David and Absalom: Relationships

Leadership is all about relationships and the way we relate to those we lead. There is no leadership without relationships. But how relationships are viewed and developed varies greatly. In this reflection on the contrast between David and his son Absalom, we will examine their relationship with their followers.

Both David and Absalom had relationships with their followers, but they built and maintained these relationships in very different ways. David, as a servant leader, built relationships in a manner that benefited everyone involved. As a subversive* leader, Absalom used relationships to advance his own cause. We learn about our own leadership relationships as we reflect on their examples.

David built relationships with production; Absalom built relationships with promises. David attracted others to follow him with his courage, first displayed when he killed Goliath. Saul’s son Jonathan saw the faith and courage in David’s life and became a lifelong friend and supporter. Soon after that, David began to lead the men into battle and won their loyalty by his accomplishments as a leader. He even influenced some of Israel’s enemies, men from Gath, to become loyal supporters (2 Samuel 15:18).

David won peoples’ hearts by what he did as a leader. They recognized his victories in battle and acknowledged that God had called him to leadership.

In contrast, Absalom never accomplished anything as a leader. He attracted people to follow him by leading a conspiracy against the king. Ahithophel, David’s counselor, chose to follow Absalom, likely because of his disgust at David’s relationship with Bathsheba, his granddaughter. Absalom promised results but never produced. He said, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then…I would…” (2 Samuel 15:4). He took the easy way of criticizing the current leader instead of offering leadership.

Subversive leaders build relationships based on their leadership dreams. Servant leaders follow God and accomplish results that attract people to follow them. Subversive leaders promise results; servant leadersproduce results.

David honored relationships by listening; Absalom listened only to use relationships. David listened well. He first listened to God and often sought His counsel. He listened to the counsel of his commanders (2 Samuel 18:4; 19:5-8). And David listened to the rebuke of the prophet Nathan.

But Absalom only appeared to listen to those who were coming to the king for justice. His goal was only to steal their hearts so that he could become king (2 Samuel 15:1-6). Later Absalom refused to listen to the advice of Ahithophel, which led this counselor to take his own life (2 Samuel 17:1-23).

Subversive leaders pretend to hear, hoping that will build relationships. Servant leaders honor relationships by listening. Listening to others does not produce weak leadership; it builds relationships instead.

David sacrificed self to build relationships; Absalom sacrificed relationships to build his leadership. David built strong, loyal relationships by continually sacrificing himself for the people he led. The best example of the strength of these relationships is when David longed for water and his mighty men broke through enemy lines to fulfill his desire. But instead of quenching his own thirst, David poured out the water since they risked their lives to get it (2 Samuel 23:13-17). He used relationships to build others.

In contrast, Absalom sacrificed relationships to advance his own position. He ordered the death of his older brother and then led a rebellion against his own father! And 20,000 men lost their lives in the battle at the end of his life. Absalom used relationships to build himself.

Servant leaders attract others to themselves when they willingly sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. They show honor to others instead of only focusing on themselves. But subversive leaders view their own advancement as more important than relationships. They embrace any relationship that advances their cause and discard any relationship that doesn’t serve their ambition.

David and Absalom demonstrate two very different ways leaders build relationships. They illustrate that at least for the short term, both ways attract others. But lasting success comes to leaders who attract others by sacrificing self, listening well, and producing results.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • What have I done as a person that could make others want to follow me? If very little or nothing, what do I need to do before seeking a leadership role?
  • Have I ever made promises to attract others to follow me? If so, what was the result?
  • Am I able to listen to the counsel of others, even when they disagree with my actions? If not, what can I do to become a better listener?
  • Do I ever pretend to listen so that others will think I am a great leader? If so, what is God inviting me to do to change?
  • In what way have I sacrificed myself for those who follow me? Are there steps I can take today which can demonstrate that I value their relationship more than their performance?

*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.

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

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