This is the third installment of a three-part reflection on 1 & 2 Samuel by Felicia Schneiderhan.
I was reading my way quite happily through 2 Samuel until I got to chapter 13, “Amnon and Tamar,” where everything starts to go very bad very fast. David’s son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar; Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, vows revenge; two years later, Absalom finally has Amnon killed. But Absalom can’t stop there; hungry for more power, he begins to plot against his father, David.
At this point I put the book down, feeling a little betrayed myself. All of a sudden, the wonderful victorious world of David takes a very bad turn. I wanted the world of God’s chosen king to be happy, joyous, and peaceful. I wanted happily ever after.
And I feel for Absalom. His brother raped and ruined his sister, after all. Of course he would feel the need to protect her and take action on her behalf. But as he spends two years plotting the death of his brother Amnon, he nurses his resentment and begins down a dangerous path of revenge that tears his family apart and leads to his own destruction, hanging helpless in a tree.
Absalom’s story of “justified” resentment and revenge parallels David’s story in 1 Samuel. David spends years being hunted by Saul, whose jealousy and fear of David propels him to try and murder his faithful servant. On several key occasions David could have killed Saul, and yet he spares Saul’s life. “I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 24:10) Saul pursues David until the end, and yet David harbors no resentment and seeks no revenge, and when Saul dies, David laments him.
We can go back, to Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
We can go forward, to Romans 12:20: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
And before this becomes a litany of Bible quotations, which is not my intent, the significance for me of these ideas in Samuel is that we get to see them play out. We get to see the end result of taking revenge or allowing God to handle it. It is not my business to take revenge, even for a harm done to me or someone I love. I have an advocate and a defender. I can’t even nurse the resentment the leads to revenge. I have to tread lightly, like David.
Felicia Schneiderhan is a freelance writer based in Duluth, Minnesota.