The widow of Tekoa – good or bad advice.

In 2 Samuel 13 Joab sends a woman to talk to David and persuade him to be reconciled with his son Absalom. Absalom is in exile because he has killed his brother Amnon who had raped his sister Tamar.

My question is whether the advice to be reconciled to Absalom is good or bad.

My initial thought was that the advice was bad. This was based on the idea that Absalom should face justice for killing his brother, although Amnon admittedly deserved to be punished. Also, the woman’s advice is a deliberate parallel with the word of God brought by Nathan the prophet after David sinned with Bathsheba, but with significant differences. Where Nathan’s advice comes from God, the womans advice comes from Joab, and where Nathan presents David with an outrageous injustice, the woman presents him with a murky choice between justice and family bonds.

The differences between Nathan and the widow make me see the widows advice in a negative light. Unfortunately no commentators agree with me. They all see the widows advice as urging appropriate compassion for a misguided son who should be welcomed home by his father.

Well, going to have to jump one way soon. Anyone got any ideas?

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2 Responses to The widow of Tekoa – good or bad advice.

  1. Dave says:

    Hmmm… I’d certainly agree that the difference between Nathan and the woman is significant. There’s also a streak of sucking-up in her language that doesn’t sit so well with me. (It’s actually chapter 14 by the way).

    And I guess there’s also the question of how much, if at all, you can de-embed this event from the overall consequences of David not punishing Joab properly after Abner’s murder.

    14:14 is interesting I think:
    14 Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.

    Initially I saw the “but God does not take away life” and thought “but sometimes he does” – eg Job’s experience. But then, in Christ we have the ultimate example of God devising a way so that *all* banished people may not remain estranged from him.

    There’s also all the consequences of Absalom coming back that we see in subsequent chapters, but the question is then how much was due to David taking the widow’s advice to bring Absalom home and how much was due to David continuing to ignore him?

  2. Jon says:

    There’s three possibilities, good, bad, or neutral. On the side of good is our biblical understanding of mercy and forgiveness, which suggests that David is right to forgive, even if the consequences are bad. On the side of bad is that the advice comes from Joab, that Absalom should have been punished for murder, and that ultimately there is a civil war. On the side of neutral is the matter-of-fact tone of the story (this is just what happened) and the fact that we find it hard to figure out if its good or not.

    I actually think the story is best understood as part of a spiral of violence. Because David fails to take appropriate action against Amnon, Absalom takes the law into his own hands and avenges his sister. David is then unable to do anything to right the situation – his relationship with Absalom is permanently ruined, so even when he lets him back into the country he refuses to speak to him and turns him into a rival, so the civil war is inevitable. You could take a couple of morals from this – that we should deal with evil quickly, not let it fester, that our forgiveness and reconciliation should be whole-hearted not partial (we should really forgive, not just pretend to and do it grudgingly), or perhaps that forgiveness needs to be two-way (you could read the story to suggest that David forgives but Absalom doesn’t).

    The other way to look at it is to see it as an incident in the relationship between David and Joab. The book has mixed messages about this relationship – at times David seems to trust and rely on Joab, at other times he seems to be in his power and resent it. Which is this? Is Joab doing David a favour by bringing about reconciliation with his favourite son? Or is David simply too afraid to go against Joab, for fear that he will end up siding with Absalom in a civil war and take the army with him? Joab sides with David when the war comes and Absalom is defeated, but he kills Absalom against David’s orders. Who is the most powerful man in Israel, the king or the general? And who is right, David for wanting him spared or Joab for wanting to end the conflict once and for all? Further food for thought on this topic in 1 Kings 2:5-6.

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