Oh My Son!

The cry of the heart of the man of God is not only a cry for a cause, but also a cry of pain and  a cry of hope in the midst of pain. And so we read from the Word of God:

2 Samuel 18.332 amuel 23.5; John 16.33

After the rebellion of his third son Absalom, David is told that his son has been killed in  battle at Ephraim Wood. And thus, we read these words, which are the inerrant, infallible Word of the living God for us tonight:

And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Samuel 18.33

And I add to these words, the final cry of David, and his last words as he lay dying:

“For does not my house stand so with God?

For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,

ordered in all things and secure.

For will he not cause to prosper

all my help and my desire? 2 Samuel 23.5

Finally, as Christ faced the cross, he gave divine words of healing to his disciples that we claim tonight as well:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16.33

Between the bitter cry of “Oh my son” and the believing confession of “he has made with me an everlasting covenant” lies the truth of our own pain and our own hope as men of God. Will you pray with me?

Dear Lord, tonight, we have heard the cry of courage from David. Now we hear the cry of pain. How we are reminded that You O Christ cried out from the Cross to Your Father and Ours. How we remember and cherish the thought that You came to live as a man to know our pains, and to not only identify with us, but die for us on the Cross. Come now, we pray, and minister to these men tonight, to these boys, to these young men. Come O Christ and turn out cry of pain to a prayer of dependence and in time to a cry of praise. In Your name, O Christ, I pray. Amen.

Introduction

I know I am in Mississippi and I know that the vote for most famous author for the state might be William Faulkner. But having read Faulkner, I must say that William Faulkner is an acquired taste. Here is what I mean.

Dr. Thomas N. Walters, a professor of English at North Carolina State University, might have put it best when he wrote:

“All too often Faulkner’s name merely evokes in high school students visions of confused sentence structure, depraved characters, despairing darkness, grotesqueness, etc. On the other hand, his warm, generous characters, his broodingly loving descriptions of the land, his storytelling ability, and above all, his humor are too often overlooked.”[1]

Now you may be wondering why I bring up Faulkner. Here is why. I always try to read an author whose works have sought to explore the past, the people and the soul of the place where I preach. I read Thomas Wolfe for North Carolina. I read Steinbeck before I go to Monterey or when even Oklahoma. I read Walker Percy about Louisiana. But I read Faulkner on Mississippi. While he can be difficult he also used your state to explore the human condition. And Faulkner once wrote,

There is no such thing as was — only is. If was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow.“[2]

Now that may be as enigmatic or complex as some of his novels, but I like the statement. It gets at what we are dealing with tonight. William Faulkner was saying that there is no “was” in terms of making mistakes and enduring heartache. It is always in the present state. “There is nothing new under the sun” is another way to put it and in speaking of the pain of fathers and men in general, this is true. The characters and their sins and their pain, as well as their hope, is not just the thing of the past. It is now. No “was.” Just “is.” The great Oxford, Mississippi author wrote a book based on the Biblical story that we are reading tonight. In his story, Absalom, Absalom! (1936)[3], (and I happen to own a first edition of this novel) Faulkner tells an extraordinarily complex tale of a poor man from Virginia, Thomas Sutpen, who marries a wealthy woman from Mississippi. The backdrop of Mississippi and the Civil War and fortunes won and lost, sin, shame, and four generations of heartache and degradation Faulkner tells a complex tale about the legacy of this dysfunctional family. Through these generations of dysfunction Faulkner seems to be telling the story of the complicated life of the South that he sought to understand himself. His title of course refers to the Biblical story we know. The Biblical story of David’s family life, which led to the horrible scene with Absalom, may not be quite as complex as Faulkner’s book. But it is close: a complex story, despairing darkness, but also hope.

Absalom was the third son of King David. David had many wives, but this son came from his marriage to the daughter of the King of Geshur. To get at just how complex the situation was, we need to read about the wives and children of David from 1 Chronicles 3:

“These are the sons of David who were born to him in Hebron: the firstborn, Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelite; the second, Daniel, by Abigail the Carmelite, the third, Absalom, whose mother was Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah, by Abital; the sixth, Ithream, by his wife Eglah;  six were born to him in Hebron, where he reigned for seven years and six months. And he reigned thirty-three years in Jerusalem. These were born to him in Jerusalem: Shimea, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon, four by Bath-shua, the daughter of Ammiel; then Ibhar, Elishama, Eliphelet, 6 Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet, nine. 8 All these were David’s sons, besides the sons of the concubines, and Tamar was their sister” (1 Chronicles 3.1-9).[4]

This is where Faulkner got his complex stories! Well, this third son was called the most handsome lad in the whole kingdom (2 Samuel 14.25). But David’s sin of taking wives, shown in these passages, not to mention the sin of his life with the murderous plot to kill his loyal military leader in order to marry Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, led to the fulfillment of God’s Word that violence would not leave David’s house, And indeed, Amnon, David’s eldest son, fell into sin as he raped Tamar, the full sister of Absalom. David’s negligence in doing nothing in regards to this sin by his eldest son enraged the third son. So Absalom did something. He murdered Amnon to avenge his sister’s shame. He was banished from Israel to live with his maternal grandfather in Geshur. After three years, the boy is brought back home, but it takes another two years for Absalom to face his father. But the root of bitterness in Absalom strangles his respect for his father. With his superstar status, his good looks, and charismatic persona, and desiring his own kingdom, Absalom mounts a popular rebellion against his father. Ironically, David began his career by running from King Saul and finds himself again on the run, this time from his own son. But the tragedy comes to a climax with the battle of Ephraim Wood. There, west of the Jordan, Absalom’s army is decimated, and its leader, known for his good looks and long, flowing locks, is killed as his hair is caught in a low handing limb. The prince hung there alive until Joab killed him. David had warned them to deal gently with the lad. But his army had little patience for this rebel. And so he is told. And thus we hear the cry of the heart of this man of God:

“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2Samuel 18.33

William S. Plumer, a very worthy 19th century American pastor, took this cry and applied it to the fathers and mothers in his congregation and wrote:

“Beware how you teach and guide and act and speak in regard to your child, lest by God’s judgment he die in his sins, and you, like David, cry when it is too late: ‘O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”[5]

There is great Biblical warning here. And we need to hear it as men of God. But my goal in preaching this message is not only to have you hear the warning, but find the way, the way to hope and healing. So I want to divide this message into two parts that I find in this passage: God Knows the Pain of a Broken Man and God Gives His Promise to the Believing Man.

1.  God Knows the Pain of a Broken Man

I begin again with Faulkner’s observation that not much changes in terms of sorrow in this life. What happened to David might not happen exactly to us, though I suspect there are those here tonight who have deep wounds that were touched by the mere reading of the story.

Patrick Morley wrote[6] that he has observed that men are not doing well in our society. He found that

Men are tired. They are exhausted from the pace of life, emotionally, physically, relationally, morally and financially. Men are being called upon to spend quality time with the wife, children, work harder at the office or plant, serve God in their church, be a good citizen and a good neighbor, keep your yard clean, have a satisfying career and spend time with God and alone. It is tiring just reading what we are expected to do!

Men feel that something isn’t right.. There is a growing sense of despondency and clinical depression among men. Where our fathers could fight a war, build a suburban dream and create the American dream, we are not even sure what our roles are in the post feminine-revolution. What is a man? Morley also has found that

Men who are Christian are often committed to values but not Christ. Men are giving time and energy to programs and ministries on boards, committees, and even mission trips, but their understanding of Jesus Christ alive within them is often lacking.

And thus these men are fathers and husbands and as they struggle with these issues their families flounder. And sometimes they hit the shoals and get wrecked by the temptations of this present evil age. We think instantly, and sadly, of Tiger Woods or even our former president Bill Clinton, and the pain that can come because of sins of the husband or the father. Because we are the heads of our homes, our sins infect all of the members of our household in a deep and profound way. And at sometime, we are left crying the cry of David over Absalom.

The Bible does not hide the pain of David. The Bible does not disclose the source of his pain. But the Word of God does not say more about it than that. There is no divine piling on. It is enough that he sinned, he was warned of the consequences of such sin, and those horrible consequences came. But David is treated as a Biblical hero by Jesus and by others in the New Testament. He is remembered for His faithfulness. But that faithfulness must be seen in the context of his pain and brokenness in this cry from his hear.

There are three parts to this cry that I want us to consider.

In David’s cry there is a cry of searing loss.

He lost his boy. And here tonight there are men whose hearts are hurting because of the loss of a son or daughter through death. It doesn’t have to be the kind of loss that David encountered for us to cry out to God in pain. Just last week, our community was faced with the loss of a young woman who was the daughter of faithful missionaries to Taiwan. Her father grieved and cried out to God for the loss of his beautiful daughter. I know that there are those here tonight whose hearts are breaking from the loss of someone in your family.  Maybe that loss is through death. Maybe that loss is through the pain of a prodigal child. Maybe that loss is through distance. But God is with you. He will never leave your nor forsake you. And the very thing that causes you to cry out to God is the thing that brings you close to the heart of God. Hear not only the cry of David in loss, but in seeking God in the midst of loss in Psalm 34:

“When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.  The LORD is near to  the brokenhearted and saves  the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psalms 34.17).

Let this Word bring a comfort to your cries. The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not deny our crosses but transforms them, sanctifies our sorrows so that we are comforted by the Lord in the very thing that hurts us.

Let us also see:

In David’s cry there is a cry of mournful regret.

David cries the cry of a man who wishes that he could go back and change the clock. If only he had not taken more than one wife! If only he had repented of that, and sought to bring peace to his family! If only he had not plotted the murder of Uriah! If only he had intervened, as a parent, to deal with the horrible situation with Tamar and Amnon and to quite the heart of Absalom.

“If only, if only…” They are the saddest words in the English language.

If I could pastorally go to each of you tonight, I would hear some, “If only…”If only I had reared my children in the faith…” “If only my walk would have matched my talk, then maybe…” “If only I would have seen the horrible consequences of that one moment of flirtation…”

But I thank God that Brit Hume was right when he said that only the Christian religion offers redemption. He  took a lot of heat for saying that, but that commentator of the news was a good Biblical commentator at that point! For in Jesus Christ there is hope. You do not have to live in the “if only” of life. You are not a victim but a victor in Christ. True: there are consequences, but there is forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

I once heard Billy Graham on Larry King Live. He was asked if he had any regrets in life. I wonder if Larry King thought that Billy Graham would say, “No, I have lived for the Lord and I have no regrets.” In fact, the guest, another non-Christian religious leader who was on the panel with Billy Graham was asked the same question and he had said that he had none. But Billy Graham said that he had many. He was a sinner and thus regretted his  sins and how they had hurt himself but especially how they had hurt others. In fact, he said he most regretted the time away from his children. But he said that he had to leave his regrets with Christ who not only forgives but renews.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Joel 2.25:

I will restore to you the years

that the swarming locust has eaten,

the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,

my great army, which I sent among you. Joel 2.25

I thank God that Christ has come to take the “if onlys” of our lives and change them to “I will restore.” I thank God that your regrets can be taken and left at the Cross. There are some of you tonight who need to do that now.

In David’s cry there is a cry of longing

David would have preferred that he had died not his son. We as men know that we like to fix things. We would prefer that any pain in our children’s’ lives come to us. This is a cry of longing.

It was a cry that we must take to David’s greater Son, Jesus who also cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It was a cry that Christ heard, for “The righteous cry out and He hears them and delivers them.” It was a cry that the last book of the Old Testament tells us is answered by Jesus Christ. For we read of One coming who will bind up the pain of fathers and the generations after them:

And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers…” Malachi 4.6a

I believe that even in this mournful cry of David we have Gospel hope. Listen to Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse and let it seep in to your soul:

“But while we learn from this example to watch and pray against sinful indulgence, or neglect of our children, may we not, in David, perceive a shadow of the Saviour’s love, who wept over, prayed for, and even suffered death for mankind, though vile rebels and enemies.”[7]

Tonight, my beloved in Christ, let your longing be quieted by our weeping Lord who stands in your place, who forgives all who come to him, and who restores the lost causes of men through the Cross.

And this leads us from Pain to the Promise, for…

2.  God Gives His Promise to the Believing Man.

David goes from a cry of pain over his son, to looking forward to His greater Son. And we read the final words of David:

“For does not my house stand so with God?

For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,

ordered in all things and secure.

For will he not cause to prosper

all my help and my desire? 2Samuel 23.5

This is a promise that David’s house, ruined by his sin would be restored by God’s covenant promises. He recognizes that God was at work even in his pain and his brokenness to bring about His purposes. David’s life was no lost cause. And thus we must depart from Faulkner’s dark and complicated stories of family dysfunction to the sunlit uplands of God’s promise to David. Through David would come Jesus Christ.

I tell you a story. I tell you that many years ago I was a prodigal child. I was an orphan. I had no mother or father. My Aunt Eva reared me just a few miles across the border from this state. And my life as a child was as complicated, it seems, as a Faulkner novel. Sin and shame brought me into this world. And the great questions of life haunted me. Though reared by a godly woman, I took my questions and left home. On my journey, I went far from God. In those days I lost much, including three deaf children. I would not see those children for many years. I do not need to share the sordid details of what brought that about, but it cut my soul to the quick. I was a broken  man in every way. When I married my Mae, she began to pray and not pray but went back to college in Kansas to get a degree in deaf communication. She graduated with highest honors. After that she would become the interpreter for Dr. D. James Kennedy on the Coral Ridge Hour. But that is not why she continued to sign. My wife believed that one day I would be reunited with those children and she would be there to “sign” our reunion. My Aunt Eva believed even as she aged into her 90s. My pastor, Robert Baxter of Olathe, Kansas, also believed and he prayed every day. When John Michael was born, we were greatly blessed. But we continued to pray to see these children again. I was such a broken man, that I would often run away in public places where children were—run away to weep—because I could not stand the pain of seeing little ones, knowing that there were children out there that I could not see. I cried the cry of loss, of regret and of longing. I cried the cry of David in my own way. Indeed, as I had become a follower of Jesus, I knew I had to take this pain to Christ and I did. I set up an appointment with Christ to go to Him every Friday night and lay my burdens before Him. I cried out and I claimed His promises to me. God gave me faith for I lacked any in myself. And my faith was emboldened by my wife and Aunt Eva and Pastor Bob. Then, when my Aunt died, a man came up to me in the funeral home and told me that he knew where those children were. To make a long, complex, Faulkner-like story a little shorter, I want to tell you that Mae signed a reunion with each of those children at Gallaudet University. And God brought reunion. And Pastor Bob praised the Lord for answered prayer. And my wife praised the Lord. And Aunt Eva was in heaven, her prayers answered as she worshipped Christ face to face. So God is restoring the years the locusts ate. My life is not perfect. But my Savior is taking the broken pieces and fashioning a new man in Christ. He is still at work. But I have found that the very thing that caused me to cry out in pain caused me to cry out the promises of God and to cling to Calvary in the midst of the storms of life.

Like David you and I can claim the covenant promises of God. Our pain is shaped by His promises to become prayer. And our prayers become providence. And providence leads to praise.

Let me ask you now: where does this passage touch you the most? Where is the pain? Is it a wife who left you? Is it indeed a prodigal son? Is it your own sin or a sin committed against you? Every man has pain. But every believer has a promise—a promise of a Redeemer.

God the Father had to give up His only Son to win back His Creation. But in the shame and the pain of the Cross, in the stark, cold, dark stillness of the Tomb, burst forth the Promise of new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was what David looked to. This was the covenant blessing he sought as he left this world. And this is the covenant blessing we seek tonight in our lives.

He is alive. And everything has changed. Do not leave here tonight with the darkness of Faulkner, but having heard this sermon, with the joy of the hymnist who wrote “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest Name I Know:”

“All my life was wrecked by sin and strife,

discord filled my heart with pain;

Jesus swept across the broken strings,

stirred the slumbering chords again.”[8]

David cried out against all loss, regret and longing, even as death came to his door,

“For He has made with me an everylasting covenant.”

Will you now claim this covenant of grace in David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ, the living God who creates all things anew? Will you now reicive Him by faith for the first time?  Or maybe for this time?

Hear Your Savior speak to you tonight:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33).

Let us cry out to God from hearts of faith so that the words, “Oh my son…” are now a creed of covenant hope because of the life and death of the Son of God.

Bibliography

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York,: Random House, 1936.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Condensed) 7.1. Accordance Bible Software.

Morley, Patrick M. Pastoring Men : What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why It Matters Now More Than Ever. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009.

Walers, Thomas N. “On Teaching William Faulkner’s “Was”.” The English Journal 55, no. 2 (1966): 182-188.


Footnotes

[1] Thomas N. Walers, “On Teaching William Faulkner’s “Was”,” The English Journal 55, no. 2 (1966).

[2] As quoted in The Quotable Faulkner (http://www.semo.edu/cfs/faulkneria/quotes.htm, accessed on January 25, 2010).

[3] William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (New York,: Random House, 1936).

[4] See also 2 Samuel 3.3.

[5] See A Sad History of David’s Child, How Absalom ended up a disgrace to his father. A Sad But Instructive History by Rev. William S. Plumer,

(http://www.apuritansmind.com/TheChristianFamily/PlumerChristopherSadHistory.htm), accessed on January 25, 2010.

[6] Patrick M. Morley, Pastoring Men : What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why It Matters Now More Than Ever (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009).

[7] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Condensed) Ver. 7.1 (Accordance Bible Software), 2 Samuel 18.33.

[8] Words and music by Luther B. Bridges Tune name: SWEETEST NAME (http://www.hymnsite.com/lection/980524.htm), accessed January 25, 2010.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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