This Story Does Not Have a Happy Ending

This week’s Reflections is from a commentary I wrote for the on-line Center for Congregational Ethics, to go with the Revised Common Lectionary Reading for August 5, 2021, based on 2 Samuel 13:37-14:24.  It assumes the passage will be read before the article.

This Story Does Not Have a Happy Ending

Context matters. Beginning with chapter 11, the rest of the book of 2 Samuel reveals the dissolution of David’s family and the political struggles for his throne. The death of Amnon, the heir-apparent, left the exiled Absalom next in line. For three years the nation had faced an uncertain future. David is brokenhearted, angry, and depressed. Joab stages an intervention.

The plot is to trick the king into doing something about his situation. The script is written by Joab, the king’s harsh military general and confidant. An actress is enlisted to dramatically play the widow in distress: “Deliver us from the man who is trying to cut off both me and my son from God’s inheritance.” Coded language to make the point. As with Nathan the prophet, David is caught up in the tale, but then realizes the subtext. “Joab put you up to this,” he says. “Very well, I will do it. Bring back Absalom, but he must not see my face.”  It may have been the ending Joab was hoping for, but today’s audience is left unsatisfied. What about David’s heartache and depression?

Joab uses the king’s pain to his own advantage. All this elaborate subterfuge was to advance Absalom’s quest for the throne rather than seeking to heal the king’s heart and mind. In the end, there was no planned direct conversation between father and son, no opportunity for reconciliation, resolution, or forgiveness. No happy ending.

What are the ethical implications of this story for today? Are our political and personal conversations so filled with manipulation and coded language that we are missing the happy endings that honesty and truth afford?

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