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The Tricks We Play on Ourselves

The Tricks We Play on Ourselves
2 Samuel 18:1–33
A great deal of leadership is based on consistency. King David is a prime example: He struggled most when he was inconsistent.
David’s son, Absalom, committed horrific acts against David and others (2 Sam 14–17). David repeatedly responded in a manner unbefitting a king, finally sending men out to destroy Absalom’s troops (2 Sam 18:1–4). As the troops headed out, he ordered his commanders—within hearing of the army—to “deal gently” with Absalom (2 Sam 18:5). With this order, David again acted beneath his role and duty as king: He asked for the leader of a rebellion to be spared—essentially using his own warriors as pawns in a game to regain his fallen son. Absalom didn’t deserve to be dealt with gently; he was a ruthless, terrorizing dictator and had opposed God’s chosen king. His time was up. For this reason, and perhaps others, Joab, one of David’s commanders, chose to kill Absalom (2 Sam 18:14).
It’s unlikely any of us will ever be in a position like David or Joab’s, but their story presents some lessons in leadership. Joab demonstrates that sometimes the “right hand man” knows better than the commander-in-chief. David’s repeated inability to separate his emotions from the situation (he made this same mistake with Saul) could have resulted in his untimely death and the complete destruction of the kingdom God had given him to steward. If David was willing to be so merciful, he could have invited Absalom back into the kingdom. David’s actions show us that we should seek the advice of others, asking that they help us think through the full ramifications of our actions. If David would have sought advice from Joab or another of his trusted leaders, he probably would have made a wiser decision—and preserved his dignity as king. Based on David’s track record as a military leader, he would have dealt swiftly with any other uprising, but he ignored resistance from his own son to the point of peril. The events between David and Absalom don’t portray David as a man of love and mercy; instead, they reveal him as a man too easily swayed by conflicting feelings.
Selfishness is David’s ultimate downfall. He wanted Absalom to live because it seemed best in his mind—it was the ideal future he envisioned. In making a move to create that future himself, David jeopardized everyone he should have protected. He even jeopardized his own reign, which itself was a gift from God.
What are you currently being selfish about that has, until now, been deceiving you?
John D. Barry

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