Struggling for Thankfulness This Year?

This year has been a strange one, and I wonder as you reflect back on all the hardship of 2020 whether you are struggling to find reasons to give thanks.

Traditionally, Christmas is the holiday that gets all the songs and carols and hymns. November 1st, radios start dusting off the ol’ yuletide catalog. But biblically speaking, songs are the natural outpouring of thanksgiving (Colossians 3:15-16). Perhaps a song might put us more in the thanksgiving spirit.

The Lord Is My God.

In 2 Samuel 22, David surveys his life, his heart swells with thankfulness, and he speaks to the Lord the words of this song:

“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, 

my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield, and the horn of my salvation,

my stronghold and my refuge,

my savior; you save me from violence.”

2 Samuel 22:3-4

Twelve times in these two verses David sings, “my.” The Lord is my God. Perhaps the reason you are struggling and feel thankless is because you cannot in your heart sing these words: “The Lord is my God.”

When David sings about his God, he compares him to a place of safety, rescue, refuge. When disaster struck this year, where did I seek refuge? In my God? Or in something else?

David reminds us that God is not ours on our terms: “My Savior; you save me” (22:3). We cry out to our God from a place of helplessness and need. Last night, my 7 month-old Peter was laying in bed next to me, and he reached over and grabbed my finger with his whole hand. That’s the way we possess God. My means, “I belong to him.”

I Called Upon the Lord.

As David continues to reflect, he remembers being surrounded by trouble, enemies, and menacing circumstances on all sides:

“I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,

and I am saved from my enemies…

In my distress I called upon the LORD;

to my God I called.”

2 SAmuel 22:4,7

Such a simple thing–“I called upon the Lord.” But how often don’t we? We don’t call. We don’t pray. We don’t cry for help.


Some of us don’t call on the Lord because we don’t think it’s that big of a deal. We think we can handle it. We don’t want to bother God with it.

But if it feels oppressive, if it feels life-threatening, if it feels like its choking you at every minute, if it sucking the life out of you, if you feel like you are drowning, why are you treating it like it’s no big deal? John Gill writes, “A time of distress is a time for prayer; and sometimes the end God has in suffering [us] to be in distress is to bring them to the throne of his grace…”

Others of us call, we just don’t call upon the Lord. We think that a boyfriend will save us, a spouse will be our salvation, a job will rescue us from our distress, a bailout will be our refuge, some new toy will save us from our sadness, a new church will deliver us from our depression.

Listen to David’s song: “I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised...” It’s his greatness, his worth, his majesty, his power that draws our cry.

If you were being attacked and you had to choose either a Chihuahua or a Rottweiler to come to your defense, which one are you going to cry out for?

Why are you crying out to your co-workers or your phone or your social media followers? Can any of them do anything about your distress? Cry out to the God who dwells in ineffable might, unassailable power, impenetrable victory, untarnished splendor, and terrifying power.

When I was in grade-school, my family lived in south Florida. At the beach one day, my dad was out surfing and I was watching from the shallows. I was distracted and a strong swimmer, so I didn’t notice how every wave was slowly drawing me further down the beach away from my dad, and further out to sea. Suddenly, I couldn’t touch, and a strong undertoe started tugging me under. I remember a sense of panic settling in like, I’m not gonna make it.

I start hollering, “Dad!” Every time I come up for breath. “Dad!” “Dad!” But it’s loud and he’s hundreds of yards away. And I’m giving up hope. Suddenly, a lifeguard grabs me from behind, and next thing I know, I’m laying in the sand.

You and I don’t cry out to the Lord because we don’t know what’s got ahold of us. We think sin is just a little thing. Just a little lie. Just a little stealing. Just a few careless words here and there. Just a little porn. David shows us the truth:

“”For the waves of death encompassed me,

the torrents of destruction assailed me;

the cords of Sheol entangled me;

the snares of death confronted me.”

2 Samuel 22:5-6

Sin is trying to drag us into an eternal Hell. Death has ahold of each of us, sending its tendrils out of the grave to latch onto us and drag us kicking and screaming to a watery grave. Do you realize what’s dragging you under? If you did, you’d be crying out, “MY GOD, MY GOD! SAVE ME!”

He Hears My Voice.

You may feel like this is the last time you are coming up for air before you sink forever. When you call upon the Lord, he will hear. He will hear, and he will come down, and he will find you:

“From his temple he heard my voice,

and my cry came to his ears.”

2 Samuel 22:7

This is how the infinite God bestows dignity upon us, his finite creatures: He listens to us. Say this to your soul with David and feel thanksgiving begin to rise: “He hears my voice.”

My voice matters to the Almighty God. Your voice matters to your Maker.

There is a stirring in heaven in response to my voice. And this is what the stirring of my God looks like:

“Then the earth reeled and rocked;

the foundations of the heavens trembled and quaked, because he was angry.

Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth;

glowing coals flamed forth from him. 

He bowed the heavens and came down;

thick darkness was under his feet. 

He rode on a cherub and flew;

he was seen on the wings of the wind. 

He made darkness around him his canopy,

thick clouds, a gathering of water. 

Out of the brightness before him coals of fire flamed forth. 

The LORD thundered from heaven,

and the Most High uttered his voice. 

And he sent out arrows and scattered them;

lightning, and routed them. 

Then the channels of the sea were seen;

the foundations of the world were laid bare, at the rebuke of the LORD,

at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.” 

2 Samuel 22:10-16

The response of God to our cry for help is an earthquake crossed with a forest-fire crossed with a thunderstorm crossed with a tornado crossed with a volcanic eruption crossed with a lightning storm crossed with a hurricane.

When he hears my voice, he bends the heavens and parts the sea. Wherever you are in this vast cosmos, whether on some far-flung planet or in the bottom of the ocean, if you call out to him, he will find you. His salvation will search you out.

This thanksgiving, in the midst of turmoil and distress, one thing should make our hearts sing: We have a God who hears us.

(photo credit)

Readers, Thanks for 1 M Views!

1 Million Views.

I’ve always though this would be a fun milestone, but it came and went without much fanfare.

I simply want to express my gratitude to all of you who have read and shared and appreciated my writing over the past several years.

I know 1M views is small potatoes on most platforms. A 12 year-old can rack up a million views doing a TikTok or opening toys on YouTube (I will never understand this phenomenon).

However, you all came to AFTER+MATH to read. And not to read recipes or hot-takes or cute photos, but to read serious theological and cultural reflection (well, serious most of the time!).

The days of viral blogposts are mostly over. These days, all of my best stuff I give to platforms with much wider audiences like Christianity Today, Desiring God, TGC, and Think Christian.

Most of my daily traffic comes from people just searching for the truth on Google. I hope and pray you all are finding something helpful, useful, or encouraging. To those of you here to steal and plagiarize my book reviews for college credit–I will find you. 😉

The best currency you can give a writer (besides actual currency!) is a share. Whether in the form of a recommendation on social media, sharing content on a podcast you run, or sharing their articles and books with friends, church members, or text groups, writers know you appreciate their words when you are willing to send them along to others.

When I first started this blog, the tagline came from Colossians 1:29. Eight years later, it’s never been more relevant:

“For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.”

May the Lord grant me the energy to continue to make use of the feeble tools God has given me to toil for his Kingdom. Thanks again for reading!

Grace and peace,


Free E-Book: Pop Psalms

I’ve contributed the first chapter to Think Christian’s latest FREE E-BOOK: POP PSALMS. I’m writing about Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts”:

“No one could have predicted it: the summer of 2019 belonged to a rapping flautist.

The artist known as Lizzo enjoyed a record-breaking run atop the Billboard Hot 100 as her carefree, boldly embodied persona captured the attention of the world. Equal parts tears and self-confidence, Lizzo’s debut album Cuz I Love You is anchored by the smash hit “Truth Hurts,” an earworm that kick starts with this painful truism: “Why are men great until they gotta be great?”

Read the rest, where I explore connects to Psalm 44, Romans 8, and how we can sing psalms of lament with swagger. And read great chapters from other contributors like Claude Atcho, Aarik Danielsen, and Sarah Welch-Larson.

David by Michelangelo Florence Galleria dell’Accademia

Absalom & The Cursed Tree

In the beginning, God planted a garden. And in the very center of that garden, he planted a tree: The Tree of Life. The Book of Revelation tells us that the leaves if this life-giving tree have the power to heal the nations. The fruit of this tree grants eternal life to all who eat of it.

But this was not the only tree God planted.

In midst of that Garden of Eden was a second tree: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This second tree would bring not life, but the curse of death upon all who eat of it, for God said, “The day you eat of the fruit of that tree you will surely die.”

When the time came to choose, Adam and Eve took and ate the fruit of that cursed tree. It’s a tree still stands in the midst of all humanity bringing the curse of Death on all mankind.

The Reluctant War

In 2 Samuel 18, Absalom, the young man who took the forbidden fruit, who reached out and stole the throne of Israel from his father David, receives the curse of that forbidden tree. And yet, as we look on at his gruesome end, we cannot help but see our redemption at the Cursed Tree.

Let’s get us up to speed on the story. David the King had to flee his castle when his son Absalom stormed into the capital demanding royal power. Absalom had been plotting a revolution for a decade, winning all the people of Israel away from David by planting seeds of distrust and discontentment in their hearts day by day at the city gates. When Absalom victoriously paraded in Jerusalem, his first official act as king was to violate all ten of David’s concubines.

Nevertheless, as chapter 18 unfolds, the first thing we see is reluctant war. Even after Absalom’s sinister betrayal, his gross violation of David’s wives, his fratricidal murder of David’s son Amnon, still David remains hesitant to enter the battle.

“Then David mustered the men who were with him and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds…So the army went out into the field against Israel…”

2 Samuel 18:1, 6

David has to assemble his men for battle against his own people—the people he is supposed to shepherd!—and his own son—the son whom he loves! And this reluctant war is not going to end until either Absalom—or David—is dead. David’s men know that:

“But the men said, ‘You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.'”

2 Samuel 18:3

Absalom is at war with his father—and him alone. This isn’t about the people. This isn’t about two armies. This is about a son who is hell-bent on killing his own father.

David abandoned his city. He left Absalom to it. He fled across the Jordan River to the furthest outskirts of the kingdom, but Absalom and all Israel have even pursued him there. Absalom has left his father with no choice.

We often hear the tired trope that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath. But this story reveals the truth. Whatever war exists between God and man, it is a reluctant one. When Moses encounters the Lord at Mt. Sinai, God himself passes by proclaiming his own name:

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Exodus 36:6-7

Do you hear the reluctance? The Lord lists his mercy, grace, his slow anger, his abounding steadfast love and faithfulness, his willingness to forgive every iniquity and transgression and sin…but if mankind still insists on rebellion, refuses to be forgiven—he will enter into war against the guilty.

Or what about the Lord’s treatment of Israel? How many times did the people of God deserve his wrath, but he relented? Or they disobeyed, and he forgave? How long did he put up with gross idolatry and sin and injustice in his land before he finally, reluctantly, put them out of the kingdom?

“All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the Lord that he had made holy in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.”

2 Chronicles 36:14-16

He finally, as a last resort to defend his own honor and for the sake of his divine justice, entered into war. But he did it after exhausting every other possibility. When there was no remedy, he made reluctant war.

Absalom and David remind us that in our sin we are all at war with our Heavenly Father. In this war, we are not content to kill one another. We are not satisfied to destroy even half of creation. We will not be satisfied until we have killed God.

That is the objective of Sin: Kill God–because I want to be God. I want to sit on the throne. Absalom will never truly be king until his father David is dead. And you will never truly rule your own life until God is dead. Friends, God did not want to pour out his wrath on us. We have pushed him to it. We have waged war on him—his own sons and daughters. God save us from the reluctant war of heaven we have brought on ourselves!

The Father’s Heart

Secondly, in David we see the Father’s Heart. His men wisely encourage him not to go to the fight in person but to direct re-enforcements from the city. As the ranks file out to battle, we see the anxious father standing at the gates, and we hear his desperate plea, not for his own life—but for the life of his son:

“And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.’ And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom.”

2 SAmuel 18:5

This is what we mean when we say David was a man after God’s own heart. Even after everything, even as his own son seeks to kill him, his heart pleads, “Be gentle! Spare his life! Have mercy! Not for his sake, but for mine. For my heart...” Why has the Heavenly Father chosen to bestow so much of his love on us, that he would care about us wretched, ungrateful, rebellious sinners after all we’ve done?

Every man who passed through the city gates that day heard the father’s heart. They all saw the compassionate anguish gushing forth as with tears, they all heard the desperate plea of the Father, “Be gentle…” Joab heard it. Abishai heart it. Ittai heard it. All the commanders heard it. All the people heard it.

Do you hear the Father’s heart for you today?

After entering a reluctant war with mankind, a war that we started, the Father sent his most trusted General, not one like Joab who would disobey orders, but One who was a man after the Father’s Heart. God sent his own Son into battle. And as his Son left the gates of heaven, the Father pleaded, “Deal gently, for my sake…”

Psalm 103 reminds us,

“He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;  [12]  as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”

Psalm 103:10-13

I wonder whether you have the Father’s heart? David was able to plead for mercy on behalf of Absalom—even after everything he’d done. Even as Absalom had snipers combing the countryside for David’s head.

Is this your heart for your enemies?

Could you plead deal, “Deal gently with this man—a murderer, a rapist—for my sake…?” Or are Joab’s words closer to your heart? When it was reported to him that men had found Absalom dangling by his hair from a tree, he cried out for vengeance:

“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.’”

2 Samuel 18:11

Notice how little Joab values Absalom’s life and how little he values obedience to his king. Joab’s command is the opposite of David’s: Don’t deal gently. Give him what he deserves. Go end the life of that worthless scumbag.

Joab’s heart refuses to forgive. It shows no mercy. It is unmoved by compassion—not even for his King’s sake.

It is treachery against your own soul to bear a grudge against a fellow sinner. To refuse to forgive is to guarantee that you will not be forgiven—

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Matthew 6:14-15

Heavenly Father, forgive us for so often being like Joab. Give us your heart for sinners!

The Cursed Tree

Looming at the center of this story are the branches of an ancient tree:

“And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.”

2 Samuel 18:9

Hanging midair, his fate suspended between heaven and earth, what proved to be Absalom’s downfall? That hair. Those luxurious, flowing locks. Absalom: hanged by his own pride. Defenseless, he awaits his doom.

A soldier spots him, but dares not touch him because of David’s order. However, Joab has no qualms:

“Joab said, ‘I will not waste time like this with you.’ And he took three javelins 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 18:14-15

As Absalom in his radiant pride went riding through the forest, the tree in the midst of the garden ensnared him. The fingers of divine justice reached down and snatched the son of David from upon his mule.

Lest we think this was some novel occurrence, as though this only happened to Absalom, it would never happen to anyone else–certainly I’ve got nothing to worry about–verse 8 would have us to believe that this very fate befell all the men of Israel:

“The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword.”

2 Samuel 18:8

Trees devouring men. Sounds likes something out of a Lord of the Rings fantasy novel. Our story reminds us, it’s not the sword you have to fear, it’s the tree! The cursed tree.

There is one waiting for you. Every man, every woman, every young man, every young woman running headlong, insistent in their pride on refusing God, pursuing sin, waging war on their Creator, will one day find themselves caught up into their own cursed tree, your fate hanging between heaven and earth.

There were two thieves hanging on their cursed trees next to Jesus on that fateful day. One cried out for mercy. The other cursed Jesus with his final breath. Which one are you?

Because the cursed tree didn’t just find Absalom. All those who followed Absalom and raged against King David found themselves consumed in the forest. Absalom’s fate is the fate of all who rebel against God’s chosen king. In this war on God, someone has to hang from the tree. The law calls for Death, and God cannot mock his own justice. It’s either you or…who?

Perhaps we just need one more chance? Just a little more patience? Perhaps our heavenly Father needs to give a little more ground and surely we will cease our war against him. The Gospels tell us that given one last chance to repent and plead for mercy, our voices would join in defiance with Absalom and the rest, “His blood be on us and on our children! Crucify him!”

The Gospel is the story of how the God the Son willingly came down from his throne and entered into the battle personally so that we might have the satisfaction that Absalom and his men did not get. We have killed the Son of David, the Son of God. We have hung him on the cursed tree. We have run our spears through his heart.

As we behold Absalom’s frame hanging on that doomed oak, it evokes the words of the Law in Deuteronomy 21: “for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree.’”

The Law is preached from this tree: You who murdered the Son of God—this is the death you yourself deserve.

The Gospel is preached from the very same cursed tree: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

Absalom’s death on the cursed tree foreshadows the death that awaits all sinners and rebels against the Father. Absalom’s death on the cursed tree also prophesies Jesus Christ suffering in our place.

“Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them. And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home.”

2 Samuel 18:16-17

As we hear the trumpet blast, we are reminded that the battle will not cease until a son has died. Not until the spear pierces your heart and every last drop of life-blood is drained. Only when you have died will God’s reluctant war against your sin be satisfied.

That is, unless someone else has already died this horrible death in your place. That is, unless someone else’s heart has been speared through for you. That is, unless some other man has hung on the cursed tree for your crimes. That is, unless some other Son of God has hung between heaven and earth for the forgiveness of your sins.

Verse 18 tells us that Absalom had already dug his own grave. He had already erected his own monument, a gravestone, in the King’s Valley. Brothers and sisters, this does not have to be you. Do not be so hardened in your sins! Repent of your war on God! See how reluctantly he brings wrath upon you? Even today he is patient with you, giving you one more day to turn back from your sins to trust in him. Because the Father’s heart is anxious to have you, desperate to spare you, eager to receive you back. He says, “Be gentle…for my sake!” And the man he has sent to wage war with you is Christ the Captain, the Son of God who hung on the cursed tree in the place of sinners.

Friends, come to the Cursed Tree. Come to the Cross, and find there that it has been transformed into the Tree of Life.

(photo credit)

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Will Not Be Silenced

If there’s one voice that cannot be silenced in our modern era, it’s the fierce roar that rises from the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass’s forthright account of his escape from slavery is so raw you can almost smell the stomach-turning metallic wreak coming off the blood-spattered pages. Rising from beneath the systematic brutal and psychological dehumanization that was American slavery, his Narrative of the Life is the tale of a man who insisted on being man not beast.

Douglass was an American hero of which our nation was utterly unworthy.

In the introduction to his story, Peter J. Gomes writes incisively about the way we rob books like Douglass’s of their power–and keep issues like racism at a tidy arm’s length:

“Race is the continuing moral dilemma of America, and the inheritance of slavery its ineradicable moral stain. The further we are removed from the circumstances of legal slavery and legal and social racial segregation, and the more eager we are to move beyond that inheritance and on to other issues, the more persistent that awful legacy becomes. The problem of race in America is not simply a ‘dilemma,’ as sociologist Gunnar Myrdal styled it in his famous study of the 1940s: it is a tragedy of Greek, even of biblical, proportions, where indeed the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation, and beyond. It is increasingly fashionable to consign our tragedies to sepia-colored documentaries and to see them as part of the pageant of the growth of a great nation, and it is all too possible to do this when we read the tidy analyses of the historians or watch such brilliant productions as Ken Burn’s The Civl War on television–that marvel of technology which transforms reality into fantasy and reduces even the most brutal facts of history into a theme park montage. Thus our cultural amnesia is encouraged rather than confronted by the fascination with a past which we prefer to examine in sanitized tranquility, lest we be disturbed by facts and images too dangerous and frightening to contemplate.

One of the ways in which we protect ourselves from disturbing ideas is to label the medium in which those ideas are communicated as ‘classic.’ This provokes a certain reverence and ensures that the ideas will be isolated within their appropriate historical and literary period, and will not have the power to disturb us. For over a century and a half the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass has been branded a classic, assigned to the category of slave narrative and read perhaps only be specialists in the field, or cited during February celebrations of African-American history month. To read Douglass’s narrative, however, is to risk experiencing the power it unleashed upon its first readers, and to recoil in horror at the heroic and terrible tale that Douglass tells of his own experience of slavery. Time has not tamed the tale, and old wounds covered over by the scar tissue of history are capable of being reopened by the prose of this fugitive slave who was taught to read by his slave mistress; and who, as an ex-slave, became the most famous and articulate rebuke to the monstrous institution of slavery ever to speak or to write in America.”

-Peter J. Gomes

Get the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass here (or download a free electronic copy), and put it at the top of your To-Read pile!

(photo credit)

Inspirational Homeschool Quotes for the School Year!

My wife does such an intentional job about putting together the school year for our kids, as I’m sure thousands of educators have been doing all summer for their own students wherever they may be.

It’s a strange year, and many of us are trying to figure out how to teach and nurture our students in new and awkward ways. Whether in public, hybrid, virtual, classical, home, or some other type of school, both parents and teachers need encouragement.

Mindy put together this great collection of quotes. I thought I’d share them with you here. You can download the two-page spread by clicking below (PDF):

What Does Premodern Exegesis Sound Like from the Pulpit?

Premodern exegesis is sometimes summarized as the fourfold method of interpretation. This means my preaching…

…is a slave to the text (Literal)

…delights in the canonical context (Allegorical)

…drives at the transformation of the soul (Tropological)

…speaks of the Eternal (Anagogical)

It’s important to realize that the premodern exegete doesn’t siphon his sermon (although I guess some might) into four tidy bins of interpretation. Trying to neatly separate these senses would be like trying to dissect a peach cobbler.

In this past Sunday’s sermon, all four senses are baked in, so to speak. You won’t hear me use any of these terms, but here’s a taste of what premodern exegesis sounds like from the pulpit:

Read the Manuscript:


It was a privilege this past week to listen to sermons from Nathan Wolfe and his father Joe Wolfe who were so kind as to fill this pulpit while I was away with my family on vacation. We’ll make sure to get those posted to the church website this week on the Sermons Tab. If you weren’t here the past two weeks, I would encourage you to go back and listen to Nathan and Joe if for no other reason than to hear a testimony to God’s faithfulness in the Wolfe family as the faith is passed from one generation to the next. Perhaps in a few more years, the Lord will allow Joe and Nathan to sit under the preaching of one of Nathan’s sons. Wouldn’t that be something.

This morning, we return to 2 Samuel and to Absalom’s unfolding sinister plot in chapter 15. If you have a Bible with you, go ahead and turn there. 2 Samuel 15.

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress depicts the journey of a man named Christian who is on a journey to be freed from a great burden that weighs upon his back. A man named Evangelist tells him to head for a narrow gate, and through that gate he will find relief from his heavy load. As he approaches the gate, he is waylaid by a sly fox named Worldly Wiseman who asks him where he comes from, where he is headed, and for what purpose. Christian explains that he is headed toward the narrow gate in order to be free of his burden. Worldly Wiseman shakes his head at the naivety of Christian, “Don’t you know you can be free of your burden without going through that treacherous gate? There are all kinds of dangers and enemies along this path. Turn aside. Go to the city nearby called Morality where a man named Legality and his beautiful son Civility live. They will give you what you want at half the cost to you.

Bunyan’s story is an allegorical rendering of Genesis 4:7—“Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” There is an enemy at the gates who would turn you away from the city of God. There is an enemy at the gates who would prevent you from finding wholeness at the cross. There is an enemy at the gates who would turn you aside from making Jesus Christ your king—he would be your king instead. He is patient, he is proud, and he is a thief. He goes by various names—you may call him the Worldly Wiseman, you may call him Absalom, but this enemy at the gates is not an enemy without, he is an enemy within.

If you’ve found 2 Samuel 15, let’s stand together as we read the Word of God:

After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel. And at the end of four years Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the LORD, in Hebron. For your servant vowed a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram, saying, ‘If the LORD will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to the LORD.'” The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron. But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, ‘Absalom is king at Hebron!'” With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem who were invited guests, and they went in their innocence and knew nothing. And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.

2 Samuel 15:1-12

After years of brooding, in 2 Samuel 15, Absalom finally makes his move. Absalom, the disarmingly beautiful son of David, the most handsome man in Israel is the enemy at the gates. And nobody seems to realize it until it’s too late.

Three things characterize Absalom in this passage: his patience, his pride, and his theft. As we survey Absalom, we need to realize that Absalom is a picture of a Sinful Man, a Sinful Woman, who crouches at the gate of our own hearts.

First, this morning, we see (1) The Patience of Absalom. Normally we think of patience as a virtue, which is what makes Absalom an all the more dangerous enemy. He is calm, collected, patience, intentional, biding his time, waiting for the right moment. This is the man who back in chapter 13 after the humiliation of his sister Tamar said nothing for 2 years. And for 2 years waited patiently for the opportunity to get revenge on Amnon his brother for what he had done. This is the man who endured 3 years of exile with his grandparents at Geshur. This is the man who patiently abided humiliating house arrest for two years in Jerusalem. And here we see in verse 7 that Absalom put in another 4 patient years before making his move.

 And see what patient diligence Absalom goes about his work in verse 2: “And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate.” He got up early every morning. He stood by the gate all day. Patiently, diligently, daily, working to win the people one man, one woman at a time. This is no overnight revolution. This is a takeover 9 years in the making. A quiet, patient work.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “How do you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” We often imagine sin as being a sudden impulse, an immediate temptation, but there is a patience to the plots of Satan. Luke 4:13 tells us—“And when the devil had ended every temptation [of Jesus], he departed from him until an opportune time.” Satan studies his victims. He learns their weaknesses. He ponders patiently. He waits for the opportune time.

We see signs of Absalom’s patience all over this plot. Nothing about Absalom’s move is hasty. He is methodical. And each step is purposeful. His complaint to each man about a lack of justice in verse 4 is a veiled reference to the way David mishandled Tamar’s assault. His deception in verse 7 is a three-pronged barb: ““Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the LORD, in Hebron. For your servant vowed a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram, saying, ‘If the LORD will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to the LORD.'” Barb #1: Absalom is deceiving his father with a trick out of David’s own playbook. David used this same excuse to deceive Saul in 1 Samuel. Barb #2: Absalom’s vow is brings up a sore spot—the 3 year exile David imposed on Absalom. Barb #3: Absalom plans to launch his revolution at Hebron. There is a poetic justice to Absalom’s patient plot. He will rob his father of the kingdom at Hebron—the very place where David’s kingdom began.

 “How do you go spiritually bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” The enemy is patient. Adultery doesn’t happen suddenly. It happens patiently, it could be 9 years in the making. Little weaknesses here and there, a look, one little temptation after another, until it happens all of the sudden. Corporate fraud doesn’t happen suddenly. It happens patiently. It might start in school, being a bit dishonest about how much of the reading you actually completed. A little plagiarism, a few lies on a college application. Satan plots with the patience of Absalom. Absalom’s revolt is the result of years of patient plotting, seething anger, seeking to make his blow as lethal as possible. When the opportune time comes, your downfall will be just as tailor-made.

Secondly, we must spend a few minutes looking at (2) The Pride of Absalom. There is a reason why verse 1 opens this story. It colors everything we see and hear in the story, “After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him.” Even without help, you can sense what Absalom is angling for. What kind of a man rides in a chariot with an entourage of horses? What sort of character has fifty men running before him? And in case we might have any doubts about Absalom’s intentions, we read about Absalom’s younger brother in 1 Kings 1:5—“Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him.” I will be king. This is the pride of Absalom.

Then we find this man who would be king standing at the gates, pulling every man of Israel aside and implying that he could do his father’s job better, verse 3: “Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice…” Then we find this man who would be king inviting men to bow before him in verse 5: “And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him.”

Absalom was David’s second son, his heir apparent, and like the prodigal son, he wasn’t willing to wait for his father’s death to get what was coming, he wanted his inheritance now. He would be king–now. Verse 10: “But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, ‘Absalom is king at Hebron!'”

What is it in Absalom’s heart that lead him to make this move? It’s what Thomas Aquinas describes as “inordinate self-love”—pride. Aquinas writes that the root of pride is lack of submission to God, and therefore is “the beginning of all sin.” So in wanting to be king, Absalom is not merely rebelling against his earthly father David; he is rebelling against his Heavenly Father, God himself. In verse 12, we find Absalom coordinating his overthrow from his iPhone while he’s at church: “And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.” His sacrifices, his religion, his church attendance, his giving, his offerings, all just a cover, a distraction, a smokescreen for his revolution. All just an effort to dethrone every power—including God himself—and make himself king.

Karen Swallow Prior writes in her book On Reading Well, “The paradox of humility is that through it we are exalted (Matthew 23:12). And the paradox of pride is that through it we fall…” (232) 2 Samuel 15 is the beginning of Absalom’s exaltation. It is the beginning of David’s humiliation. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12).

The Pride of Absalom says, “I could do better! I am just! I am right…always! I never sin! I am always just and righteous! My dad doesn’t know best. My teacher doesn’t know. My mom. My pastor. My boss. My friends. Not even God. I deserve to be king!” Absalom is certain that if he were in his father’s shoes, he would have done better. He would not have failed to bring about justice for his sister Tamar. He would never have banished his own son and treated him like the family pariah given the chance. He would never be like his father. Never!

Brothers and sisters, to believe in original sin is to believe that the pride of Absalom is pent up in each of our own hearts, too. We all want to steal away to Hebron and make ourselves king. And the only way to be rid of self-exalting pride like Absalom’s is to walk the road David is about to tread. It’s a road that leads through the Mount of Olives. It’s a road that Jesus himself walked, one that says, “Not my will but Yours be done.” It’s a road of suffering. Humility is not gained without humiliation. This is why Jesus himself invited his followers, “Take up your cross, and follow me.”

But in his patient and his pride, Absalom had a goal. There was a prize for his patience. There was a trophy that his pride demanded. Thirdly, we see (3) The Theft of Absalom. Verse 1 begins with two words we skipped over quickly. “After this…” But these are connecting words that intentionally tie what comes after to what lies before. “After this…” What is “this”? Look just above in verse 33 of Chapter 14: “…and the king kissed Absalom.” After the king kissed Absalom. The king thinks their relationship is healed. King David believes his son is back into the fold. He does not realize that he has kissed his betrayer. And as each man passes through the gate, Absalom plants the seeds of revolution with what? Verse 5: “And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him.” The kingdom betrayed by a kiss. With affection, false sympathy, false love, false brotherhood, Absalom commits the ultimate theft, verse 6: “Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” (3) The theft of Absalom. Absalom stole their hearts.

The people were robbed blind. On the day of Absalom’s revolt, the people didn’t even realize what was happening. Sometime, when they were busy attending to urgent matters, seeking their own purposes, quietly in the darkness, their hearts were stolen.

Brothers and sisters, a conspiracy is afoot. The swindling of hearts in the darkness. The powers of darkness do not care about money, possessions, or even politics. Those things are not eternal. They care about hearts. They care about human souls. And while you are playing politics, fighting tooth and claw for money or success or grades or toys or homes or political points or likes on Instagram, your heart has been stolen and you didn’t even know it. Because this is where the King of the Universe ultimately reigns. Not on thrones made of gold and silver, but on the throne of human hearts. All the people, David himself were taken in by Absalom’s kiss.

There is one man who was not swindled, whose heart was never stolen by the betrayer’s kiss. John 10:18, Jesus Christ, the Son of David says, ““No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” Repeatedly in the Gospels, Jesus tell his disciples that he knows he will be betrayed. He may be walking the path of King David, but he KNOWS where he treads. He is not taken unawares: “And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (Matthew 26:21). Luke 22:47-48—“While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

What took place with Absalom is the patient, proud work that Satan has been working since the Garden of Eden. The Theft of Human Hearts. The highest throne in heaven and on earth is the human heart.

I wonder who is enthroned in your heart this morning? Satan comes with charm and deceit. He tells you what you want to hear. “You are good and right. You deserve better! God is holding out on you! Turn aside to me, and I will give you the kingdoms of this world!” Jesus Christ the son of David patiently walked the path of 2 Samuel 15 and following. The footsteps of his father David that lead out of Jerusalem, into humiliation, rejection, and affliction. He patiently waited on God the Father to vindicate him before the eyes of the world. He humbled himself and submitted to the humiliation of the cross, setting aside the throne that was rightfully his, and winning the hearts of men not by flattering words or false kisses, but by shedding the blood of his own heart for his brothers.

This Jesus who suffered outside the gate calls to you: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets…” (Matt. 7:13-15) Beware the enemy at the gates. Beware the Worldly Wiseman. Beware the Absaloms. Most of all, beware the sinful man inside who would turn you aside to another kingdom. In your heart, honor Christ the Lord as king. Let us pray.

(photo credit)