There are movies, stories and songs that have the power to bring just about anyone to tears. I’m sure you can think of a few examples for yourself. There’s this strong pull that brings you into the emotional world of whoever wrote what you’re watching, reading, or hearing. There’s a literary term for that pull: it’s called pathos. Pathos is something that has the ability to create strong emotions, especially sad ones.
Pathos is the word that’s often come to my mind as I read and reflect on David’s grief over the loss of his son Absalom. The author of 2 Samuel pulls us right in to David’s deep sadness. Especially if you’re a parent, it’s hard not to be brought to tears when you can see David breaking down and crying out, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom!” It’s moving.
I think it would move even most unbelievers. But we come to this passage as believers. We come as people who can connect and sympathize with David, but also as those who realize that this passage is not here to give us a good cry, to let it all out. It’s not here just as a good story, but as part of God’s revelation. We need to get to the point where we can ask: what is God revealing here about himself, about his purposes, about his redemption, about his people?
As we do that, we’re reminded of the fact that the man grieving in this passage was not just any man. He was the king of Israel. And not just any king of Israel, he was David, the man after God’s own heart. He was David, the one with whom God had established his covenant in 2 Samuel 7. David, the great fore-runner, the great type of our Lord Jesus. It’s the identity of this king that guides us to the right way to understand and apply this text to our lives today.