Friday, November 8, 2013

Oak Tree: A Place for God's Redemptive Process

Have you ever tried to prune the bottom branches of an oak tree? If you have, you know how each branch twists and turns in seemingly unpredictable ways. My clothes, and most particularly my hat if I am wearing one, always seems to somehow get caught in these branches. Later in this article is a description of how the oak tree caught me in a different way.

Absalom in the Bible had the same problem. The story in 2 Samuel 18 describes how he was pursued by David's army, was caught "under the thick branches of a great oak" (2 Sam 18:9). The verse continues by explaining that his head was "caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on."

If you are familiar with this story, you will recall that his father David wanted the army to be gentle with his highly rebellious son. When a soldier found him, he protected Absalom from harm – Joab then was informed, offered no mercy, and had him killed. When David was eventually told Absalom's fate, he cried, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Sam 18:33).

The vivid imagery in this story helps us put it into a New Testament perspective – a perspective of God's grace and His redemptive process. Absalom was the rebel; he did not pursue God in any way but attempted to persuade Israel to follow him as king instead of his father David. Absalom is a typological picture of who we are before coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

David is a picture of Christ in this story. He wanted mercy for his son but none was given. In a chiastic sense, David wailed in grief over his son, "Would I had died instead of you" (v33). Just as David would have substituted himself in death for his son, so Christ gave himself in death for the world. (See my article What is a chiasm? if you don't understand the chiastic structure).

The oak tree, that very gnarly yet tall and strong plant, represents the place of change. Remember how Absalom was "suspended between heaven and earth" (v9)? The oak is the place of truth: he either lived or he died. The wicked Absalom no longer had any say about his fate, for that was left in the hands of others. He would either receive grace or get what he deserved. Joab, representing the executioner, gave him what he deserved.

In 1996, I met my oak tree. It was Easter Sunday and I had just returned my daughter Becky to her mother, for we were now separated from each other. I had not been the husband or the father that I should have been, and it was pay-up time. My blue Honda Accord suddenly died about 30 miles from her house; I had the car towed to a service station and then took a motel room where I could wait until morning. I had come to the oak tree.

In that motel room, I opened my Bible to 2 Samuel where I had been reading. I read many chapters that evening; one that I particularly remember was the story of David and Bathsheba which was followed by the prophet Nathan's rebuke. Another that I recall was the one described above where David would have died for his son Absalom. In each of the many stories that evening, I was confronted with who I had become. I made a decision, a very conscious and personal vow, that I needed to get my act together.

Like Absalom, I found myself "suspended between heaven and earth". Absalom did not have a choice that day but I did – I choose life and I'm so very glad I did. The Promise Keepers event was later that same year which gave added reinforcement to this new way of living. My wife unfortunately either did not see or did not believe the change, so we were divorced that fall.

I am now a new man in Christ, thank God. I am remarried and I trust in the salvation that I have received. Life is a process and the life with Jesus is well worth it. Amen.

If you enjoyed this analysis of 2 Samuel 18, you should also appreciate the many Biblical insights in my book Joshua's Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua. You can also see this book on Amazon.