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David, part 17

The Widow of Tekoah's Parable and Absalom's Return.

2 Samuel 14

Absalom, when he had slain Amnon, fled, and went to Talmai king of Geshur, who was his grandfather; he being the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, one of David's wives (2 Sam 3:3). Absalom was like an offending child who seeks refuge from a father's severity in a mother's tenderness. In this Syrian kingdom he remained three years. Being himself a Syrian by maternal descent, he no doubt, during the period of his abode in Geshur, strengthened this hereditary side of his character, which he so conspicuously displayed after his return to Judea. For Syria, while it represented the knowledge of spiritual things, represented also that knowledge perverted; as the sons of the East, which the Syrians are sometimes called, were wise men, but were also among those of whom it is said, "Your wisdom and your knowledge, it has perverted you" (Isa 47:10).

David's love of Absalom gradually overcame his displeasure. "The soul of king David longed to go forth to Absalom: for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead." When Joab perceived that the king's heart was towards Absalom, he employed his ingenuity to obtain the king's consent to Absalom's return without directly proposing it. He "sent to Tekoah, and fetched thence a wise woman, and said to her, I pray you, feign yourself to be a mourner, and put on now mourning apparel, and anoint not yourself with oil, but be as a woman that had a long time mourned for the dead: and come to the king, and speak on this manner to him. So Joab put the words in her mouth."

The parable which Joab put into the mouth of the woman of Tekoah, though not equal either in its subject or its object to the parable of Nathan the prophet, was well adapted to the purpose it was intended to serve. Attired as a widow who had long mourned for the dead, she came to implore the help of the king. "Your handmaid had two sons, and they two strove together in the field, and there was none to part them, but the one smote the other, and slew him. And, behold, the whole family is risen against your handmaid, and they said, Deliver him that smote his brother, that we may kill him, for the life of his brother whom he slew; and we will destroy the heir also: and so they shall quench my coal which is left, and shall not leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the earth." The king desired her to return to her house, and he would give charge concerning her. This was not sufficient for the suppliant's purpose. She led the king on, till he made the solemn declaration, "As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of your son fall to the earth." Then she disclosed her purpose, and applied her parable, not indeed with the overpowering directness and authority of the prophet, as the man and messenger of God, but with a freedom and boldness that bespoke the consciousness of being upheld by a power greater than her own. "Wherefore then," she demands, "have you thought such a thing against the people of God? For the king does speak this thing as one which is faulty, in that the king does not fetch home again his banished." After alluding to the case of the manslayer, for whom God had appointed a city of refuge, and devised means that his banished be not expelled from him, she concludes with saying, "The word of my lord the king shall now be comfortable: for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad: therefore the Lord your God will be with you."

But the king had discerned more than the wise woman suspected. He saw not merely what was the purpose of the parable, but who was its real author. "The king answered and said to the woman, Hide not from me, I pray you, the thing that I shall ask you. Is not the hand of Joab with you in all this? "In confessing the truth, the woman makes it the means of paying an Oriental compliment to the king, as being "wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth."

Although this scheme for obtaining the king's consent to the return of Absalom was of human contrivance, the circumstances, in virtue of their forming part of an inspired record, have a Divine and spiritual meaning.

In Joab we see here, as in the case of Uriah, the pliant instrument of the king's will, as the reasoning faculty he represents can be of the human will. Joab perceived that the heart of the king was toward Absalom. But the wise woman of Tekoah was Joab's instrument. She did not devise, but her woman's wit was relied on for the effective execution of a plan which might require much more than clever acting. As women's perceptions are keener than their reasonings are powerful, they have more resources for sudden emergency than men have; and the woman of Tekoah showed herself to be, in this respect, equal to the occasion. She is not, however, alone in her reputation for wisdom. A little further on in this history, we shall meet with another wise woman whose quick perception and decision of character were the means of saving a city from destruction at the hand of Joab himself.

There is not much in the Word to guide us as to any connection that existed between the wise woman and Tekoah. This city is mentioned twice in the prophets. Amos was a herdsman of Tekoah when he was called to the prophetic office (Amos 1i); and Jeremiah speaks of it. "O you children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem, and blow the trumpet in Tekoah, and set up a sign of fire in Beth-haccerem: for evil appears out of the north, and great destruction" (Amos 6i). "The subject here treated of is the devastation of the Church as to truth and good, because it is against Zion and Jerusalem, for Zion signifies the good of the Church and Jerusalem its truth; and as the sons of Benjamin signify the conjunction of goodness and truth, they are commanded to assemble themselves out of the midst of Jerusalem, to blow the trumpet in Tekoah, and kindle a fire in Beth-haccerem (or the house of the vineyard). To blow the trumpet signifies combat, by virtue of truths derived from good, against that Church, the house of the vineyard signifying that Church itself, and to kindle a fire upon it signifies the destruction of the same by evil loves. The north, from which the evil appears, signifies the falsity of evil, and the great destruction the dissipation of goodness and truth." Tekoah and Beth-haccerem were near each other, and not far from Jerusalem; and it is evident, from the trumpet blown in the one and a sign of fire set up in the other, that they have reference to the two principles of truth and goodness in the Church; for truth is the trumpet that sounds the alarm, and good is the sign of fire, and is that which the fire of evil love destroys. When Amos was among the herdsmen of Tekoah he was called by the Lord to raise a warning voice to backsliding Israel; and he speaks of the Lord's word through him by this same figure: "Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid?" (2 Sam 2:6.) Tekoah, therefore, as mentioned by the prophets, is that truth which comes with the voice of warning and expostulation. The voice, in the case we are now considering, is that of a woman, although the words she utters are those of a man. The parable, which was designed to win the king's consent, must, it is true, be put into a woman's mouth; but, for a higher reason, it was meet that the expostulation and appeal should be uttered by a woman's voice; for the king himself desired what he was to be asked to grant; and one who was the type of affection was the suitable medium of appealing to the heart. Yet the king, when his affection had been secured, saw through the artifice, he saw that the voice was indeed the widow's voice, but that the words were the words of Joab. As in the case of Jacob, when clothed in Esau's garments, good was without and truth was within. It was under the semblance of good that truth attained its object.

The parable itself was simple; and though the main incident was true, the circumstances connected with it were not. It was true that one brother slew the other, but it was not true that they strove together in the field, and that there was none to part them. This part of the parable was not based upon the law of Moses, for no case of this kind occurs in the civil code. The law treats of accidental and of wilful homicide. For him who killed his neighbour ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past, a city of refuge was provided; but for him who hated his neighbour, and lay in wait for him, and rose up against him, and smote him mortally that he died, there was no escape (Deut. xix.). It is evident that in the time of David the law of Moses was not, at least in all cases, strictly enforced. And this may be regarded as indicating the state of the Church at the time our Lord was in the world, when the law was in a great measure set aside; and when, in consequence, the Lord's mercy was exercised, not against the law, but without it. For at the end of the Church, the people are in a great measure in the state of the servant that knew not his lord's will, and committed things worthy of blows, and who was therefore beaten with few (Luke xii 48). The Lord is mercy itself. He is the lord in the parable who forgave his servant ten thousand talents because he asked him. But answers to prayer and forgiveness of sins are not always represented in Scripture as so directly or easily obtained as in the parable of the indebted servant. In the parable of the unjust judge we are taught the necessity of persistent prayer, and encouraged confidently to hope that, however long delayed, an answer of peace will come at last. The Divine mercy, though in itself spontaneous and unbounded, is hindered and limited in its exercise by the unfitness of sinners to receive and use it. And he who obtains mercy in the forgiveness of his sins, may forfeit that mercy by being himself unmerciful, as did the forgiven servant when he refused to forgive a fellow-servant, who owed him an hundred pence (Matt. xviii 23-35). So we find Absalom, after he had obtained his father's forgiveness, rebelling against him. Here, however, we have only to consider the forgiveness. For this there was a desire on both sides. Both the king and Absalom desired reconciliation. But means were required to bring it about. And this is always the case whether it is indicated or not. However simple and direct the action of the mind may seem, there are many different powers called into activity in even the simplest mental operation; just as in the body every movement calls innumerable parts into action. In all cases of reconciliation and conjunction there must be reconciling and conjoining mediums. And the operation may seem to begin with them. The rational faculty, for instance, is so constituted that it has the power of looking upward and downward, upward to heaven and downward to the world, upward to what is spiritual and downward to what is natural; or, what is the same, the rational is able to look inward and outward, inward to the inner man and outward to the outer man, and to mediate between them, so as to reconcile and unite them.

Joab's mediation through the widow was successful. "The king said to Joab, Behold now, I have done this thing: go therefore, bring the young man Absalom again." Joab fell to the ground on his face, and bowed himself, and thanked the king, representing the submission of the rational to the spiritual; and then he arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem, representing the influx of the spiritual through the rational into the natural, by which the natural is elevated into a spiritual state. But reconciliation and conjunction were not yet complete. "The king said, Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face." The face represents the interior of the mind, as the back represents its exterior. Hence so much is said of the Lord's face, as expressive of the inmost and hidden nature of God, which no man can see and live, and which yet may be seen as brought forth to view in the Divine Humanity, which veils the glory of the Essential Divinity; and hence Moses, who desired to see the Divine Glory, was not permitted to see the Lord's face, but only His back parts. In this state of incomplete reconciliation Absalom remained two full years, that number which is so often mentioned when a state representative of conjunction, or one ready for conjunction, is treated of. "Therefore Absalom sent for Joab, to have sent him to the king." But Joab, though sent for three times, refused to come; and was only induced to comply by Absalom's servants setting Joab's field of barley on fire. A full state of truth does not of itself bring the rational over to the natural; but when the fire of natural love, as zeal, invades the good of the rational mind, which is from a natural origin, and is in connection with natural good, as Joab's field was near Absalom's field, or place, then is the effect produced. "Joab came to the king, and told him: and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king: and the king kissed Absalom." Thus the son humbled himself before his father, and his father gave him the kiss of love, the symbol of reconciliation and conjunction.

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