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Audio Transcript

This week we are talking parenting. A mom’s role in raising boys — that was Monday, in episode 2045. And today, Pastor John, as I look ahead in our Navigators Bible Reading Plan, coming up on the docket here between May 20 and June 2, we’re about to encounter three long, detailed, and related stories of rebellion. Children who rebelled. I’m thinking of Absalom, Sheba, and Adonijah.

On this trio of rebels, back in 2018, in a tweet you said to parents: “Read to your children the stories of the rebellion of Absalom against David (in 2 Samuel 15:1–18:33) and the rebellion of Sheba (in 2 Samuel 20:1–26) and the rebellion of Adonijah (in 1 Kings 1:1–2:25). Then look them in the eye and say: ‘Rebellion against the Lord’s anointed never, never, never succeeds.’” These three long stories are loaded with cautionary details. Can you point out a couple of things that strike you that parents would press home to their children in such a reading? And I presume the “Lord’s anointed” here you refer to in your tweet is Christ himself — is that correct? What other lessons stand out as you prepare us to read these sections for ourselves and to make use of them in our homes?

I wrote that tweet because it seems so painfully obvious to me that young people — and I suppose, as well, old people — need to be warned not to go down a path that has proved over and over again to be a path of self-destruction. Young people don’t always see the outcome of a path that they’re on. They need to be warned. They may not heed the warning — these three in the story certainly didn’t — but they might. And whether they do or not, it’s the parents’ God-given duty to sound biblical warnings for their children.

Three Failed Rebellions

I was struck in this passage as I was reading through it, like I always do once a year. One after the other, rebellions arose against King David. David is the Lord’s anointed. How he relates to Christ we’ll get to in just a moment, but God has chosen David to be king over his people. Samuel had anointed him king, and God had clearly warned in Psalm 2 what a foolish and deadly thing it is to plot against the Lord’s anointed. It’s utterly futile. The Lord sits in heaven and laughs.

Nevertheless, Absalom (David’s son), Sheba (who’s called a “worthless fellow” from the tribe of Benjamin), Adonijah (David’s son born next after Absalom) — one after the other, these three men raised their hand in rebellion against the Lord’s anointed, and every one of them is killed because of it.

Absalom steals the hearts of the men of Israel right under David’s nose by promising them better justice than David was giving them. And he leads a rebellion and winds up with his beautiful head of hair caught in a tree, and he’s dangling there and speared to death by Joab’s men.

Sheba tries to exploit a division between the ten tribes and Judah, who are squabbling over who gets to bring David back after the triumphs over Absalom, and he tries to lead a rebellion by mobilizing those ten tribes against Judah and David. But he ends up with his head chopped off (by a wise woman in the city of Abel) and thrown over the wall to Joab.

“We can never use the sins of our parents to excuse our own sins.”

And then Adonijah tries to exploit David’s old age to become king instead of his father’s choice — Solomon, his brother — recruiting even Joab now to switch sides. And both of them, Joab and Adonijah, die. So it’s not a very propitious prospect for anybody who lifts his hands against the Lord’s anointed.

Here are several lessons that I see in these stories, and maybe some more details can come out as I give the lessons.

1. Prophesied sin does not excuse sin.

First, a prophecy of misery and conflict in a family does not excuse those who caused the misery and the conflict. David began his reign with adultery with Bathsheba, murdering Uriah, her husband. Nathan the prophet says to David, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Samuel 12:10).

So, all these rebellions from his children and others are prophesied as part of the consequences of David’s sin. But there’s not a hint in the stories that Absalom and Sheba and Adonijah are excused for their wickedness and their rebellion because of this prophecy. Prophesied sin does not excuse the sinner. That’s lesson number one.

2. Failed parenting does not excuse sin.

Second — and a very similar point, but maybe one that can be felt today by contemporary people even more than that one — young people need to hear this: Failed parenting does not excuse the sin of the children. We can never use the sins of our parents to excuse our own sins. We are responsible for ourselves regardless of our backgrounds. We will be held accountable for our own sinful actions, and the failures of our parents will not remove our guilt.

First Kings 1:6 says, “[David] had never at any time displeased [Adonijah] by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?’” This is an indictment of David’s sinful doting on his sons, a failure to discipline. And it seems to me that he treated Absalom in the same way as Adonijah because, near the end, his leniency toward Absalom’s rebellion almost cost him his kingdom. Nevertheless, in spite of this parental failure, both Absalom and Adonijah are responsible for their own rebellious attitudes and their sins. They can’t blame it on their dad’s failures.

3. Rebellion arises from high and low places.

Third lesson: Rebellion can arise from a sense of privilege and entitlement, and it can arise from a sense of worthlessness that seeks to take advantage of a situation and rise to power.

Absalom and Adonijah were both highly privileged, not only because they were the sons of the king, but because both of them were explicitly said to be very handsome. The author goes out of his way to make the point that they were handsome, well-liked, well-connected. Sheba was a nobody. He’s called “a worthless man” (2 Samuel 20:1). He hadn’t made anything of his life. Absalom and Adonijah used their privilege to gain power and overthrow their father; Sheba shrewdly took advantage of a brewing conflict between the king’s subjects.

But in both cases, whether from privilege or poverty, they failed. The point is that poverty and power, high position and low position, being somebody and being nobody, is no justification for rebellion against the Lord’s anointed. Sin lurks in the low; sin lurks in the high. So, beware, young people, that you could justify a rebellion against the Lord’s anointed by either one.

4. Self-exaltation ends in destruction.

Fourth, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12) — the words of Jesus. The beginning of Adonijah’s story makes explicit the root of the problem. It goes like this: “Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, ‘I will be king’” (1 Kings 1:5). And the same is true of Absalom and Sheba. This is the great sin, the deep, deep sin of all children and all parents: a craving to be seen as great, a craving to be seen as powerful or beautiful or smart or cool or handsome or gutsy or rich, somehow to be seen better than others. “I want to be better” — like the apostles squabbled with each other to see who was the greatest.

“Rebellion against the Lord’s anointed absolutely cannot succeed.”

The Old Testament abounds with stories like these, designed to make Jesus’s point: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Noël and I are reading Isaiah right now. We just read last night about these oracles over and over again in Isaiah. The evil that God is punishing among the nations is pride, pride, pride — self-exaltation.

Submit to the Anointed One

So, finally, we should say that yes, David, the Lord’s anointed, was a type of Jesus Christ, a foreshadowing of King Jesus. Christ is the son of David. Christ is the final Anointed One. “Christ” (Christos) means “anointed.” And from these stories, we should warn our children — indeed, warn ourselves — that rebellion against the Lord’s anointed, David or Christ, absolutely cannot succeed. But to submit to him and see him as the great and glorious and wise and strong and just and gracious King that he is would satisfy our souls forever.

The glitzy promise of self-exaltation is a mirage, young people; it’s a mirage. Don’t go the way of Absalom or Sheba or Adonijah. It cannot succeed.