David and Absalom: Intimacy

David is a servant leader that we admire in many ways. He is known as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). And David led well. “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Psalms 78:72).But David’s son Absalom provides a very different picture of leadership.

Absalom was the third born son of David and his name means “father of peace.” But his leadership was not peaceful! Absalom was a subversive* leader, working to undermine the authority of the king and take power by force. Absalom killed his own brother, Amnon, and for some time was separated from his father as a result. Later, he plotted to undermine his father’s authority as a king and led a rebellion that forced David to flee from Jerusalem. Absalom’s life ended on the battle field where he was killed by David’s men. His story, found in 2 Samuel 13-19, provides the context for this series.

We will consider the differences between David and Absalom’s leadership in six different areas. First, let’s examine the difference in their intimacy with God, expressed in how they worshipped.

David pursued intimacy in worship; Absalom pretended to worship. David, as a man after God’s own heart, danced in worship and pursued a relationship with God (2 Samuel 6:14-22). Absalom, as a young boy, likely witnessed this event. But in the story of Absalom there is no indication of any intimate relationship with God.

The only time it is recorded that Absalom worshipped is when he asks his father to go to Hebron to worship. David agrees, not knowing that the plan of Absalom is not to worship but to rebel. “While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel…, David’s counselor, to come…. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom’s following kept on increasing” (2 Samuel 15:12).

Absalom only pretended to worship. It made him look good. But he was filled with hatred. He was estranged from his earthly father and it appears that he had no relationship with God as father. Absalom used worship as an instrument to gain power; David saw worship as a gift of God’s presence.

Servant leaders don’t worship to look good; they worship because God is good. Servant leaders pursue intimacy in worship; subversive leaders only pretend to have intimacy.

David surrendered pride in worship; Absalom sought power in worship. David understood that in true worship surrender is required. Worship is not to manipulate God to do what the leader wants, it is to surrender the heart of the leader to what God wants. David says, “Let him do to me whatever seems good to him” (2 Samuel 15:26).

Absalom used worship to get power. He only wanted God to grant him what he wanted. Servant leaders surrender to God’s will in worship; subversive leaders seek power in worship.

David exalted God in worship; Absalom exalted only himself in worship. When David worshipped he exalted God. “David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering” (1 Chronicles 21:26).

In contrast, “During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, “I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.” He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day” (2 Samuel 18:18).

Servant leaders exalt God; subversive leaders exalt themselves.

Intimacy with God, or the lack of it, shapes how every leader leads. Servant leaders, like David, pursue intimacy with God in passionate worship, surrender of self and a genuine desire to exalt God through their leadership. Like David, they become leaders after God’s own heart.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

*Subversive means to seek to undermine or destroy an established system. A leader who is subversive intends to overthrow the established authority to take power for themselves.

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Read the entire account of Absalom’s life in 2 Samuel 13-19. What do I learn about leadership from his life?
  • In what way am I tempted to pretend to worship? What happens to me as a person when I do this? What impact does it have on my leadership?
  • Do I pray to get from God what I want or do I pray to hear from God what He wants? How does this impact my leadership?
  • When I report what has happened through my leadership, do I exalt God or draw attention to myself? Are the monuments I spend my life building devoted to God or self?

Copyright, Global Disciples, 2018.

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