After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. 2 And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” 3 Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4 Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” 5 And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel. 7 And at the end of four years Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron. 8 For your servant vowed a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram, saying, ‘If the Lord will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to the Lord.’” 9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron. 10 But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, ‘Absalom is king at Hebron!’” 11 With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem who were invited guests, and they went in their innocence and knew nothing. 12 And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counselor, from his city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing. 13 And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” 14 Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” 15 And the king's servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.”
The Ninth and Tenth Commandments say do not covet (have an extraordinary longing for something or someone that isn’t meant to be yours, that means). The Ninth Commandment is specifically about property.
We often say that the Tenth Commandment is about service: You shall not covet your neighbor‘s wife, nor his man servant, nor his maid servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his. It’s about loyalty and honor. It says to us: if someone owes their loyalty and honor and love to someone else, we have no business longing for it, and potentially trying to take it for ourselves. This is about luring someone away from where they should be. And we would even say, from where God would have them be (we think of King David coveting from his balcony, and then stealing away the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and all of the damage that that caused). The same sort of sin - of stealing the loyalty that someone else is owed - gets turned on David in our text for today.
Absalom (David’s son), had been banished from Jerusalem because he had plotted, and murdered his own brother (who, in a way, according to human standards, had it coming), but nevertheless…
* After some conniving, Absalom got himself restored to Jerusalem, though, still away from the presence of King.
* After more conniving, and a particularly dastardly deed of intimidation, Absalom got himself restored to the presence of the king.
But Absalom didn’t have faithful reconciliation with his father in mind. Shortly thereafter come the events of our text. Absalom sneakily said to the king’s people, the king doesn’t really care about you and your concerns. I do. I would give you a better deal. You’re thinking to yourselves, that sounds like our political campaigns. Yes, but there weren’t supposed to be any campaigns then. God had anointed a king over Israel. That wasn’t negotiable.
There is an interesting contrast, I think, between
Jesus in our Gospel lesson telling Peter that he’s going to “catch men,” and how Absalom goes about “catching men” in our text.
In both cases, what is desired is that the hearts of men change, and become loyal to someone other than before. Between the two accounts, very different motivation is present, however.
Think of what Jesus has in mind when he tells Peter that he’s going to “catch men.”
1. Peter is going to preach God‘s powerful word.
2. Through that preaching, the Holy Spirit will work powerfully.
3. A person will hear the truth, and will be moved by God’s grace that comes in the Christ that He has sent.
4. By faith in that Word, the person will receive for himself what Christ has earned through His death on the cross - eternal life instead of eternal damnation (heaven instead of hell).
5. His heart will be turned away from the deceitful, murderous devil, and toward the God who mercifully punished His own Son instead of sinners (the Son having willingly taken the punishment, of course).
That’s how God does this thing of turning the hearts of men. That’s the nature of His catching of men. He puts His merciful message of salvation in preaching and teaching so that people are saved! It’s only a good thing.
But there is a sinful human way of this as well - of this catching of men. There’s a self-seeking way - a breaking of the Tenth Commandment. Absalom has in mind to steal the hearts of the people from God’s anointed king to whom they owe their loyalty and respect and love. He’s going to catch men so that he might harm the king as he betters his own situation. In fact, our text says that he accomplished this purpose. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel, it says.
We have the protection of the service that people owe to one another as one of the Ten Commandments because our sinful human nature tends toward the envy and bitterness and greed and lust that bring about this type of sin. People tend to have sinful thoughts about having other’s spouses as their own, and sometimes to act on those thoughts (either is a breaking of the Tenth Commandment). People tend to look and see that a certain person is well-loved by others, and is relied upon, and is sought out. And they think, what does that person have that I don’t? And then they might bring the Fifth Commandment into the picture - hating their neighbor for it. And then they might bring the Eighth Commandment into the picture. They might say to others, what makes that person so great? Well, I heard something about that person that isn’t so great. Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I’ll tell you all about it.
The idea, natural to all of us, is that this person we’re talking to will stop thinking so highly about that person, and start directing those admiring thoughts towards me instead.
It’s also for that tendency of ours - the tendency to see the good things that others get from people, and to - to a sinful extent - want it for ourselves - that Jesus tells Peter, “from now on you will be catching men."
From now on, he means, you’ll be spreading a different kind of message than what’s already in human hearts. From now, you’ll be spreading - as Peter writes in our epistle lesson - unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. It isn’t natural to us (Absalom’s thoughts and actions in our text are). The tendency for us to want to honor and protect the relationship our neighbor has with others has to be put into us from the outside. God the Holy Spirit does it through the preaching of God’s Word and Baptism.
He turns our hearts this morning at the communion rail. He puts into our mouths Christ. He connects us to Him in a way that changes us. If Christ promises that He gives us in the Sacrament His true body and blood for the remission of our sins, then we go out of here this morning renewed, don’t we? We go out assured that our envy of others is forgiven. We go out assured that our gossip and our slander and our greed and our lust (whether spoken out loud, or kept quietly to ourselves) is forgiven in Christ’s redeeming blood.
We are caught then. We are caught in the best possible way. We are caught from what could only hurt us eternally. We are gathered in to the eternal blessing of God’s kingdom.
Absalom certainly couldn’t truly offer people the justice he was promising; his motivation was self-seeking. So is ours by nature. So is ours without the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Without Him we have every reason, like Simon Peter in our Gospel lesson, to fall down terrified at Jesus’ knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinner, O Lord." Peter was saying that, having just seen God’s glory in Jesus. This is real life business, he must have been thinking to himself. We stand as sinners in the presence of the perfect God. Who can stand there?
All can stand who receive Christ when He says (like He does in our Gospel lesson), "Do not be afraid.” All can stand who heed the Psalmist’s words, With you there is forgiveness. With you there is forgiveness.
It’s tempting for us sometimes to want what others have. It’s tempting for us to want the relationship that others have with one another - even to a sinful extent, it’s tempting to want it. The Bible is filled with examples of people who envied the loyalty and honor and love that was intended for someone else. Our newscasts are filled with those stories too. Our own thoughts can be as well. We have the same sinful tendency.
But we have a Savior Who is even greater. He died for that tendency in us too. He died as the one always, Himself, perfectly satisfied with what God has given, in order to save all of us who are unsatisfied. He gives us power to thank God for everything He has given, and to protect what He has given to others. God be praised. Amen.
Other Lessons this Sunday:
Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." 5 And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." 13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.