“If only I had died instead of you”



“The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)



            A father's heart toward his child is a loving heart.  The father's heart for his suffering child is compassionate.  When he looks at the suffering child, he is feeling pity.  His heart aches.  So he sheds tears in his heart.  He wishes he had suffered instead of his beloved child.  He wishes he is sick instead of his child.  He wishes he has a hard time instead of his child.  He even thinks that it would have been better if he dies instead.


                In 2 Samuel 18:33, we see King David whose heart aches very much.  His heart ached because he heard the news that his son Absalom had died (vv. 28, 31-32).  So David, overcome with grief as if it were breaking his heart, went up to the room over the gateway and wept, saying, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!” (v. 33)  Parents who have lost their loved ones must have experienced the sorrow that broke David's heart.  I saw my first baby Charis (It means 'grace' in Greek) for the first and last time lying in my arms in the intensive care unit and wept bitterly.  At that time, I thought I was out of breath as I wept.  It was so heartbreaking and painful.  I was so sad that I cried and cried again and again.  In particular, the thought that my child had died in my place for my sins (12:14, 18) brought a deep sense of guilt to my heart.  It wasn't the child, but was me, the sinner, who should have died.  Father David, unable to overcome the sorrow that seemed to tear his heart, wept and cried out like this: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33)  David cried out that it would have been better if he had died in the place of his son Absalom.  I think this is how we parents feel.  When our beloved child passed away before us, we bury that child in our hearts for the rest of our lives.  And our beloved child still lives so vividly in our memory and we cry in front of God.  And we think “If I had died instead of my child.’  As I meditated on the word of David’s cry, I suddenly thought, ‘What would David have done in the relationship between father David and his son Absalom, so that Absalom wouldn’t have to die like this?’  So, I have been thinking again about the Bible verses about David and Absalom that I meditated on during the Morning Prayer meeting all week.  When I did so, I thought that if father David had done these three things well then his son Absalom would not have died.


            First, if father David had acted righteously at that time.

                David was furious (13:21) when his son Amnon raped his other son Absalom's sister Tamar (13:14), but he did nothing.  Obviously, in spite of Amnon's foolishness to do disgraceful thing to Tamar (v. 12), David as a father didn’t even rebuke Amnon in love.  How could David not rebuke his son Amnon for committing such a sin?  If he had truly loved his son, wouldn't he have to discipline him? (Heb. 11:7)  Wasn't that the job of a father, the head of the family?  What would Tamar have thought of her father, David, as she had been raped?  In particular, from the standpoint of Absalom, who loved his younger sister to such a degree that he named his daughter Tamar (14:27), he saw his younger sister remained and was desolate in his house after being raped by her other half brother Amnon (13:20).  What did Absalom think of his father David when he was seeing his beloved sister Tamar?  Could he have thought, 'Although he is a father and my sister suffered such a shocking thing, does it make sense that my father is just very angry and doesn't punish Amnon at all?'  If David is the head of the family, shouldn't he keep order and peace in his home by doing what is right?  Why was David so angry but didn’t do anything to Amnon?  Maybe it was because he remembered the sin he had had with Uriah's wife Bathsheba in the past? (11:4)  Was it because David himself lay with Bathsheba (v. 4) when he saw very beautiful Bathsheba bathing (v. 2) even though he knew she was married (v. 3), that he didn’t rebuke Amnon, who was stronger than Tamar, violated her and lay with her (13:14)?  If so, what was David's position, and what was the position of Tamar, who was raped, and the position of his brother Absalom?  How did Tamar feel, who was desolate and living in his brother's house?  At least we know that Tamar's brother Absalom hated Amnon (v. 22), who not only did evil by raping his sister Tamar, but also did more evil in sending her away (v. 16).  What was Absalom thinking in that hatred?  It was revenging.  Absalom had been sharpening the sword of revenge to kill Amnon for two years (v. 23).  Who was responsible?  I think it is the responsibility of father David.  If David had listened to all that his son Amnon had done to his daughter Tamar and didn’t just become furious (v. 21) and acted righteously, Absalom would not have sharpened the sword of vengeance against Amnon for two years to kill him.  How would Absalom feel at that time when his father had not taken any action against Amnon for raping his sister Tamar, nor did he rebuke him for a single word, so he had continued to see Amnon live in peace as if nothing had happened in the palace?


                Raising three children God gave me as a gift of grace, one of the words that I heard when they were little was “It’s not fair.”  I don't remember very well, but I think it was the youngest child who said that to me.  The reason I think so is because she is the only child who can speak directly to me like that at that time. Haha.  Not too long ago, the youngest child talked to me about her older sister this and that and said she too this and that.  At the time, what the youngest was saying was that I need to be fair to both her and her older sister (I think).  So I gave the youngest the same permission as I gave her older sister.  As a father, I try to love my three children equally as much as I can, but I feel very inadequate.  In particular, when the youngest daughter was young, I also read picture Bibles to her.  But I couldn't do that to my oldest daughter.  But thankfully, these days, I am getting closer to my first daughter.  It seems that these days God is helping me to love my two daughters in a balanced way.  The eldest son, who lives in the university dormitory, has a lot of conversations with me as I bring and pick him up from school on Friday and Sunday.  I even play basketball with my son and his friends on Saturday afternoons.  As a father, I try to love my three children in a balanced way.  But each of them will be able to accept my heart and my efforts differently.  I still remember when my three children were in elementary school, I disciplined them together.  Although I did it because I thought that I shouldn’t discipline them equally, not just discipling one child and not another child, I think the children could have thought differently.  When I think about the relationship between David and Absalom, if father David had quickly rebuked Amnon in love, Absalom's heart would have hated Amnon for two years and would have sharpened the sword of revenge to kill him.  I think the father David should have acted righteously so that the seed of Absalom's hatred toward Amnon didn’t grow in his heart.


                Second, if the father David had found his son Absalom a little earlier then.


                David's son Absalom hated Amnon for raping and sending his sister Tamar away, and decided to kill him (2 Sam. 13:32) and sharpened his revenge sword for 2 years (v. 23), and in the end killed Amnon (vv. 23-29).  Then Absalom fled (v. 34) and went to Talmai son of Ammihur king of Geshur, and dwelt in Geshur (v. 37).  When he had lived there for 3 years (v. 38), General Joab knew that his lord, King David, was longing for Absalom (vv. 39; 14:1), and told a wise woman what to say to King David (v. 2) and made her go to King David and speak (vv. 4-20), so that in the end King David allowed Joab to bring Absalom to him (v. 21).  But I don't quite understand it.  Obviously, the Bible says that King David's heart longed for his son Absalom (13:39; 14:1).  I don't quite understand why David missed his son Absalom only in his heart and didn’t looking for him.  If he was longing for the son who ran away, shouldn’t he, as a father, have to find the son quickly?  Still, if he was the king of a country, wouldn't he have been able to find enough of his fugitive son with all his might, abilities, and people?  But why didn't David do that?  Why did he miss Absalom who ran away only in his heart?  In the end, it wasn't David himself who found Absalom, who had fled to Geshur, after 3 years, but Joab was the first to find him with David's permission.  What kind of father would miss his child who ran away without looking for him?  Could it be that the father didn’t forgive his child with his heart?  Could it be that Absalom, who killed Amnon, was not forgiven in David’s heart, so David did not look for him?  How could David, who sent a man to find out about Bathsheba after he saw her bathing, didn’t send anybody to look for his son Absalom, who hated and killed Amnon, who raped Tamar and send her away, who ran away by Geshur for 3 years?  The father who longs for his son only in his heart without even forgiving him can hurt his heart and give him bitterness and pain in his heart.


                By the grace of God, my first son, whom I love, has entered college and is now living in college.  It's a 45-minute drive from my house.  So I go to school every Friday to pick him up and drive him back to the school dormitory on Sunday evenings.  Although it is fine now, but when my son first left for the university dormitory, and I saw his vacant room at home, my heart was a little empty.  Since it has been 18 years since we had been together at home, when I think of my son who left home after 18 years, I would remember the memories I had with him in one way or another.  Especially since my son moved to the university dormitory, there are only three women (my wife and two daughters) in the house.  So there are times when I miss my son as a father.  Haha.  (Actually, I told my youngest daughter that in front of my wife.  My oldest daughter also heard what I said since she was in the living room lol).  If my son had killed one of his sisters and ran away instead of leaving home to go to college, I wondered what I would do as his father.  The reason I imagined it that way was because I wanted to understand the feelings of David’s heart.  Like father David who loved Absalom, who had killed his half-brother, I think I will miss my son who ran away like Absalom who fled to Geshur.  But will I look for my son or will I just miss him like David?  Among the three parables of Jesus in Luke 15, when I look at the parable of the lost sheep or the parable of a lost coin, I think that I will earnestly seek my son who has fled.  But when I think of the parable of the prodigal son, I wonder if I will wait for him to return home without finding my son.  Of course, I think that the premise of this waiting is that the father searched for his lost son and waited for him.  In the end, I think the heart of a father is to find his child, even if it is the child who has committed a sin and ran away.  When the child knows the heart of the father who is looking for him, what will the child's heart toward the father be like?  But what if the son finds out that his father isn’t even looking for him?  It will inflict deep wounds, bitterness, and pain in the child's heart.


                Third and last, if the father David had forgiven him then.


                Absalom, who had sharpened his sword for revenge to kill Amnon for two years, and finally killed Amnon and fled to Geshur, returned to Jerusalem after 3 years (14:23).  But his father David had his son Absalom go back to his house so that he could not see his face (v. 24).  In other words, David didn’t want to see Absalom (v. 24).  To what extent David didn’t want to see Absalom was that he didn’t see Absalom for 2 years (v. 28).  No matter how much David didn't want to see Absalom, if he allowed Absalom to return to Jerusalem, whom he has missed for 3 years, shouldn't he immediately see Absalom’s face?  How can David not see Absalom's face in Jerusalem for 2 years?  Isn't it 5 years in total (3 years in Geshur and 2 years in Jerusalem)?  After Absalom fled and lived in Geshur for 3 years, David didn’t see Absalom.  Where is the father who kept his son from seeing his face for 2 years when he returned to Jerusalem?  Why was he so reluctant to see Absalom’s face?  Althought David hadn't seen the Absalom’s face for 5years, what if Joab had not known King David's heart for Absalom and had not brought Absalom to Jerusalem with his permission?  Then David would not be able to see Absalom’s face for longer than 5 years.  Also, when Absalom returned to Jerusalem and had not burn down Joab's fields (v. 30), then he would not have seen the face of his father David within 2 years.  That was why Absalmon said, “It would be better for me if I were still there!” (Geshur)  (v. 32)  How cruel is this on the part of his son Absalom since he returned to Jerusalem from Geshur after 3 years, and his father David didn’t want to see his face for 2 years.  If he didn't want to see his son's face, why did David brought Absalom, who was living in Geshur, back to Jerusalem?  Why didn’t he just leave Absalom to live in Geshur?  I don't quite understand why David missed Absalom so much in his heart.  Seeing that David missed Absalom so much that his servant Joab knew, he seemed to have missed Absalom with a sincere heart.  But how should we understand David, who didn’t even think about looking for his son Absalom and, even if he did, didn’t actually put into action?  If he didn't see Absalom in Jerusalem for 2 years, why did he allow Joab to bring Absalom to him?  Had it not been for him, Absalom would have continued to live in Geshur, so that he would not have lived in Jerusalem for 2 years and suffered this incomprehensible event of not seeing his father's face.  In his book "Leap Over a Wall" Pastor Eugene Peterson said David's most inexcusable and most costly sin of his life was the sin of not truly forgiving his son Absalom (Peterson).  David kept a distance from his son Absalom for about 2 years, even though he was in the same palace in Jerusalem, and didn’t truly forgive him.  If David had immediately forgiven Absalom for killing Amnon, just as God had forgiven him for his sin of sinning with Bathsheba and killing her husband Uriah (12:13), then maybe Absalom would not have tried to kill David (16:11).  But David didn’t forgive his son Absalom.  So Absalom returned to Jerusalem and saw the face of his father David after 2 years.  After that, he stole the hearts of the Israelites for 4 years (15:6, 7), made their hearts turn to him (v. 13) and tried to kill his own father David.  In this way, the result of the father's sin of not forgiving his son was the death of his son’s life.


                Parents feel compassion when they see their beloved child suffering.  The child is pitiful and even poor.  So parents want to suffer for themselves instead of for their suffering child.  Even so, parents dont want their child to suffer any more.  Also, the hearts of parents cannot bear to see their beloved child suffer and die.  In particular, the pain of guilt that the child's death was due to my sins will be different for each parent who has experienced it.  I think it is the heart of a parent that no one can fully understand.  Father David's heart ached so much that he could not bear his sorrow (18:33).  The reason was that he had heard of his son's death.  So David, unable to overcome the sorrow that seemed to tear his heart, cried out: “O my son Absalom!  My son, my son Absalom!  If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!”  Father David thought it would have been better if he had died instead of his son Absalom.  As it was already after Absalom's death, David's regrets would have been to no avail.  But as he looked back on his relationship with his son Absalom, he should have had at least these three thoughts: (1) ‘If I had not been very angry when I heard the news about Absalom’s sister Tamar being raped and driven out by Amnon, but had justly punished Amnon for his sin, Absalom’s heart would not have been dissatisfied with me.’  (2) ‘If I had found my son Absalom, who had fled by Geshur, sooner, he would not have lived in wounds, bitterness, and resentment toward me for 3 years.’  (3) 'If I had forgiven Absalom immediately when he came back to Jerusalem for 2 years after not seeing his face for two years (and asked him for forgiveness?), he would have stayed with the Israelites for 4 years and wouldn't have tried to steal the hearts of the Israelites and cause a coup to kill me.'  When I think about David’s cry out, “O my son Absalom!  My son, my son Absalom!  If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!” (v. 33) when Absalom died in battle with David's army, I remembered Jesus who cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34).  When Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” while dying on the cross for us, who were sinners and enemies of God, and who deserve God’s wrath and must die forever, I wonder what was his Heavenly Father’s thought as He was listening to His Son’s cry out?  When He saw Jesus crucified and died and heard his cry out, don’t you think God the Father said, ‘My Son Jesus, my Son Jesus, it would have been better if I had died for you!  Oh, Jesus, my son, my son!’ and wept over His heartbreaking sorrow and crying?



Became a child of God through the atoning death of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross,


James Kim

(April 14, 2018, Praying to be a father who does justice and fairness to the three children whom God has given me as a gift of grace, seeking them diligently and also forgiving them as the Lord forgives such sinner like me and asking them for forgiveness)