Wait and Hope
Waiting and Hoping
August 8, 2021
2 Samuel 18; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4: 25-26, 29, 31-32
(The David saga continues)
With the connivance of his cousin, Amnon (one of David’s sons) rapes Tamar, his half-sister which sets off another cycle of violence in David’s family. Lust leads to rape. Rape leads to despair in Tamar and self-loathing in Amnon while in Absalom, Tamar’s brother, it breeds violent revenge. Two years later, still hating his brother, Absalom invites Amnon to a great feast but quietly orders his servants to kill Amnon when he is quite drunk. Which they do. Absalom then flees, fearing his father’s wrath. This leaves David with many sons, but no heir apparent.
About this time a “wise woman” from Tekoa asks for an audience with the king and tells him her sad story—essentially a parable worthy of Nathan. Hers was a family with two sons, she begins. One killed the other and the rest of the family wants to avenge his death by killing the remaining son, even though that will leave no heir. David promises his protection for her and her son and says, with prophetic irony, As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.
Like Nathan, she then points her finger at David saying, By what you have said you have convicted yourself, inasmuch as you have not brought your banished son home again. David takes her words to heart, relents and asks Joab, his trusted Chief of Staff, to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem. There is really no reconciliation, though, and Absalom begins/continues to plot insurrection. Ultimately, he goes to Hebron and declares himself king, drawing many people to him.
In the face of what appears to be a popular revolt, David has to act. So the king left [Jerusalem], followed by all his household, except ten concubines whom he left behind to look after the house. But David also recruits Ahithophel to stay behind and report to him. As he is leaving the city, David is confronted by members of Saul’s family—King Saul, whose throne David himself had usurped. They call out to him, The Lord has avenged on all of you the blood of the house of Saul… See, disaster has overtaken you for you are a man of blood!
And blood there will certainly be. As the armies of David and Absalom are about to meet in battle, David orders his commanders to deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.
[Here begins the text for the day, 2 Samuel 18:6-17, 28-33]
O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!
David’s wailing grief for his son Absalom resounds like a death knell for his whole dynasty. It is a cry that erupts from loss so deep that he wishes for his own death while knowing that even that would not bring back his son. It is bleak, agonizing despair. In the realignment of loyalties that Absalom’s attempted usurpation caused we see the beginnings of divisions that will eventually result in the split of David’s kingdom. Israel and Judah will separate, each having its own king, most of whom “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” Slowly, both kingdoms are destroyed from within.
Weakness in the Middle East inevitably leads to conquest and in 587 BCE, Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, taking many people into captivity. While today’s psalm could be a lament from the depths of David’s own anguish, it could also have been composed against the background of a whole people in despair, David’s own descendants—defeated, taken from their homes into captivity in a strange and foreign land.
But it could as well be the anguish of people today—people who have seen their homes, their memories, their futures destroyed by fire (in California). Or perhaps you can hear the cries of people who are fleeing violence (in Central America)… or desperate people (in Chicago or Washington) who have nowhere to go to escape violence. All of those are places from which the psalmist cries. We don’t need to know who wrote it or when because it is our cry as well.
What brings you to the depths of despair? Death of a loved one? Financial disaster? Marital failure?
I’ve had my share of family stress, and strife, and sadness that brought me low. But, the older I am, the more it is the sadness of the world that weighs on me. The needless human suffering inflicted by bigotry, callous greed… egomaniacal lying or just plain ignorance. These leave me, like the psalmist, wanting to shout to God, wanting to be heard, wanting something to be done.
Perhaps you, too, have cried out to God, lamenting loudly the unfairness and pain of life, shouting to God to hear you!
But there is great silence in the psalm as well… the silence of waiting. Waiting and hoping. In the life of faith, waiting is the necessary antidote to our sense that action must be taken, that we must DO something. The repetition of the lines draws us into the silence of the night, sometimes it is a long night of watching over a sick child, or a long night of fear or anxiety, waiting for a phone call that won’t bring good news. But this psalmist links his waiting with hope four times. Wait and Hope. The two words are so intertwined in Hebrew that they cannot be separated. To wait without hope is only to live in despair. To act without waiting is folly. Our human instinct is to take action, but the psalmist says waiting and hoping is the attitude of believers.
In that space, between waiting and hoping, there may seem to be no answer, an agonizing place of silence. But for the believer, it is also a holy space that allows God to be God. A place that acknowledges God’s presence with us in suffering. “Out of the depths” is cried in the conviction that God is present in the depths. It is that presence alone that allows hope to live.
In the end, it is God alone to whom Israel must turn for redemption. If it could have brought him back, David would have redeemed Absalom by trading his life for the life of his son. But he must have known, just as the psalmist knew, just as we know, that only the love of God can truly, eternally redeem life.
It would be nice to think that at the end of his life David came to understand that violence begets violence, and that can only lead to death. Sadly, David’s final words to Solomon sound more like those of a Sicilian capo than a repentant sinner. He lists his enemies, now as aged as he is, and tells Solomon that they must not be held guiltless. You must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol. You will know what to do.
Although Solomon will come down to us as a wise king, he does appear to have followed his father’s advice. Avenging old wrongs continued. What we know of all human history is that the cycle of violence and death has still not stopped. There are still the impulses to lust and greed and vengeance all around us and they still lead to death.
On first reading, the epistle for today seems unrelated—a fine sermon in itself but having little to do with David. But the longer I sat with this letter to a young church, the more I realized how well Paul understood life, and death, and redemption, and living together in community. Better than David did. For Paul, living in sins and trespasses defined living in death. He could have been describing David when he says, All of us once lived among [the powerful forces of our human natures], following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath. Like David. Yet, he doesn’t point a finger at the guilty. He just says life doesn’t have to be like that. And then he describes a better way.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…
Friends, this is the hope which the psalmist held as he waited, even while in the depths of darkest despair.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
And with him is great power to redeem.