The Ruin Of Absalom
It is sad enough to see any man make shipwreck of his soul, but when the ruined individual is young, handsome and gifted, the sorrow felt over the everlasting overthrow is intensified many times. such instances are not lacking in the Bible, and abound in life. In almost every community Absalom is seen to live, flourish a little while, and then go down to ruin, all before our eyes.
The physical, social and family setting of some men is so far above the average, so striking to the eye, so fair to all appearance, that a shock of surprise is felt by many when informed of the moral fall and early death of one of these temporally favored ones. The worm was not suspected to be in the flower so long, when the petals suddenly dropped off and blew away before amazed hundreds and thousands. The gnawing wolf was not imagined to be under the cloak, until the man fell headlong before the gaze of the community.
There are some gifts that with the rarest exceptions bring calamity to those who possess them; and there are sins which, while not as externally ugly as other forms of iniquity, yet are just as deadly and will sooner or later pull down the man who opens his heart to them.
If we use Absalom in a kind of illustrative way, the truth of what we affirm will be plainly brought out. Several things are very apparent in studying his case.
First, Absalom was strikingly handsome.
Perhaps there never was a more perilous physical gift than masculine or feminine beauty. Both sexes desire it, grieve when they do not possess it, and yet it has led many to such heights of pride and vanity, to such depths of silliness and folly, and into such grave mistakes, missteps and final ruin, that to crave it is like wishing for damnation.
Many have been struck with the fact of the small number of really handsome men and beautiful women. But when we remember what an object beauty is for attack, what a cause for strife and envy, what a channel for temptation, and what a prolific source of transgression, we need not wonder any longer at the vast majority of homely people in the world. God has a purpose in it, and it is one of mercy. Life with its startling and harrowing occurrences has taught us that to be endowed this way is to increase vastly the power of Satan over the soul and multiplies the hazards and perils of moral probation.
When the Scriptures tell us of the comeliness of Absalom, we might know that trouble was ahead. The ruddy cheek, flowing hair and ingratiating manners, exciting admiration on the part of the women, and envy on the part of the men, could not but make the path of life perilous to any one, but especially to a man like Absalom, who had not divine grace to begin with to steady and save him.
It is doubtless with deep significance that the Bible tells us that one of the objects of the man’s vanity was the cause of his destruction. The haughty head, with its luxuriant locks, on which many admiring eyes had rested admiringly, was caught in the oak and proved the means of his death.
On many a tombstone since that scene in the forest could be truthfully written, “Ruined by a beautiful face.”
To this day the handsome countenance and courtly presence on platform or in pulpit atones with many for lack of brains or piety. Men inwardly sigh for the attractions which so readily open the way for the possessor to the attention, regard and cordial welcoming smiles of all kinds of circles. But could we see the slippery place in which the man stood, how much more it cost him to stand than others, what peculiar besetments came to him, there would be abundant cause for gratitude in not being similarly endowed, and more than ever could be seen the wisdom and love of God in making so many ordinary-looking and downright ugly people.
Again, we notice that Absalom was the possessor of very dark passions.
It was at his command his brother Amnon was murdered. The presence of that brother at his feast was secured through lies and treachery. It seems that in his hasty, vindictive spirit he could not wait on courts of law, or the king, or justice, and in addition took one of God’s prerogatives from His hand, who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.”
As an indication of the hasty spirit of the man, his inability to brook delay where his imperious will was concerned. When Joab failed to come to see him at his request, he had the barley fields of his father’s general set on fire.
Our point in bringing these things out is to show the readers that when physical and moral destruction overtake a man, there is always abundant cause in the past for the ghastly happening.
Much undeserved sympathy is lost upon certain cases and outcrops in expressions, “What a pity,” “So young,” “So handsome,” “So attractive,” etc., etc. When, if we had the perpendicular view that God has of the heart and life, we would say, “What a piece of justice,” “So old in sins” “So foul and ugly in spirit,” “So horrible in the sight of heaven.”
Third, the young man Absalom was an accomplished politician.
The reader has only to turn to the fifteenth chapter of Second Samuel and see how for months, if not years, he frequented the gates of Jerusalem, met the people there who came in from all parts of the country to the city, and with all the adroit arts of a finished politician paid personal court and attention to each one, and as the Bible says, “Stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” The result of this conduct can be briefly summed up in the words, conspiracy, rebellion, the dethronement and exile of David, war, the loss of many lives, and the death of Absalom himself.
From the study of a number of politicians, we are convinced that we have no right to be surprised at the sorrowful history and melancholy termination of such a life. Christianity demands that we be from the heart what the politician is on the outside. The latter simulates in interest and love, what the former should find bubbling up within his heart without deceit or hypocrisy. The politician is an actor of a part. The smile, warm shake of the hand, cordial inquiries about the health and prosperity of self and family, are not born of real love, but arise from a selfish purpose, to win the favor, influence and vote of the man thus addressed. This, of course, is a hollow life, the action of a hypocrite, and is compelled to react damagingly and disastrously upon the moral nature.
The ease with which Absalom concealed his enmity to Amnon for years, until he could wreak his vengeance upon him; the equally skillful way in which for quite a flight of time he dissembled with his father as to his designs, and at the same time deceived the people as to his purposes upon the throne, all go to show what a polished, consummate dissimulator this son of David was.
We have often wondered how people can be so easily hoodwinked by such characters. One would think that they would recognize the wolf under the sheep’s clothing, and see the beguiler under the smiler. But they do not in most cases, and did not in this instance, all of which goes to prove to what perfection Absalom had brought the art of a practiced handshaking, face smiling and apparently deeply interested manner, when all the while the hand hardly knew who had it, the deeply interested air was simply a studied pose, while the real man was far away, and the true face behind the smiling mask, if seen, would have shocked the poor dupe into a state of horror or precipitated a rapid flight from the fearful vision.
Who wonders that sorrow, shame, and oftentimes ruin are the end of such a life?
A fourth feature of Absalom’s character was his ambition. He wanted to be king, and plotted to that end. It resulted in his premature death.
One of the greatest intellects the world ever knew puts in the lips of one of his characters the words, “I charge thee fling away ambition.” A greater than he has given us a book which has much to say of the unhappy end of such lives. A notable line of names is given us in its pages of men who schemed, plotted, fought and murdered to reach positions of rulership and power. Some reached the place, while others failed, but all went down with a crash into ruin which proved not only a temporal destruction, but a spiritual and eternal one as well.
Leaving the history of kings, generals and courtiers moving in large military and political realms, we have only to look into what is called everyday life to see the same evils at work and the same inevitable failure and fall. We have seen men fix their eyes on positions in church and State for which they were not fitted in head, heart or life. We have seen thee take their day dreams and visionary hopes for indications of qualifications as well as assurances of success. Later they grew restless and unhappy as the coveted thing did not take place; and became an amusement to their enemies, and an affliction to their friends with a double manifestation of conceit and folly. By and by, when the crushing disappointment came, they sank under it, drifted into a condition of heart bitterness, life moroseness and chronic fault-finding, and finally were hauled to the cemetery ten, fifteen or twenty years ahead of time.
The head of Absalom caught in the branches of an oak with leaves fluttering about it, when he aspired to have it encircled with a band of gold, sprinkled with gems, is a ghastly commentary in the handwriting of Nature, on the woeful end of certain wrong earthly ambitions. Let me crown thee, said the Oak, with grim humor, and, catching poor Absalom’s head firmly in a fork of its limbs, it garlanded him with some dry foliage, while the feet of the aspirant after high honors dug into and dangled in mid-air.
Somehow, as we gaze upon the sickening spectacle, we think of the two last, miniature, wave beat kingdoms of Napoleon; the paper crown of Jack Cade thrust on his decapitated head; and the title of “Bishop” given in secret amused conclaves of preachers to the brother who beheld the office from afar, desired to embrace it, was persuaded of it, and died without the fulfillment.
A final feature of Absalom’s character is seen in his filial misconduct.
There never was a tenderer father than David. His love is seen in his grief over the death of the first child of Bathsheba. It crops out again in his sorrow over the untimely taking off of Amnon, and it is beheld in the agony displayed over the killing of this same unnatural, ungrateful, disobedient and cruel son, Absalom. The words of the stricken father will never be forgotten, and will always stand out as one of the most pathetic, heartbreaking cries ever uttered by mortal lips, “O, my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for three; O! Absalom, my son, my son!”
It is difficult with some, and impossible for many others, to read these words today, three thousand years after their utterance, without the tears springing to the eyes; or, if read aloud the heart swells, the throat chokes, and the voice utterly breaks down under the tender power and indescribable pathos of the lamentation.
And yet this was the father that Absalom plotted against, ran out of Jerusalem, heaped shame and contempt upon on the roof of his palace, pursued with his troops beyond Jordan, and fought against with full intention to overthrow and kill.
Honor and obedience to parents is one of the commandments which God sent to the world from the skies, writing the law with his own finger on a table of stone. The Bible says it is the first commandment with promise, the words being added to the law that long life shall be given to the child who observes it. Its violation under the Mosaic dispensation was death by stoning. In addition God put the Spirit of prophecy upon one of the Bible writers to say, “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.” It looked like Law and Prophecy had met in the case of Absalom. The body of the young man transfixed by javelins showed that death had come according to the Law, and the head, fixed in the tree favorable for the beaks of ravens seemed a ghastly preparation for the fulfillment of the words of the Prophecy. If the ravens did not get the eyes of Absalom it was not because the dreadful feast was not ready. Doubtless it was because he was the son of David, His own servant, that God kept the black-winged birds back from the swinging body of the strangely arrested and imprisoned man.
One of the marks of a decadent age, and pointed out by Paul as a sign of the end of the world, is “disobedience to parents.” We have heard expressions used by children that on the first occasion we and no idea of whom they were speaking. It was hard to realize in the terms “the governor,” “the old man,” and “the old woman” that the being who had given them birth, fed and sustained them, were referred to. With a great shock we are made to feel that although Absalom is dead, the sin of Absalom remains.
In visiting Jerusalem some nine years ago we were shown what is reputed to be the Tomb of Absalom. I was told that to this day people of that country in passing the sepulchre cast a stone at it, the rock being often accompanied with an execration. What sin of the young man is uppermost in their minds we do not know, whether it was his pride, vanity, treachery, ingratitude, filial disobedience, wiliness, impurity, heartless ambition, or whether they were all remembered. We only know the stone is cast, and the memory of the man is abhorred to this day.
Perhaps the most solemn lesson of all which can be gathered from the sadly ended life is, that some persons go to ruin in spite of everything that is done for them. David struggled upward from obscurity and poverty, through every kind of opposition and difficulty to the highest place in the land. Absalom the son of David, started at the top, with wealth, position, honor, good looks, a princely bearing and the tender affection of the king at his side, and pushed his way through all, down, down, down, until he knew almost every vice and reached the horrible skull-strewn bottom of moral ruin while still in the bloom of young manhood.
It is not truer that some men are going to rise and succeed, in spite of earth and hell, than it is true that others are going to degradation and perdition in spite of warning and advice, prayer and sermon, men and angels, the church and heaven, and in face of all that can be done by a merciful, longsuffering and omnipotent God.