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ABSALOM'S RETURN AND CONSPIRACY.
One act of injustice draws on another: the injustice of David, in not punishing the rape of Amnon, procures the injustice of Absalom, in punishing Amnon with murder. That which the father should have justly revenged, and did not, the son revenges unjustly. The rape of a sister was no less worthy of death, than the murder of a brother; yea, this latter sin was therefore the less, because that brother was worthy of death, though by another hand; whereas that sister was guilty of nothing but modest beauty : yet he that knew this rape passed over (two whole years) with impunity, dares not trust the mercy of a father in the pardon of his murder ; but for three years hides his head in the court of his grandfather, the king of Geshur. Doubtless, that heathenish prince gave him a kind welcome, for so meritorious a revenge of the dishonour done to his own loins.
No man can tell, how Absalom should have sped from the hands of his otherwise over indulgent father, if he had been apprehended in the heat of the fact. Even the largest love may be overstrained, and may give a fall in the breaking: these fearful effects of lenity might perhaps have whetted the severity of David, to shut up these outrages in blood. Now this displeasure was weakened with age. Time and thoughts have digested this hard morsel. David's heart told him, that his hands had a share in this offence ; that Absalom did but give that stroke which himself had wrongfully forborne ; that the irrecoverable loss of one son would be but woefully relieved with the loss of another; he therefore, that in the news of the deceased infant could change his clothes, and wash himself, and cheer up his spirits, with the
resolution of, “ I shall go to him, he shall not return to me," comforts himself concerning Amnon; and begins to long for Absalom.
Those three years' banishment seemed not so much a punishment to the son, as to the father. Now David begins to forgive himself; yet, out of his wisdom, so inclines to favour, that he conceals it; and yet so conceals it, that it may be descried by a cunning eye; if he had cast out no glances of affection, there had been no hopes for his Absalom ; if he had made profession of love after so foul an act, there had been no safety for others; now, he lets fall so much secret grace as may both hold up Absalom in the life of his hopes, and not hearten the presumption of others.
Good eyes see light through the smallest chink. The wit of Joab hath soon discerned David's reserved affection, and knows how to serve him in that which he would, and would not accomplish ; and now devises how to bring into the light that birth of desire, whereof he knew David was both big, and ashamed. A woman of Tekoah (that sex hath been ever held more apt for wiles) is suborned to personate a mourner, and to say that, by way of parable, which, in plain terms, would have sounded too harshly; and now, while she lamentably lays forth the loss and danger of her sons, she shows David his own; and, while she moves compassion to her pretended issue, she wins David to a pity of himself, and a favourable sentence for Absalom. We love ourselves better than others, but we see others better than ourselves ; whoso would perfectly know his own case, let him view it in another's person.
Parables sped well with David: one drew him to repent of his own sin, another to remit Absalom's punishment: and now, as glad to hear this plea, and willing to be persuaded unto that, which, if he durst, he would have sought for, he gratifies Joab with the grant of that suit, which Joab more gratified him in
suing for ; “Go, bring again the young man Absalom.”
How glad is Joab, that he hath lit upon one act, for which the sun, both setting and rising, should shine upon him! and now he speeds to Geshur, to fetch back Absalom to Jerusalem : he may bring the longbanished prince to the city ; but to the court he may not bring him. 66 Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face.”
The good king hath so smarted with mercy, that now he is resolved upon austerity, and will relent but by degrees; it is enough for Absalom that he lives, and may now breathe in his native air; David's face is no object for the eyes of murderers. What a darling this son was to his father appears in that, after an unnatural and barbarous rebellion, passionate David wishes to have changed lives with him; yet now while his bowels yearned, his brow frowned: the face may not be seen, where the heart is set.
The best of God's saints may be blinded with affection ; but when they shall once see their errors, they are careful to correct them. Wherefore serves the power of grace, but to subdue the insolencies of nature? It is the wisdom of parents, as to hide their hearts from their best children, so to hide their countenances from the ungracious; fleshly respects may not abate their rigour to the ill-deserving. For the child to see all his father's love, it is enough to make him wanton, and of wanton wicked. For a wicked child to see any of his father's love, it emboldens him in evil, and draws on others.
Absalom's house is made his prison; justly is he confined to the place which he had stained with blood. Two years doth he live in Jerusalem, without the happiness of his father's sight; it was enough for David and him to see the smoke of each other's chimneys. In the mean time, how impatient is Absalom of this absence! He sends for Joab, the so
licitor, of his return; so hard a hand doth wise and holy David carry over his reduced son, that his friendly intercessor, Joab, dares not visit him.
He, that afterwards kindled that seditious fire over all Israel, sets fire now on the field of Joab; whom love cannot draw to him, fear and anger shall. Continued displeasure hath made Absalom desperate; five years are passed since he saw the face of his father, and now he is no less weary of his life, than of this delay. 66 Wherefore am I come down from Geshur ? It had been better for me to have been there still. Now therefore let me king's face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me.” Either banishment, or death, seemed as tolerable to him, as the debarring of his father's sight.
What a torment shall it be to the wicked, to be shut out for ever from the presence of a God, without all possible hopes of recovery! This was but a father of the flesh, by whom if Absalom lived at first, yet in him he lived not, yea not without him only, but against him that son found he could live. God is the father of spirits, in whom we so live, that without him can be no life, no being; to be ever excluded from him, in whom we live and are, what can it be, but an eternal dying, an eternal perishing! If in thy presence, O God, be the fulness of joy, in thine absence must needs be the fulness of horror and torment. “ Hide not thy face from us, O Lord, but show us the light of thy countenance, that we may live and praise thee.”
Even the fire of Joab's field warmed the heart of David, while it gave him proof of the heat of Absalom's filial affection.
man therefore inwardly weary of so long displeasure, at last he receives Absalom to his sight, to his favour, and seals his pardon with a kiss. Natural parents know not how to retain an everlasting anger towards the fruit of their loins; how much less shall the God of mer
cies be unreconcileably displeased with his own, and suffer his wrath to burn like fire that cannot be quenched ! " He will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger for ever; his wrath endureth but a moment; in his favour is life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.'
Absalom is now as great as fair ; beauty and greatness make him proud ; pride works his ruin: great spirits will not rest content with a moderate prosperity. Ere two years be run out, Absalom runs out into a desperate plot of rebellion ; none but his own father was above him in Israel; none was so likely, in human expectation, to succeed his father. If his ambition could but have contained itself for a few years, as David was now near his period, dutiful carriage might have procured that by succession, which now he sought by force. An aspiring mind is ever impatient, and holds time itself an enemy, if it thrust itself importunately betwixt the hopes and fruition. Ambition is never but in travail, and can find no intermission of painful throes, till she have brought forth her abortive desires. How happy were we, if our affection could be so eager of spiritual and heavenly promotions !
that my soul could find itself so restless, till it feel the weight of that crown of glory!
Outward pomp, and unwonted shows of magnificence, are wont much to affect the light minds of the vulgar. Absalom therefore, to the incomparable comeliness of his person, adds the unusual state of a more than princele equipage. His chariots rattle, and his horses tramply proudly in the streets: fifty footmen run before their glittering master; Jerusalem rings of their glorious prince, and is ready to adore these continual triumphs of peace.
Excess and novelty of expensive bravery and ostentation, in public persons, gives just cause to suspect either vanity or a plot. True-hearted David can misdoubt nothing in him, to whom he had both given life, and