The Old Testament reading for Sunday, August 9, 2015, is about the tragic relationship between David and his son, Absalom. I’ve titled it, “When Your Chickens Come Home To Roost.” I hope you have a great Sunday!
When Your Chickens Come Home To Roost
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 NIV
5 The king [David] commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.
6 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.
9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.
15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.
31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
33 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!”
The Back Story
Wow. Today’s story needs a lot of context, so let’s get started.
First, let me identify the players: The king is David; his son is Absalom; and, Joab, Abishai, and Ittai are commanders in David’s army.
Throughout the entire summer series of sermons, we have been looking at the stories of Samuel, Saul, David, and soon David’s son, Solomon. But today we come to a pivotal moment in the David story.
You remember the plot that brought us to this part of the story, don’t you? Here it is:
- The people of Israel and Judah demand that Samuel find them a king.
- Samuel warns them that they don’t really want a king because a king will take their lands, their herds, their sons, and their daughters.
- But after the people insist that they do want a king, because they want to be like other nations, Samuel anoints Saul as God’s chosen.
- Saul pretty quickly fails in his obedience to God, and God withdraws God’s Spirit from him.
- Samuel then anoints David, although Saul is still king. Awkward, to say the least.
- Finally, Saul is killed in battle and David ascends to the throne of both Judah, and then Israel, uniting the northern kingdom of Israel with the southern kingdom of Judah.
- Everything is running along just fine, until one day David sees Bathsheba. Unfortunately, Bathsheba is another man’s wife. So, David takes Bathsheba, sleeps with her and she becomes pregnant. This is bad, even for a king so David has her husband Uriah killed to cover up his adultery.
- Nathan the prophet confronts David, and pronounces judgment on David and his household for his wanton and willful sin against God, Bathsheba and Uriah, and the nation.
And, that’s where we pick up our story today. Oh, one item I forgot to mention. Nathan’s confrontation of David includes this prophetic pronouncement of the consequences of David’s sin:
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” — 2 Samuel 12:11-12 NIV
Which brings us to Absalom. Absalom is David’s son by his wife, Maakah, daughter of the king of Geshur, and he was born in Hebron. When Absalom grows up, he defends the honor of his sister, Tamar. Tamar was violated by her half-brother, Amnon, who is also half-brother to Absalom. Eventually, Absalom kills Amnon, which alienates him from David.
David, however, appears to have a soft-spot in his heart for Absalom. After three years in exile in Geshur, David allows Absalom to return to Jerusalem. However, Absalom repays his father’s kindness — and weakness for him — by betraying his father, David.
Absalom and his entourage set up camp near David’s palace. When people from Israel come to David for justice, Absalom intercepts them, welcomes them, and hears their cause. He tells everyone that because his father David favors Judah, there is no one in Israel to hear their concerns and do justice for them.
Of course, this endears Absalom — who is a handsome guy — to the Israelites from the north. Eventually, Absalom gathers an army, proclaims himself king of Israel in his birthplace of Hebron. Absalom then marches toward Jerusalem.
David, hearing that Absalom is headed toward Jerusalem with a huge army, flees his palace, leaving ten of his concubines in charge of the palace. Concubines were sort of like second-string wives in David’s day.
Absalom is advised to ravish his father’s concubines, and thereby humiliate David before the people of Jerusalem and Judah. Absalom sets up a tent on a balcony of David’s palace, so all Jerusalem can see that he is taking his father’s harem for himself.
And so the words of Nathan the prophet are fulfilled —
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
David’s chickens had come home to roost. I am told that that phrase was a shortened version of a longer saying that went something like this — “Curses are like chickens. They soon come home to roost.”
And so it was with David. Not only had David’s sin against God with Bathsheba cost the life of their baby, it had also cost him humiliation by his own son, who was seeking to kill him.
Sadly, the story reveals even more tragedy. David’s forces win a decisive victory over Absalom’s army. As he flees, Absalom’s long, thick hair — for which he is notoriously famous — gets caught in the low-hanging limbs of a tree as he rides under it.
Hanging there helpless, David’s men see Absalom and take their chance to kill him, despite David’s plea to his commanders to “Be gentle with the young man Absalom, for my sake.”
When word reaches the king that his beloved Absalom is dead, David is inconsolable. So grief-stricken is he, that David’s soldiers slink back into Jerusalem under the cover of darkness because they are afraid of what the king might do to them.
Joab, ever the tough general, berates David for his grief for Absalom, while ignoring the valor of his own men who have saved his life. Joab tells David to get out there and greet his troops and give them his royal approval for having saved his life. David then appears to his troops and the Absalom chapter in the story of David comes to a close.
A Lot of Chickens Have Come Home To Roost
And so what is the point of this story? Well, I think one point is that King David, who was so successful in battle and so revered by his people, was perhaps not a very good father. He loved Absalom, but somewhere along the way, Absalom came to despise David, his own father. Perhaps it was because Absalom was one of six sons David had while in Hebron, all from different wives.
David may be a larger-than-life figure, but in some ways he was a colossal failure. Relationships with women or his children didn’t seem to go to well for him.
But I’m thinking today of another point to this story. A point that we might miss if we just focus on David as an individual.
David’s sin affected not only his life, Bathsheba’s life, but it affected the life of the united kingdom that David ruled. When Amnon, Absalom’s half-brother and David’s son, violated Tamar, David knew about it and did nothing. Maybe David thought that it would appear hypocritical of him to discipline his own son for the same sin he had committed.
Whatever the reason, David’s failure to obtain justice for Tamar infuriated Absalom. So Absalom waited, plotted, and finally took his revenge on Amnon two years later.
Disobedience to God not only affects the present, but it also affects the future. And sooner or later, our chickens come home to roost.
We live in a society whose problems are enormous. Many of those problems had their genesis in the past. But, while we are not to blame for the original problem, we are responsible for repairing the sins of the past in the present.
They’re Our Chickens Now
In other words, when those chickens come home to roost, somebody has to deal with them. And that’s not always easy. David had to deal with his own chickens — his sin with Bathsheba had far-ranging consequences that affected him, Bathsheba, his kingdom, and his relationship with God.
But sometimes, we have to deal with someone else’s chickens who have come home to roost.
When our grandson Ezra was born a little over 3 years ago, Debbie and I stayed at the farm and kept his brother, Ollie, while Amy was in the hospital. Part of life on the farm was getting all the chickens in the chicken coop for the night. At that time, Amy had about 30 chickens. That’s a lot of chickens, especially when they’re all free range and roaming about the place.
So as dusk came on that first night when we were alone at the farm, I grabbed the bucket of chicken feed from the feed room. I filled it full and rattled it vigorously and loudly. The chickens recognized the bucket as the one that contained their food, and came running toward me. Which was scary in itself.
By that time I had made it to the chicken coop. In one smooth motion, I opened the door to the chicken coop and threw a handful of chicken feed on the ground inside the coop. True to form, the chickens went into the coop, pecking at the feed on the ground. Quickly, I shut the door.
I felt pretty proud of myself, until I turned around and saw one chicken standing there all by herself. I dropped a few morsels of chicken food in front of her, to lure her closer to the door. Then, in one final, fluid move, I opened the door, threw chicken feed over the heads of those in the coop so they would run to the back, and then threw some in front of Chicken Little, but inside the coop. I fully expected her to step right in. But she didn’t. She just stood there.
By this time, the chickens in the coop had turned back and were coming toward the bucket and me, again, so I quickly shut the chicken wire door.
And there we were. Chicken Little and me. I suppose I could have picked her up, but I really didn’t want to do that. I’ve never picked up a chicken, and that was not the evening for a first experience.
So, I left her there. I was sure a coyote or raccoon would eat her. But such is life on the farm, I decided. However, the next morning when I walked to the coop to open the door for the day, there she was, standing right where I had left her. Defiant until the end.
My experience with chickens is not a perfect illustration, but here’s the idea: Those chickens that have come home to roost may not be your chickens, but you and I have to deal with them.
We may not be responsible for the problems of our family, our friends, or out society, but those are now our chickens. They’ve come home to roost, and all we can do is deal with them in the most helpful ways we know now.
The consequences of David’s sin and Absalom’s revolt was not Joab’s problem. They were David’s chickens that had come home to roost. But, because David was not treating the soldiers who had saved his life with gratitude and reward, Joab realized those were now his chickens to deal with. Joab confronted David, David came to his senses, and made the situation right.
Just remember — We may not be to blame for the chickens coming home to roost, but we are responsible for dealing with them when they do.