-breaking when he stole the wife of one of his most famous soldiers? Did he see a reflection of his own hatred mirrored when he had had the same soldier murdered? Like father, like son.
Subtract the details and you’re left with the same dreary story that stretches back to the dawn of the human race. Adam broke faith with his father, God, unleashing chaos on his relationships. Then Adam’s son Cain broke faith with his father and destroyed his family, murdering Abel, his father’s son. And so down through the ages the same unimaginative cycle repeated itself; each generation breaking faith with God and their ancestors, then hating, even destroying their brothers.
Now Jesus’ selection of murder and adultery in Matthew 5:21-24, 27-28 are not as random as they might at first appear. By showing us that all hatred is rooted in a murdering heart and that all acts of faithlessness are rooted in an adulterous heart, Jesus helps us see how each and every one of us carries the same affliction as our earliest ancestors. Sin and rebellion are nothing new. Absalom was nothing new.
Faithlessness and Murder Have to Be Paid For
Absalom returned from his exile, but in his arrogance decided he wanted his father’s throne. Through treachery and deceit he won over the hearts of Israel—who now demonstrated their own faithlessness as they switched their allegiance from the one who’d won victories for them and given them peace, to his double-crossing son. Within a few short years Absalom would declare himself king and be welcomed by the nation. He usurped the throne, giving his father a choice: flee into exile or face being killed.
It was a short-lived rebellion that Absalom paid for with his life. The armed forces that stayed loyal to David engaged and routed Absalom’s army. At the battle Absalom was riding his mule when his hair got tangled in a tree, leaving him caught in the branches as the mule rode off. He was found by David’s men and as he dangled there, hung between heaven and earth, his former friend Joab betrayed the betrayer by driving three javelins through his heart. They then took him down, threw him into a pit and piled rocks up over him.
You would think David would be relieved. He wasn’t. He was distraught. He had begged his army and officers, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake” (2 Samuel 18:5). And that was his mistake. David’s sake wasn’t good enough. David, being also a faith-breaking brother-hater, was no better than his son. His sake, therefore, could not justify mercy.
His sake was especially insufficient in light of God’s clear command from Numbers 35:33 that atonement for blood wrongly spilled must be made by the blood of the one who spilled it. David could not atone for Absalom because he was guilty of his own sins, not of Absalom’s.
Nor, however, could Absalom fully atone for his own sin since his blood was tainted, coming as it did from his faithless hatred. He was guilty and he died for his guilt, but he died also in his guilt.
Faithful Love Pardons Faithless Murder
How long did it take for Jesus as He was growing up to see the shadow of the cross looming over His shoulder as he read this passage? Absalom: son of the king, without blemish or defect, hung in a tree, fixed between heaven and earth, surrounded by enemies, betrayed by his former friend, spears piercing his side, dying on account of faithless murder, thrown into a pit afterward covered with rocks.
Some passages that foreshadow Christ and His death are hope-filled like Daniel 6. There an innocent man is plotted against by his enemies who work to destroy his life, and yet, in the end he’s raised from certain death and triumphs over all those who opposed him.
Some passages, however, like Absalom, are disturbing. The son of the king would die for real guilt and be entombed with no resurrection ending. What was that like to read? To study? To meditate upon? To anticipate?
The disciples couldn’t handle it. Jesus told them at least three distinct times what was going to happen to him and they didn’t get it (Mark 8:32, Luke 9:44–45, Mark 10:35–37). But Jesus did. He knew. He knew he was really going to die and he was going to do so bearing sin that was really attached to him. He was going to be really guilty.
It was no surprise then to him when Pilate gave the crowd a chance to release him or Barabbas. They chose Barabbas, who was convicted—guilty—of insurrection and murder (Luke 23:18). Insurrection: attempted overthrow of the legitimate, ruling authority—in short: faithless and disloyal. Murder: hatred of his fellow human being taken to its ultimate conclusion of removing someone permanently from his presence.
The same old familiar sins; humanity’s hallmarks. Not really a surprise that the crowd would prefer Barabbas to the One who alone had only ever maintained steadfast love and faithfulness with God and his fellow humans. They chose one of their own over their God, again. They preferred the death of an innocent man, taking their turn at expressing their faithless, murdering hearts. Their cries for blood further underlined what Jesus would be dying for as He hung on a tree, spear through His side then thrown into a stone-encased tomb.
And so Absalom taught Him He would die, with our sin and guilt so firmly attached to Him that it was right for Him to have to cleanse our evil with His blood. Despite having lived a faithful, loving life, He died guilty.
And yet because He brought no sin of His own before ours was attached to Him, His blood could be used for others. That means, unlike David, He could say, “Father forgive them”—“Father, be gentle with them for my sake”—and His sake would be enough to seal His plea. We would get forgiveness.
He would pay what we owe because He made the debt His and we would get gentle treatment on account of His goodness.
Join the Conversation
How has Christ’s faithful, loving work given you the courage to look recently at your faithless hatred? How has His faithfulness moved you away from hatred to worship to love?