2 Samuel 18 is one of the most tragic chapters of the Bible as it graphically narrates the gruesome death of King David’s rebellious son, Absalom.
However, as with every Old Testament chapter, we must ask, “What does this reveal about God?” and even more specifically, “What does this reveal about the coming Savior?” These questions have additional focus in this case as the New Testament describes David as “the man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). So what does David reveal about God’s own heart in this chapter?
1. Don’t let him die
Despite all the agonizing pain that Absalom had caused David, he begged his generals, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” He did not want him to die or even to suffer rough treatment at the hands of his soldiers. Similar to the God he mirrored, David had no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather wished that Absalom would turn from his ways and live (Ezek. 18:23).
2. He deserved to die
The previous chapters make clear that Absalom deserved to die for his wicked and ungrateful rebellion against David, despite all the “second chances” David gave him. Even the manner of his death, being hung by his haughty head and stabbed through his hard heart remind us that he merited the ultimate penalty of execution.
3. I wish he hadn’t died
David’s public grief upon hearing about Absalom’s death was so great that the army had to sneak quietly back into the city in shame rather than openly and in triumph.
“My son, my son, my son, my son, my son!” Yes, five times in one verse! This was not just understandable natural grief. This was spiritual grief as David wept over the lost spiritual condition in which Absalom entered eternity and went to the judgment. David opens a window into the heart of God who said: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).
4. I wish I’d died in his place
But David goes even further: “If only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” This remarkable substitutionary instinct, or desire, is also found in Moses (Ex. 32:32) and the Apostle Paul (Rom 9:3). However, no ordinary human being can fulfill or accomplish this desire.
But God can.
And God did.
He did not just wring his hands and say, “I wish I could die in your place,” He comes to sinners in the Gospel and says, “I did die in your place.”
Moses, David, and Paul pull back the curtain a little and let us catch a glimpse of the substitutionary instinct that is embedded in the heart of God. But Jesus rips the curtain from top to bottom and reveals the blazing love of the God who dies for His rebellious people; the just for the unjust, the holy for the unholy, the good for the evil, the sinless for the sinful.
There’s hope for Absaloms everywhere.