J. I. Packer has said that covenant theology is “a hermeneutic . . . a way of reading the whole Bible that is itself part of the overall interpretation of the Bible that it undergirds.” That covenant hermeneutic fosters insights into the text of Scripture. It helps one see what is right there on the surface of the page. And this kind of thing happens in 2 Samuel 14. We must read this chapter in light of the covenant God just made with David wherein he promised to establish his house, kingdom, and throne forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Moreover, God covenanted to establish the kingdom of David’s seed (2 Samuel 7:12).
We have heard this kind of language before. In the first pages of Scripture, God says that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Covenant was there and covenant continues here. But the question remains, “Who is this seed?” Absalom is a son of David. But so is Solomon who was born two chapter earlier. And not only was he born. But “the LORD loved him (2 Samuel 12:24).
The Text – A Summary (2 Samuel 14)
Absalom had fled to Geshur after killing his brother Amnon for forcing himself upon his beautiful sister Tamar. Joab perceived that David’s heart was toward Absalom (v. 1). Joab enlisted a wise woman to approach David in Nathan-like fashion with a fictional story toward a political end. This woman told the kind that her two sons fought in a field and one killed the other. The clan now wanted to kill her remaining son for his crime, which would leave her husband without name upon the earth (v. 7). After multiple rounds of with the wise woman in which David promises a little more each time, he ends up assuring the woman of his protection such that the not one hair of her son’s head would fall to the earth (v. 11). Here is an interesting allusion, knowing that Absalom with his heavy, long hair is in view. And Absalom died while hanging by his hair in a tree.
As Nathan did, this wise woman turned and set the hook turning the principle of the story to David’s banished son, Absalom (v. 13). David confirmed from the wise woman that Joab had a hand in her coming. And David sends Joab to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem, while maintaining that Absalom would not see his face (v. 24). We are told that Absalom was praised for his beauty, being without blemish. He had three sons, and one beautiful daughter whom he named Tamar, after his beautiful sister. After Absalom had been in Jerusalem two years without seeing the king, and after he summoned Joab twice without reply, he set Joab’s barley field on fire. Joab responded and after consultation with Absalom, spoke with King David who reconciled with Absalom (v. 33).
God’s Way of Fulfilling His Promises
This passage reminds us of how God fulfills his promises. He has both promised that a son of David would have an established kingdom, and that the sword would never depart from David’s house. Absalom is Saul-like. He’s a captivating political figure. And he is also Cain-like, killing his brother. The Cain and Abel story backgrounds this chapter. Adam was promised a serpent-crushing seed. But then his son Cain murdered his brother Abel. Cain is left. And Cain is further exiled, like Absalom. There appears to be no hope. But God grants another son, Seth. Likewise, God grants another son, Solomon, the seed of David who would sit on the throne.
Joab doesn’t trust in that kind of thing. He is the wrong kind of earthly like Absalom and like Saul. He is shrewd. But, apart from faith, earthly wisdom eventually leads burnt over barley fields and kingdom’s divided—But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:14-15).
We know that when this particular episode closes, things are not looking good. Absalom bows before the king. The king kisses Absalom. And the camera pans to Joab’s still smoldering fields as the credits role. An Achan is back in the camp. A tare is among the wheat. A bad fish with some real political promise is withing the net of the kingdom and among the good fish (Matthew 13:47-48). Judas is in the upper room at table.
But, even here we see the fulfillment of God’s word. There must be a seed of the serpent. God guaranteed enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). And God has his Seth, his Solomon, his Son of David, his Second Adam. We don’t live by fear. We live by faith.