How do you love the rebel in your life? I’m not referring to an enemy, but rather someone you love deeply. They have hurt you, or hurt someone you love, or you fear that because of their rebellious decisions, they themselves will land in a world of hurt. Do you say “you reap what you sow” and let them suffer the consequences of their decisions? Or do you mount a rescue operation and try to fix everything?
We see this tension being played out in 2nd Samuel 18 as the army commander, Joab, treated the rebellious Absalom in a very different manner than what his father, King David, would have. Absalom had rebelled against his father and led much of Israel to follow him instead. This led to David fleeing Jerusalem with his loyal armies who now stood ready to fight the numerically superior armies of Absalom. As David’s men went out to fight he gave some very clear instructions regarding the rebel son Absalom:
The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom. 2 Samuel 18:5
Though his son had rebelled, David’s heart was filled with compassion and hope for him. Joab, on the other hand, had a different attitude toward Absalom. We discover this when Absalom gets stuck in a tree and his misfortune is told to Joab:
Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son; for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying: For my sake protect the young man Absalom!. . . Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” He took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him. 2 Samuel 18:11,12,14,15
Where David wants to be gentle with his son, Joab wants to eliminate the rebel. Where David wants to be compassionate, Joab wants to be practical, eliminating the possibility of any future rebellion. Where David wants to see no harm come to Absalom, Joab wants to ensure he never again harms another. David believes in second chances. Joab believes strongly in the Biblical affirmation that “you reap what you sow.”
So who is the better leader? And which one better reflects how you deal with the rebels in your life? Compassion or justice? Gentleness or practicality? “Let’s fix this,” or “you reap what you sow”?
Is there something we can learn from Joab and David here? At first we might not think so in that their lives seem to be in a greater mess than ours. However, their handling of the rebel points us to the One who really knows how to handle a rebel. Let’s take a look:
First, While Joab enforces consequences without compassion, God lets us sit with consequences because of love. Something we don’t see Joab doing is having any kind of conversation with Absalom. The opportunity is there to discuss the possibilities of repentance and reconciliation, but Joab does not go there. Instead he dishes out the consequences of rebellion with brutality, and, it would seem, out of hatred. On the other hand, God will let us sit with the consequences of our decisions, but when He does, He does so out of love. God does not rescue us from every bad decision like a “helicopter parent” but rather lets us learn from our mistakes. Learning from mistakes is important for our growth and our growth is important to God:
And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children— “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.”
Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:5-11
God disciplines from a place of love. Do we lash out against the rebels of our lives like Joab, or do we let our loved ones sit with the consequences of their decisions out of love?
Second, while David was the absentee father who was not there for his son in a time of need, God is the loving Father who has made Himself present in our greatest need. We can imagine a very different ending for this story had David come across Absalom rather than Joab. But David was not there and was not able to help. At first David wanted to be with the army as they moved out, but they convinced him to stay behind because his life was more important than theirs. His life was too important to be put on the line. However, on hearing of his son’s death,
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
In the end David wished he could have died in the rebels’s place. God is the One who did die in the rebel’s place through Jesus Christ at the cross. God is the One who made himself present to us, in Jesus, and even now through His Holy Spirit. Though it is a Biblical truth that we reap what we sow, it is also a Biblical truth that we reap what God has sown. He has sown and shown love, rescuing us from a predicament and calamity that we could never rescue ourselves from. Do we remain present in the lives of our rebel loved ones to rescue with a second chance when their predicament is too much for them? And do we have the wisdom to know when to rescue, and when rather to call off the helicopter so that a timely lesson may be learned? Do we love enough to put the hard work into thoughtful prayer and discernment?
But perhaps it is not David or Joab that you may relate to in 2nd Samuel 18. Perhaps it is Absalom. You are the rebel son or daughter who needs the Lord’s loving discipline. You are the rebel son or daughter who needs the Lord’s rescue and salvation. Absalom was the rebel son. Jesus is the obedient son who was obedient even to death on the cross. Your rebellion has its consequences. And Jesus suffered those consequences on the cross for you. Unlike Joab with Absalom, you are given the opportunity for repentance and reconciliation.