Susan and I are in the process of purging several items from our home. In the process we have found some personal momentos from our past and have taken the time to read many of the letters we wrote to one another when we were dating – especially when we lived in different towns while attending college. One of the most repetitious statements I made was my goal to make her happy. Well, I believe I have done that well in most every area of our life together except one – I do not like to play games, and she does.
The reason I do not like to play games is that as an only child, I played games by myself all the time. Although we lived in the city, my grandparents lived next door to us from the time I was 4 until I was 13, so I often stayed home alone while both of my parents were at work. Thus, I would play various bored games for hours and hours every day. For instance, I would play Monopoly with all of the pieces and I was the “player” for every piece – day after day after day. So, playing Monopoly is not something I enjoy. And many other games are the same for me. But Susan does like to play games.
So, when we were dating, we would occasionally play games, and that included going to play miniature golf. Well, when it comes to sports, I used to be hyper-competitive, and one round I was winning by several strokes with only a couple of holes to play. But for some reason, I could no longer sink a putt. In fact, on the last hole, I kept missing very short putts until she realized what I was doing. Now, I was not going to lose, but I thought it would be smart not to win either. Well, I was wrong, and she was rightfully upset. Of course, I apologized and she forgave me and we a happily married (except for the lack of games!).
Why have I shared this story about playing a game? Because besides playing games for fun and recreation, some people “play games” attempting to deceive others – like I was doing during mini-golf. For many, playing a game is about entertainment or having fun. But for most winning is important. The drive to win will cause some to bend or break the rules. This is true when families play board games or when athletes take their position. For those who look to cheat the system, they are doing more than playing a game, they are playing games. “Playing games” occurs in various aspects of our lives as well. The use of deceit, manipulation, etc., are all about gaining an advantage over someone else, and the Bible has many examples of those who are cunning, including David and his family. For instance, David’s kindness in 2 Samuel 9 turned to cunning in chapter 11, and when his initial plan did not work, he had Uriah killed. In this week’s message, we see David’s sons Amnon (2 Sam 13) and Absalom (chapter 13), as well as his nephew Joab (chapter 14) use deception for selfish motives as well. Next week, we will see how this series of plots (game-playing) ultimately caused more loss than gain for the various players.
As we have seen thus far in 2 Samuel, David is a faithful and compassionate man. The book begins with David mourning the death of the king even though he stood to gain the title. Later, David shows kindness to the king’s grandson. But, as we saw last week, King David’s motives were not always so pure. David’s children may have known of the early example their father set, but they, along with their cousin Joab, certainly learned the craft of manipulation and deceit along the way. They learned to “play games” and “plot” to get what they desired. This week, I will share three different plots outlined in 2 Samuel 13 and 14, and try to determine the winners and losers in each.
A Plot of Lust (2 Samuel 13:1-19)
Amnon professed to love his half-sister Tamar. His love for her had become unhealthy, even to the point of lust. Amnon sought counsel and a plan was devised for him to be alone with Tamar where he violated her. As is the usual case with lust, Amnon now despised what he desired, and had her removed from his presence.
- Motive: Tormented by Love (2 Samuel 13:1-2)
- Accomplice: The Crafty Friend – also Cousin (3-5)
- Game: Amnon would pretend to be ill, so Tamar would care for him (6-12)
- Result: Amnon violated Tamar, hated her for it, and cast her from his sight (13-19)
- Winners/Losers*: No winners, all were losers as Amnon got what he wanted, but couldn’t enjoy it.
*The Winner and Loser is only attributed to the immediate and near-term consequences, not the long-term implications.
A Plot of Anger (2 Samuel 13:20-29)
Absalom (Tamar’s brother) discovers that Tamar has been violated and seeks to protect her. When David learns of the situation, he was angry, but did not resolve the matter. Absalom may have waited for David to respond, but after two full years, Absalom has had ample time to devise a plan to kill Amnon.
- Motive: Hatred, Revenge (2 Samuel 13:20-22)
- Accomplice: Servants of Absalom, under his orders (28-29)
- Game: Press David into allowing Amnon and the other sons to come to him (23-27)
- Result: Amnon is murdered; Absalom flees for his safety
- Winners/Losers: Winner – Absalom, in part – he avenged his sister, but must flee for his safety; Loser: Amnon
A Plot for Power (2 Samuel 14:1-24)
Joab knew the king loved Absalom and wanted to help him. Rather than going to the king himself, Joab used a woman to confront the king for him. A favorable response would further endear Joab to the king. Absalom would also appreciate Joab because he would be closer to being restored as David’s son. If the king responded negatively, Joab’s ploy, presumably, would not have exposed him. Therefore, Joab has much to gain, and virtually no chance at losing.
- Motive: Get Absalom back to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:1-24)
- Accomplice: A woman from Tekoa (2-3)
- Game: Remain in favor with David (v.22) and gain favor with Absalom
- Result: Absalom returns to Jerusalem, but is not to appear before David
- Winners/Losers: Winners – Absalom, back in Jerusalem; Joab, favor with the king; Losers – None
Each of these plots is about showing or gaining power. Each person was selfish in their motive, but the ultimate goal was to display one’s perceived authority and/or secure it for the future. Amnon’s plot was to force Tamar to be with him so his desires could be fulfilled. Absalom’s plot was to kill Amnon which, incidentally, would also move him closer to the throne (Amnon was the firstborn of David). Joab wanted to secure his position of authority when the time came for a new king.
In each case, a temporary win was achieved, but only Joab did not face consequence. Likewise, when we “play games” with others we may be victorious in the moment, but at what cost? Just as I “gained victory” by not winning the mini-golf match with Susan, I still had to apologize because she was frustrated when she realized what I was doing.
As for the three men in this week’s message, the Bible does not give any indication that they ever repented. Their motives and actions were selfish. David also played games at times (e.g. with Uriah), but when he did, he repented before God. Let us realize when we are playing games, perhaps even deceiving ourselves, so that we will respond as David did – by repenting and turning (back) to Jesus.
The JOURNEY letter for this week is: R – REVERE.
I had to stop and think about which letter fit best this week. Playing games creates disunity and tears down as opposed to nurturing others. But ultimately, our game playing is deceit which is an offense against God (i.e. Do not lie) and thus, I think REVERE is best. When we revere Jesus, we do not need to lie. When we revere Jesus, we do not want to lie. When we revere Jesus, we do not need to play games in order to get what we want because we are trusting that Jesus will provide for us. So, we can scheme and play games or we can trust in Jesus. The choice seems simple, but many still choose to play games.
NEXT STEP(S): LOVE
If we love someone, we will not play games that will harm them. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2, we are to have the mind of Christ, which includes thinking with humility – that is, to consider others more significant than we do ourselves. That is the type of love that does not envy and is not rude. And when we love like that, we are not only loving others, we are loving God in the process.