Today’s Reading: 2 Samuel 15-16
Today’s Reflection: 2 Samuel 15:1-6
1) After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. 2) And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” 3) Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4) Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” 5) And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 6) Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.
About a year ago, Mitt Romney had all but wrapped up the Republican nomination to run as their candidate for election to the office of President of the United States of America. During the tumultuous campaign for the nomination, each candidate presented arguments for why they should be president, attempted to communicate a vision for the country, and most importantly tried to relate to the common man. From Ron Paul to Rick Perry, from Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum, each spent enormous amounts of time and money criss-crossing the country, each with a common message for the voters they meet: I’m like you. I’m one of you. If I win, you win. Just vote for me and your most pressing problems will go away. Most of these candidates also had something else in common.
To some degree all of them were lying.
They’re either proposing policies that won’t have the impact they claim, or policies that will never become effective laws. This isn’t a criticism of the Republican party, because in different but likewise destructive ways the Democratic party also played the same game. Just as suggested by an unfortunate but accurate statement from Romney’s campaign manager, most politicians have what they claim to hold most precious established with no more permanence than a picture on an Etch-a-Sketch. When that vision proves to be a failure, when it’s convenient to forget their past statements, they can just shake it up, erase their promises, and start drawing an entirely new picture as if the previous one never existed.
Politics has largely become a game of telling voters what they want to hear (and changing that message as often as necessary). But as today’s text shows us, this has long been the case.
Absolom, David’s son, began a process of winning the hearts and minds of the people of Israel. He visited town elders in person; he seized upon perceived lapses in the policies of the current king, his father David; he made it seem like he was one of them; and he promised change they could believe in if only he were king instead. This was a grievous breach of trust on Absolom’s part, not only because the betrayal was against his own father, but also because Absolom had recently been exiled for the murder of another of the king’s sons, his half brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:23-33). It was only because of David’s mercy that Absolom was even able to return to Jerusalem. How did Absolom return this act of grace? With insurrection and rebellion.
But the more amazing part perhaps is that the people of Israel actually believed Absolom. It didn’t matter how many battles David had won, how many times he had vanquished Israel’s enemies and kept their borders safe. All it took were some self-serving promises for Israel to turn their loyalty from the flawed but good king God had given them, to another. This would plunge Israel into an unfortunate civil war, one which in many ways it never fully recovered from (we’ll see as the nation splits in two after the reign of Solomon).
The reality is in a society composed of different people no one can have things exactly the way they would like. Everyone has to make some sacrifices (like paying taxes and obeying laws) for the greater good. We as Christians are even commanded to esteem others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). A potential leader may propose a point of view that partially or even mostly agrees with what you think is right, but be skeptical of the man who tells you exactly what you want to hear. There’s a good chance he is a liar and that his march to power might well tear your nation apart.