Woven throughout the biblical text is God’s concern with human life. There are many texts of terror to be sure, but overall, preventing murder (Exodus 20:13) and even preventing slander (Matthew 5:22) are held up as the will of God throughout the Bible. This week’s texts emphasize the special worth of human lives.
The final week devoted to David’s life in lectionary Year B focuses on the end of the war with Absalom, one of his many rebellious sons. Because of the rape of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, God said the sword would not depart from David’s house and people would do to his wives in public what he had done to Uriah’s wife in secret. Absalom’s revolt fulfilled both of these curses. Not only did he raise an army of Israelites to fight David and those loyal to him, but Absalom also had theatrical public sex with his father’s concubines (2 Samuel 16:22). This kind of wanton display of hatred toward his father and his people would earn most sons violent rebuke from their fathers, but not from David.
When David’s soldiers told them that their lives were worth nothing compared to his (2 Samuel 18:3) and that he should stay in a protected area, the king didn’t comfort himself in a royal residence. He stayed at the gate (4, 24, 33), much as Uriah had done years earlier when he was called back from the front and away from his men. And David made sure to order all of his men (which included a large Philistine coalition—2 Samuel 15:19, 2 Samuel 18:2—and at least one Nubian—2 Samuel 18:21) to not hurt his son.
Jesus is adamant about what he would do to preserve life now and eternally. … Saving and preserving life is precious to God.
The civil war was incredibly fierce, and thousands died. Yet, when rebellious Absalom was pinned in a tree, no one would act against his life because he was the king’s son. Only after Joab mortally wounded him did servants step in to end his suffering (2 Samuel 18:14-15). Even amid a bloody civil war that Absalom had calculated to make as acrimonious as possible, everyone, except for Joab, respected the king’s wishes to preserve his son’s life. We also read that the forest, rather than humans, was the prime cause of death (7-8) and that, as soon as the traitor Absalom was murdered, Joab immediately sounded a trumpet to end the senseless fighting (16). This isn’t a perfect example of the value of life in the biblical text, but there are several examples of how suffering and death was purposefully limited.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus lays out clearly, if repulsively, the lengths to which he was willing to go to save his hearers’ eternal lives. He gave his flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51). This text is the conclusion of a section in which Jesus was trying to move his hearers from desiring the literal food that he had miraculously provided them to being interested in the spiritual sustenance that he also was offering through his teaching (45-47). Jesus had already offered them bread (multiplied) from heaven, but this bread would only prolong this life. He was also offering himself as the bread of life (35, 44), which would lead to life in the world to come (50).
We will talk more in the coming weeks about the particular language that Jesus uses to shock his hearers into considering how he is willing to suffer on their/our behalf, and how radically we are to take Jesus’ very self into us. Suffice it to say this week, Jesus is adamant about what he would do to preserve life now and eternally.
Saving and preserving life is precious to God. Even in a civil war, reducing harm was a focus of most of David’s soldiers. Jesus goes much further to show the will of God is not only to preserve life in the world, but to free us from sin and death in order to provide life in the world to come.