Bible Order: 2 Chronicles 1–5
Chronological Order: 2 Samuel 10, 1 Chronicles 19, Psalms 20
New Testament Only: Luke 24:1–12
Forgiveness Is Given, Trust Is Earned
Forgiveness and trust are two very different things. What is that old saying? “To err is human, to forgive divine.” As children of the living God, and made in His image, forgiveness is the normative attitude for us. As Christ said when Peter asked if he should forgive someone who sins against him as many as seven times:
Matthew 18:22 ESV
“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
Christ goes on to tell a parable of a man who has been forgiven his debt who then condemns a man who is in his debt. It doesn’t end well for that man. The idea being communicated is that God has forgiven you your sins so you should forgive others theirs.
Having accepted Christ we are to reflect His grace. We are not, however, to be fools. Forgiveness is freely given, trust is earned. Unfortunately our desire for reconciliation and peace can cause us to overlook the fact that we cannot judge the intentions of another’s heart. One can appear repentant and remorseful while actually harboring evil intentions. This is the case in today’s reading.
Absalom desires reconciliation with David for his own evil purposes. Evil purposes would be consistent with behavior Absalom has demonstrated in the past. Earlier Absalom was understandably upset by the rape of his sister by his brother. Absalom waited two years, until his brother’s guard was down, before arranging his murder.
Joab eventually arranged a partial reconciliation between David and Absalom in that David agreed to allow Absalom to live in Jerusalem though he was not to be allowed in to the kings presence. Having received a measure of forgiveness is Absalom a changed man? No he is not and we do not have to wait until the Bible shows us his manipulations to overthrow David to know this. Absalom wanted Joab to come speak with him on the subject of reconciliation with the king. Joab won’t come so what does Absalom do? He orders his servants to burn Joab’s field knowing this will cause Joab to come to him.
Here is the same old, unrepentant Absalom. He is a manipulator that has absolutely no regard or respect for other human beings. He is not concerned that burning Joab’s field will cause Joab loss and difficulty. He only sees Joab’s property as a means of manipulation toward his ultimate goal. This is the same behavior we saw in the murder of Amnon. Is it possible that David was unaware of this incident prior to full reconciliation with Absalom?
I doubt it. Even so, it is clear to anyone wishing to observe that Absalom is not a changed man. It is understandable why David forgave his son. The question is why did he trust him? The behavior of his son warranted observation. He had proven himself untrustworthy. David so desired reconciliation with his son that he overlooked his son’s flawed character. We see this today in modern politics. We so much want to believe the lovely words of our candidates that we dismiss the warning signs that tell us they are of questionable character.
I remember years ago hearing political talking heads tell us that character flaws exhibited in a person’s “personal life” had no connection with that person’s performance in their “Public life”. Really? If a man who stood up before God and a congregation of family and friends to make a solemn vow of fidelity through the bonds of holy matrimony will break that vow, commit adultery and lie to those same people, how can I possibly believe that his commitments to me will be taken any more seriously?
Are we really a compilation of people? Are we a family man at times, an individual at times, an employee at times, a private man at times, and a public man at others? No. We are all those things at the same time and more. The same guy that kisses his children good night, and helps an old lady across the street, is the same guy that gets on the computer to view porn or lies to the boss, or keeps the extra change the cashier accidentally gave him; same guy, same character.
A man can change. A man can be forgiven. A man can, over time, earn back trust. A man cannot expect to be trusted until he has proven time and again he is in fact trustworthy. In fact, the process of earning trust is how one becomes trustworthy. If an untrustworthy person is not held to a requirement to earn trust how will he become trustworthy? Giving forgiveness and unearned trust can be tragic for the untrustworthy person as well as the one giving the unearned trust.
Just as we want to believe untrustworthy politicians, David wants to believe his untrustworthy son. He gave unearned trust. He was foolish and his foolishness cost him, his family, and his nation. David, as he flees the coming army Absalom has put together to dethrone him, has a sense of responsibility for the tragedy befalling him. Remember that David’s sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah led to Nathan informing David that there would be trouble in his house. I wonder if his reckless trust of Absalom comes from this same sense of responsibility.
Did David feel responsible for the action of Absalom in murdering his brother? If so this sense of responsibility is misplaced. David is responsible in the larger sense but he is not responsible for the individual actions of others. David may have deserved the trouble he experienced but that didn’t mean he needed to accept responsibility for the bad behavior of others. To do so is to cause greater harm for all involved. Absalom was responsible for his actions and David should have required a steady demonstration of a changed heart before leaving him free to cause mischief.
David has compounded his trouble by accepting too much responsibility. Brothers, our sense of guilt for what we have done is always deserved. We cannot, however, allow our failures to keep us from living up to our responsibilities. When my child sins in some area in which I too struggle, I must still correct her behavior for her sake. I must master my own sinfulness through the power of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, but as God’s steward of that child I must also correct her behavior even if it makes me feel like a hypocrite. My sin has earned me feelings of guilt and hypocrisy but it has not relieved me of my responsibility to God and my child.
If my child continues in her sin and she tearfully asks for forgiveness, I will forgive her; but if she has been drinking and driving I will not be giving her the keys to the car until she has demonstrated, over a significant period of time, that she is a changed person. I will hold her to earning back enough trust to drive my car even if I had a similar problem when I was her age or last week. My actions should not be driven by making myself feel better and easing my sense of guilt but by what is best for her.
The struggles for David are far from over. In a sense they will not be over until he is with the Lord. I pray we will all learn from the hard, hard lessons of David. That is why God gave them to us in His holy Word.
Have a blessed day!
Your brother and servant in Christ,
Dying to self, living to serve!
(Originally posted 4/11/10)