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Daily Bible Readings

Playing the Long Game in a Sanctuary City

Posted by Dan Sullivan on

[6] And your servant had two sons, and they quarreled with one another in the field. There was no one to separate them, and one struck the other and killed him. [7] And now the whole clan has risen against your servant, and they say, ‘Give up the man who struck his brother, that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he killed.’ And so they would destroy the heir also. Thus they would quench my coal that is left and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.” 

[14] We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.
[28] So Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence.
[32] Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent word to you, ‘Come here, that I may send you to the king, to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.” Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.’” [33] Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.  2 Samuel 14:6–7,14,28,32–33 ESV Read More

This progression shows the conniving tactics of Joab to try to reunite David and his son Absalom. He asks a woman to put on an act and lure the king into being moved to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem. It is a lot like the method Nathan used to convict David of adultery with Bathsheba.

In the middle of her plea, she makes this strange comment:  ”We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.” That statement refers to the allotment of the land by Joshua when the Israelites took over 400 years earlier.  If anybody killed anybody, someone from the victims family could kill them out of revenge. That would be like a death sentence of unknown timing, even if the victim’s death was a complete mistake. 

The solution God offered Israel was to have sanctuary cities–cities of refuge. If a murderer could make it to a designated city, he could live there safely his entire life. But if he ever left, it would be open season for revenge. (Why has this not been the subject of a movie?!) Joab, via this woman, is pleading with David to at least let Absalom return to Jerusalem and treat it like a sanctuary city for him. 

It isn’t until 2 years later that David finally allows Absalom to come see him. Theoretically, this is the heir to the throne, since Amnon was dead, but Absalom has caused David so much pain that he can’t have him around. This finally drives Absalom crazy because being isolated from his family in Jerusalem is worse than being isolated in far away Geshur. Absalom finally reaches a resolve: talk to me and either call me guilty or innocent, don’t shun me anymore!

David welcomes him and kisses his son. It has been 5 years since Absalom murdered Amnon. A full 7 years earlier was when Amnon raped Tamar. Now he will remain in Jerusalem and enjoy the presence of his father the king for another 4 years. 

Life is a long-lasting series of events. All too often, someone might do us wrong and we react too soon, isolating them too fast. Here we can see a ten-year family drama play out that looks like it finally resolves. What if we treated our relationships like life-long relationships? If you knew the bitterness you have toward another person would wear out in 5 years and you’d be friends again, is it worth holding onto that bitterness? The fact is, in Christ, we now all have the opportunity to be a refuge city for someone seeking forgiveness. In reality, we all need each other to be those refuge cities. 

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Tags: dysfunction, family, forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation, sin