The previous chapter began the theme of wisdom being ignored in the person of Tamar – and here in chapter 14 we see wisdom once again being ignored in the wise woman of Tekoa, aptly named the pitching of tents. Yet, what is interesting is that the wise woman posed herself as a parable, like the parable of Nathan, as opposed to being actually a woman in mourning. What is the effect of speaking in the form of a parable as planned between Joab and the woman, rather than the woman speaking first-hand from her own actual experience? What is the effect of prophet Nathan rebuking David (2 Samuel 12) as opposed to Joab rebuking David? The key difference lies in the understanding of Godly wisdom, as opposed to the ‘wisdom’ of Jonadab.
We have already seen wisdom being ignored in (Proverbs 8); and this is the same feminine ‘wisdom’ far different from the Sophia of Sophism. Rather, this is the excellent wife, the excellent ish-shah of Proverbs 31:10 she is the Spirit of God, the Wisdom as the Third Person of the Trinity who has been denied by David since his fall in 2 Samuel 11 as a reflection of the first Fall in the Garden. It is by the Spirit Who filled Joseph that he has the wisdom to reign in Egypt (Genesis 41:8, 41:38), the Spirit Who filled the architect of the tabernacle (Exodus 35), the Wisdom Whom Christ had to become and grow in (Luke 2:52; 1 Corinthians 1:30), by Whom kings rule (Proverbs 8:15). This excellent ish-shah of Proverbs 31 and Proverbs 8 is the Holy Spirit, and it is by Her that the tents of the temple and tabernacle may be pitched forevermore.
It is therefore more potent to see the wise woman of Tekoa speaking the words of wisdom of Joab, who had conquered the city in the immediately preceding chapter instead of David who had become passive and inactive, a mere empty shell of a head, a broken mirror imagery of the Mediator. In the persons of Nathan; Tamar; and the joint partnership of Joab and the woman of Tekoa, we have a picture of the Spirit represented in all three instances, all analogous and parallel to the Son’s rejection of the Father heavily implied and typified in David’s rejection of God. In the Trinitarian dynamic, the Son’s rejection of the Father is in conjunction with His rejection of the Spirit on Whom He relies: in His obedient life as son of Joseph and Mary; in His resurrection from death; and in His ascension to the right hand of the Father – all are actions which prompted Christ to rely on the Spirit in order to obey the Father’s will. Commenting on Isaiah 11v.2, Thomas Goodwin says:
“The graces of Christ as man are attributed to the Spirit, as the immediate author of them; for although the Son of God dwelt personally in the human nature, and so advanced that nature above the ordinary rank of creatures, and raised it up to that dignity and worth, yet all his habitual graces which even his soul were full of, were from the Holy Ghost” (Vol. 6, pg.50).
Through Joab and the woman of Tekoa, we therefore see the Father speaking to David as the typological Son, by the ‘wise woman’ the Holy Spirit in the form of a parable (Matthew 11).
The details of the parable are laid out in v.4-11 in which David replies intermittedly, with the parable explained entirely by the woman in v.12-17, then action carried out in v.18-24. This pattern is similar to Nathan’s discerning words in chapter 11 and Christ’s words in (Matthew 13). In the fashion of the parable, it is the one who utters the parable (in our case, both Joab and the woman of Tekoa) who bears the greater wisdom, and the interpreter (David) who is the receiver of such wisdom.
Here, we find the woman postulating the scenario where she is a widow and her son has murdered another son and the whole clan has risen against her to give up the only son left of the man’s lineage. In this story, we find that there are elements which apply both directly and indirectly to the story of Amnon and Absalom. Firstly, let us distinguish these elements:
(i) Widow (meaning there are no more heirs);
(ii) Two brothers;
(iii) The brothers quarrelling and one killing the other;
(iv) “People of the clan” rising to avenge the murdered brother; and
(v) This ‘rejected’ murderous brother is the ‘remnant on the face of the earth’ of the widow and her now dead husband
It is clear that the two brothers refer to Amnon the murdered and Absalom the murderer; that the widow and her husband supposedly represent David’s lineage and that the “people of the clan” ironically also refer to David. Yet, this parable is not directly parallel to the story of David and Absalom for two reasons:
(i) David is not ‘widowed’. If anything, even after the death of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:14), it is through Solomon that David’s lineage perpetuates;
(ii) Absalom does not ‘quarrel’ with Amnon; if anything, Absalom kept his silence in order to pounce on Amnon when the moment is ripe (2 Samuel 13:22)
What is interesting, therefore, is that this parable seems to take inspiration not only from David’s situation but also from the first story of brotherly struggle – the struggle of Cain and Abel; and that from this story stems the story of the fraternal struggles represented in Japheth, Canaan and Shem (Genesis 9:27); Isaac and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his eleven other brothers. In these struggles, it is clear from the wise woman’s parable that though Cain, Canaan, Ishmael, Esau and the other sons of Israel are ‘rejected’ in the avenger’s eyes, the LORD still works salvation for the outcast (v.14). Though this smells of universalism, this is a far cry from what is expressed in her parable; instead, notice the key word – “he devises “means” so that the banished one will not remain an outcast” (the Hebrew literal meaning is a ‘plan’, a ‘purpose’). And so, in each story we see the potential redemption of Cain who receives the ‘mark’ (Genesis 4:15); in Canaan who becomes the father of those displaced in the land of Canaan though some enjoin themselves to the Israelites; in Ishmael who becomes the father of twelve princes (Genesis 17:20); in Esau the father of the Edomites, also given an opportunity to unite with the Israelites, and so forth. Yet, this is but just a means. The descendants of these ‘remnants’ are by no means the same as the elect Abel, Shem, Isaac, Jacob, or Joseph who stand under Christ.
Therefore, what the wise woman of Tekoa speaks of here is the redemption not of Abel, Shem, Isaac or the like; instead, she is speaking of the redemption of the one who is guilty; the redemption of the murderer; the redemption of the one truly rejected – the redemption of Saul, rather than the redemption of David. And it is in His means that all are given an opportunity to repent and follow the LORD in the manner of the elect. It is in His means that Cain could walk the walk of Abel; it is in His means that Canaan can partake in Shem’s blessings; it is in His means that the eleven brothers are to benefit from Joseph’s mediation (c.f. Exodus 1:8) – the reject receiving the benefit of the elect:
“But to say this is to say all that we need to say about the general question of the divine will and intention for the rejected, the non-elect. The answer can only be as follows. He wills that he too should hear the Gospel, and with it the promise of his election. He wills, then, that this Gospel should be proclaimed to him. He wills that he should appropriate and live by the hope which is given him in the Gospel. He wills that the rejected should believe, and that as a believer he should become a rejected man elected. The rejected as such has no independent existence in the presence of God. He is not determined by God merely to be rejected. He is determined to hear and say that he is a rejected man elected. This is what the elect of the New Testament are – rejected men elected in and from their rejection, men in whom Judas lived, but was also slain, as in the case of Paul. They are rejected who as such are summoned to faith. They are rejected who on the basis of the election of Jesus Christ, and looking to the fact that He delivered Himself up for them, believe in their election”. – Karl Barth on Election in his “Church Dogmatics”
It is in the context of this story that David is particularly moved – for the question of ‘heritage’ looms over David’s head especially since chapter 7 when the LORD said that He would bring up the Man from David’s line Who will uphold God’s temple eternally (2 Samuel 7). This is why the image of the ‘widow’ is used – not so much that David is not a widow (nor Adam who bore another son after both Abel and Cain are removed from his presence, one through death and another through banishment), but that Absalom just as much as any other son is the potential ‘one’ to uphold God’s eternal temple. The simple parable of a widow and two sons emphasises to us the story of election and rejection; it removes the complications of typology and shadow and magnifies the central aspect of the Bible – either we follow the line of Abraham in Christ alone, upon Whom our heritage is eternally preserved; or we follow the line of Satan and remain rejected though there is always a ‘means’ of being enjoined to the olive tree (Romans 11). This message is made potent not only in the dichotomy of the elect and reject, but also that the elect is represented by David’s line – who is described by the woman as like the Angel of the LORD (v.17) discerning good and evil, having wisdom like the Angel of the LORD (v.20) to know “all things that are on the earth” in contrast to Adam’s failed discernment of good and evil. This not only emphasises that David’s election is like the Angel of the LORD; that his goodness and righteousness is Christocentrically founded, and that he even bears the Angel’s wisdom and omniscience to know that it was Joab who truly spoke, and not the wise woman herself.
Yet, before we move onto David’s decree of Absalom’s ‘restoration’ from v.21 onwards, it is important to see that David is not only the type of Christ here in the parable, the type of the ‘elected’ mirrored against the banished one. Rather, David represented both the lineage of the widow as the lineage of Abraham in Christ, as well as representing the “people of the clan” who wished to keep the banished one in a state of rejection permanently. This is in line with what we see in David in the recent chapters – rather than a pure typological Son of God, we see a struggle in the person of David where he is both a shadow of the Son of God, like the Angel of the LORD, and he is the one who is an adulterer (2 Samuel 11:4), a murderer (2 Samuel 11:15) and a liar (2 Samuel 11:25), committing crimes in a shorter time-span of far greater gravity than what Saul or other ‘rejected’ men like Cain and Ishmael have recorded to have done:
“It is David’s unexpected and startling and visible transformation into such a bull-king, corresponding to the ideal of the nation and wreaking havoc in the same nation, which is his contempt for the LORD, and his guilt in this respect means inevitably that at once and in a single action he commits the thing which God has forbidden – adultery, robbery, murder and deceit. What would be natural for those bull-kings is absolutely unnatural for him. For he is not at all a king of this kind. He is king by the grace of God, and not by that of men. The LORD is with him. It is for him to witness to God’s kingdom, and from his throne to defend God’s throne. He is the very one who cannot pretend to any ‘right of kings’… He can only say: ‘I have sinned against the LORD… For every step that he took along the road described in 2 Samuel 11 was an absolutely impossible step, deserving of death. There can be no doubt that what Saul had once done along the same lines is far exceeded by what David has done here…
… And yet it is as this man that he is the king by God’s grace – as the man who in this sinfulness is utterly dependent upon the mercy and forgiveness of God, who is enabled to stand only because God stands and supports him, who has nothing to offer God except his need. The fact that he is a man like this is not, of course, a confirmation of David’s election or kingship or office as a witness to the kingdom of God. Saul is a man like this, too. But it is confirmed by the fact that God does not allow His concern with him, a man like this, to waver because he is like this, but rather He intensifies His concern with him as a man like this… The faithfulness in which God glorifies Himself in David’s kingship remains, and for this reason and to this extent the election of David remains. This is why David is always the figure of light in contrast to Saul in spite of the fact that he is a man like this…” – Karl Barth on Election in his “Church Dogmatics”
Where Saul offered the unholy sacrifice (1 Samuel 13), where Ishmael’s mother jeered at Sarai (Genesis 16:4), where Esau sold his birthright (Genesis 25:32), we have David laying with Uriah’s wife, scheming with Joab against the lawful husband and eventually having him murdered and covering it up with lies.
In actuality, through observing this struggle in David we see an even grander picture of Christ specifically when he was nailed on the cross. David, though persecuted like Christ in his early youth (1 Samuel 17 onwards) was persecuted though he was innocent before men. Yet, David here is in the parable the “people of the clan”, the “avenger of blood” though he is actually guilty before God and men, a faint vision of Christ as the guilty one removed from His Father’s presence on the cross! So, in Christ, we see His election in His humiliation from the throne; we see His rejection in His death as a man who was emptied of His righteousness to bear mankind’s sins (Romans 5:19; 2 Corinthians 5:21); and in being rejected, He brought all those who are also condemned and rejected back into election by His very resurrection and ascension. That is the means by which salvation is achieved. By the election of Christ to be rejected; by the rejection of Christ so we may be elected.
And so, in the midst of this seemingly difficult word-play we find David restoring Absalom – but this restoration is not immediate. Note David’s specific words in v.24 – “Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence”. Indeed, David has offered the means by which Absalom is no longer to remain in banishment – the “means” is by the very action of taking Absalom from Geshur (the bridge) to Jerusalem, the city of peace. It is by taking this man into the ‘confines’ of the House of God, that he may witness the sacraments of God through Israel and the tabernacle as opposed to remain in banishment where the Word of God is not heard nor relished. Yet, only within the proximity of the church is Absalom to come to faith, by hearing – and that is when Absalom can come into the presence of the king, when Absalom responds positively to the means of salvation in Jesus Christ alone. Therefore, Absalom living apart in his own house and not coming into the king’s presence should not bear any inherent negative connotation; yet Absalom failing to respond to the king’s means of grace displays to us the picture of a banished man whose heart wishes to remain banished, remain at the walled valley and bridge – Geshur – as opposed to have his heart circumcised in the manner of peace through Christ.
This is why Absalom’s appearance is the subject of v.25-27 which is an unnatural narration to come after v.24. Instead of expecting the prodigal son running into the arms of the father, we see an immediately vain description of how handsome Absalom looked; how “without blemish” he seemed (v.26); and how heavy his hair weighed (2 Samuel 18:9). It would even seem that he is proud for avenging his sister (v.27), the very reason why he was banished in the first place. This is immediately placed next to his violent act of demanding David’s presence (v.28-32), a faint predicament of what sort of charming man Absalom is to become. It is therefore, in the face of such means by which Absalom could have truly been restored to the throne that Absalom spits in the face of such means and would rather snatch it by force and surprise, just as he had done so with Joab’s field; just as he had done so in his vengeance on Amnon.