There are a lot of stories in the Old Testament. A lot of stories. In fact, it probably includes every type of story that you can imagine: action, romance, drama, horror, etc. The cool part though, is when we come to the realization that they’re all true. True stories really do make the best stories, and there are none better than those found in the Bible. As unbelievable as that is, we also have to understand that we sell ourselves short if that’s all we take away. Yes, some are boring, and some are wildly entertaining, but that’s not really the point of Scripture.
If the Bible is God’s Word, then there’s so much more to take away from Scripture than just the words written on the page. But we don’t often think about that, do we? How often do we read Scripture with an open heart, allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us? How often do we seek the face of Christ in every word, every phrase, and every number that we come across? Isn’t that what it’s all about though? Scripture is like one big painting of Jesus.
Now, I understand that this sounds like a good concept, but many of us have a hard time believing it. Can we really find the Gospel in the Old Testament? Is it really more than just a bunch of stories that make good Sunday School lessons? And what about the stories that we don’t teach in Sunday School? Do they show the Gospel to us too? I’ve read through the Old Testament a couple times, and I have to admit, I used to be skeptical…used to be. What I’ve come to realize is that the Gospel is pulsating behind the entire Old Testament, almost like a heartbeat. Often times it’s very faint, and hardly even noticeable, like it’s asleep. But every now and then, you’ll come across a story that will beat so loudly and clearly that you just know it comes from God. You just know it’s alive. Still don’t believe me? Read 2 Samuel 18.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking… “2 Samuel 18? Really? I mean, nobody’s even heard of this story!” Nevertheless, it’s probably my favorite story in the Old Testament. Action, violence, a grown man crying – it really has it all. To be fair and honest though, I didn’t get it at first, but after reading and meditating on it for a while, it absolutely blew my mind. I hope it will blow your mind too.
Perhaps you’ve heard of King David. While certainly flawed, David was a righteous man, one after God’s own heart. He was the true king of Israel, and perhaps the greatest one that they have ever had. Several chapters earlier, we read that David’s son Absalom has gathered an army to kick David off of the throne and place himself there instead. This rebellion succeeds, and chapter 15 describes David’s sorrowful escape from Jerusalem as he travels across the countryside, weeping. The next few chapters chronicle Absalom’s attempt to pursue David in an effort to kill him. Those still faithful to David rally around him, and vow to meet Absalom’s troops in the forest of Ephraim. It’s here that we pick up in 2 Samuel 18. Absalom himself has joined the fight, while David is hiding in a nearby city. After a long and bloody struggle, the battle finally reaches a climax.
“9During the battle, Absalom happened to come upon some of David’s men. He tried to escape on his mule, but as he rode beneath the thick branches of a great tree, his hair got caught in the tree. His mule kept going and left him dangling in the air…15Ten of Joab’s young armor bearers then surrounded Absalom and killed him. Then Joab blew the ram’s horn, and his men returned from chasing the army of Israel. They threw Absalom’s body into a deep pit in the forest and piled a great heap of stones over it. All Israel fled to their homes.” – 2 Samuel 18:9, 15-17
And so the fighting ended. The uprising had been defeated, and David could now reclaim his right to the throne of Israel. In verse 32, an Ethiopian messenger proudly reported to David the fate of his evil son.
“May all of your enemies, my lord the king, both now and in the future, share the fate of that young man!”
And certainly, this was a most fitting death for one in opposition to a King of Israel. No doubt, the Ethiopian man was recalling a verse from Deuteronomy 21:23:
“…for anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed in the sight of God.”
But the reply of King David is shocking to say the least.
“Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” – 2 Samuel 18:33
This just simply does not make sense, and it stunned me when I first read it. This was my actual thought process:
Really David? How can you be sorrowful about this? Yes, he was your son, but he was a rebel! He was trying to kill you! He certainly deserved to die!! In fact, if anyone deserved to die, it was him! But what? You wish you had died instead? The King of Israel die for the rebel? You would literally have taken his place? But David, that would mean you would have died…
Hanging on a tree.
The Greater Story
After reading this story, I can’t help but praise God for His divine, perfect foreshadowing of the Son of David and true heir of Israel – Jesus (Matt.1:1). He is not only the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, but also the fulfillment of King David himself. As God in the flesh, Jesus became what David the man could only symbolize.
Almost 1000 years after the life of David, Jesus too was proclaimed King as he entered Jerusalem. With great jubilee, a large crowd exclaimed, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel (John 12:13)!”
It is Jesus who is the true and rightful King – not only for Israel, but for every heart that He created.
Also like David, Jesus was later rejected as King and was pursued by those who wanted to kill him (Mark 14:43). With confrontation near, Jesus retreated to the Mount of Olives to weep and pray to God. Providentially, this was also the same exact place that David fled to, as he mourned the rebellion of his son Absalom (2 Sam. 15:30).
The weeping of both of these men was not due so much to their circumstances, as it was to the rebellion itself. They mourned over the sin of those who rejected them. While David mourned for the transgression of Absalom, Jesus mourned for the overwhelming weight of our sin. You see, we are the ones that rejected him. We are the rebels. We are Absalom.
Created in the image of God, just as Absalom was created in the image of David, we believed that we could be God. We could be King. We put ourselves on the throne of our hearts, and worshiped the things that please us (Rom.1). Everyone has done this. We have made ourselves enemies of God, and the only just punishment is death (Rom. 5:10). Enemies of the King deserve to be cursed, just as the Ethiopian messenger explained to David.
But this is where the stories diverge. Jesus did what David could not. He literally took our place. While David fled death in order to maintain his kingship, Jesus turned himself in, so that we could have sonship. He chose to die. David’s wish was fulfilled in Jesus. Hanging on the cross at Calvary, it’s no coincidence that Jesus hung between two rebels (Mark 15:27) – a sinless substitute for the third. He died for you and me. We deserved the cross. We deserved to be cursed while hanging on a tree.
“Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty of our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.” – Romans 3:23-24a
Jesus is not only our King, but he is our Savior. Our rebellion has been paid for by His death, and we have been given new life with His resurrection. By grace, we have transformed from enemies of God, to friends of God (James 3:23). With faith, we are now free to live for Him every day for all of eternity.
The way God works never ceases to amaze me. He is not only the God of the heavens, but also the God of small details. Nothing is too big or small for Him. From the events happening around the world, to the divinely inspired words of scripture, God’s plan of salvation is reflected all around us – even in stories that we may have never heard before.
“But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” – Galatians 3:13
While David fled death in order to maintain his kingship, Jesus turned himself in so that we could have sonship.