David and Absalom: Sin

Sin is a universal reality for all leaders, but the leaders’ response can be as different as David’s and Absalom’s. David’s most well-known sin is his sexual relationship with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Absalom has a longer list of sins including the murder of his brother, destruction of personal property, rebellion to authority, and sexual immorality.

David responded as a servant leader while Absalom dealt with sin as a subversive* leader. And the outcomes could not be more distinct. David, in spite of his sin, is known as a “man after God’s own heart.” Absalom paid for his sin with his life. What can servant leaders learn about sin from the lives of David and Absalom?

David declared his sin; Absalom denied sin. David initially tried to cover his sin, attempting to make it look like Bathsheba’s pregnancy was from her husband. Then he had her husband killed. But when the prophet Nathan came to confront David, he quickly acknowledged, “I have sinned against the Lord (2 Samuel 12:13). In his psalm of confession, David says, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:3-4). David recognized that he sinned not only against the people involved but against God.

In contrast, Absalom, after murdering his brother, says to Joab: “Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death” (2 Samuel 14:32b, emphasis mine). David sinned in secret, but repented openly and cried out to God for forgiveness. Absalom sinned openly but refused to repent. He never acknowledged his sin to God or his father.

All leaders are tempted, like Absalom, to cover their sin. Hiding sin is a natural response and it is easy to conclude that confession will damage our leadership. David demonstrates a better way. Servant leaders acknowledge their sin quickly and openly; subversive leaders cover their sin.

David allowed sin to shape his character; Absalom used sin to shape his leadership. David repented of his sin and said, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10-12). David sinned in a moment of passion, but as he repented his character was shaped by God. The experience of God’s grace made David even more effective as a leader.

In contrast, Absalom deliberately sinned to advance his leadership, by sleeping on the rooftop with his father’s wives. (See 2 Samuel 16:21-22.) He used sin to gain more followers! Absalom had no regard for character; he only desired to be the king. Leadership was his goal, not integrity.

Some leaders, like Absalom, base decisions not on what is right or wrong but on what will advance their leadership. They are willing to compromise integrity for short term gain. Servant leaders allow sin to shape their character; subversive leaders use sin to shape their leadership.

David’s response to sin made him better; Absalom’s response made him bitter. David’s life was shaped by his sin and he drew closer to God as a result. He also promised God that after forgiveness he would, “teach transgressors your ways” (Psalm 51:13). Servant leaders repent of sin and allow their mistakes to make them better. They draw closer to God and experience His grace and forgiveness. As they do, they share what they learned with those who follow. They become more compassionate with those they lead as they recognize their own failings and are able to extend grace to others who sin.

Absalom’s response to sin only drove him to a life of bitterness, revenge, and rebellion. His initial sin of murder and denial of guilt led to rebellion, then sexual immorality, and a life of broken family relationships.

The difference between leaders is not in how we sin but in how we respond to sin. Servant leaders accept God’s grace and allow their sin to make them better; subversive leaders allow sin to make them bitter.

Our response to our own sin will shape our leadership. Servant leaders acknowledge sin and allow God to use it to shape their character and make them better leaders. Do you follow David’s example or Absalom’s?

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 Psalm 51 to reflect on how David responded to his sin. What is God speaking to me through this chapter?
  • How has my own sin changed the way I lead?
  • In what areas am I most tempted to make leadership my goal instead of integrity?
  • Are there currently hidden sins in my own life which need to be confessed?
  • What specific step is God asking me to do in response to this reflection?

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

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