As someone who is bound to go bald sooner or later (sooner, if my family history teaches anything at all), I take great comfort in the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 21:18: “not a hair of your head shall perish”. Jesus here is talking about enduring persecution and his words are to be words of great comfort; a single hair after all, is not so much (to some of us).
King David made the same promise in response to the very wise, very nameless woman in 2 Samuel 14:11: “As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.” This section of the Bible is a hotbed of sin—sometimes accompanied by repentance and sometimes not. At the behest of Joab, David's general and advisor, this woman was pretending to be a mourner and was asking protection for a banished, sinful son whose father was not allowing him to return home. This was not the first time in his regal career that David had been forced to apply to himself some wise advice given to others. Many years prior, David's family had been under attack from the enemy of sin. The lust of Amnon for his half-sister, Tamar, lead to his raping her. This in turn lead to anger on David's part (13:21) but no recorded rebuke of Amnon. Absalom,1 Amnon's half-brother and Tamar's full-brother, took justice into his own hands, murdering Amnon before fleeing. David's refusal to reconcile properly with Absalom leads to his encounter with the wise woman in 2 Samuel 14.
It is far easier to talk than to do, and David fails to avoid hypocrisy in the somewhat half-hearted mercy he extends to Absalom. Absalom was to be allowed back to Jerusalem, but not back into the king's house. This by no means suggests that Absalom's subsequent usurption of the throne (thus leading to father fighting against son) was due to anything other than his own sinful ambitions. Rather, it points out the weakness in David's application of mercy to Absalom, just as a few years earlier he had been weak in applying justice to Amnon.
In the aftermath of his son's attack, David engages in the superior tactic of fleeing Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15). But in 2 Samuel 18, when the two sides engage in battle, he is victorious. Absalom, however, meets his death, against his father's best intentions. David's words of grief reveal his fatherly love: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33).
Did David act faithfully in going to war against his son? Clearly, the answer is yes. David was God's anointed king and, although he was far from perfect, he was anointed to rule. To stay in Jerusalem and die in place of Absalom, as he had wished, would have been to deny his own place in God's plan. Sadly, though, David had no choice but to honour the decision of a loved one to fight against him.
Does God love the people he will send to hell on the day judgment? I believe the answer is yes. God made them in his own image and all that he made is good. He loved the world so much that he sent his only son. He “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). God's love, then, is expressed in his judgement on those who, like Absalom, march against him in rebellion—just as, in his mercy, he forgives those who accept the death Jesus died in their place.
We see in David a weakness that is common in us—a poor ability to apply justice and mercy when it is us who are in the wrong, and a poor ability to perceive when this is the case. David was caught out over his own justice when asked to apply it to himself, after committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11-12). He was caught out over his mercy, and he was caught out over his justice when he refused to discipline one of his own children. Most of us have fallen short over far lesser matters.
In Jesus, on the other hand, we see one who is able to judge the living and the dead while at the same time being the one who can show true mercy, the mercy which he achieved for us through his death on the cross. God's justice is not some shameful secret of the Christian faith; it is something we should rejoice in, think about, pray and praise God for. This is because God is the only one able to hold love and justice together, never ceasing to do either one. And so he can keep his promise to us that, “not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:18)
1 If the theme of this issue were anything other than “Hair”, this article would not make mention of the more or less entirely irrelevant fact that Absalom's hair grew at the rate of approximately 2 kilos per year—see 2 Samuel 14:26.
Tom Hanna does physics (though he tries to avoid the issue at parties), and is doing his PhD in England, where his favourite pastime of insulting English people about cricket is struggling.