We live during a time when much of the communication that happens in the lives of individuals, businesses, countries, and every other relational connection is often binary in nature insisting that one is right and the other wrong. In the midst of the shouting, it can sometimes be missed that what is being shouted is a preference or a view instead of a moral principle or value. If we want to say both are wrong, might we also say the old axiom – “two wrongs don’t make a right”?
Some of you might not have heard of that adage but for others of you it may bring a smile as you recall the first time you heard it expressed and what you understood it to mean.
The first time it is credited with use in the United States was in a letter written in 1783 by one of the Founding Fathers of the United States who signed the Declaration of Independence. He was a civic leader in Philadelphia where he worked as a physician, politician, social reformer, humanitarian, and educator. The letter is quoted as written: “Two wrongs don’t make one right: Two wrongs won’t right a wrong.”
Certainly, it would seem in looking at the life of David in 1 and 2 Samuel it would seem that he did not get the message of that adage that came much later than his lifetime. If he had, he might have thought differently about having Uriah killed to cover up his sin of sleeping with his wife, Bathsheba. He hoped the result would be hiding the sin he committed in the first place by committing a second, but Nathan made it clear to him this was not the case when he came to tell him a story that caused David to recognize the truth of his sin not only against Bathsheba and Uriah but also against God.
But this would not be the only time David struggled with difficulty confronting sin. The complexity of multiple wives and their offspring gave David challenges as a parent on more than one occasion and expose another area of his failing. The child conceived between Bathsheba and David originally dies because of the sin but later another child, Absalom, is conceived with a different wife who becomes David’s favorite son. How often we see the issues in the biblical stories that involve a “favorite.” It makes one reconsider a desire to be preferred in that way perhaps.
We read of David’s great sorrow about the murder of Absalom in 2 Samuel 18. His anguish is palpable, but despite the desire of Absalom to usurp the throne do we recall the incident that got this vengeance in his heart started?
“David’s lament over Absalom had its immediate source in the rape of Absalom’s beautiful sister, Tamar, eleven years earlier. Amnon, who was a half-brother to Absalom and Tamar, was infatuated with Tamar; and after a period of pining and planning, he raped her. When Absalom learned of the rape, he was outraged and determined to avenge his sister’s honor. But he didn’t lose his temper: he plotted coolly and carefully. When the plot was in place, he brutally murdered Amnon (2 Sam. 13:1-29).”Eugene Peterson
Reading through the passage cited shows you how David played into the scheme of Amnon to get Tamar to come to him under the pretense of being ill and wanting her to prepare him food. Sadly, when David learns of what happens to Tamar, he does nothing and the rage in Absalom simmers hotter. When Absalom murders Amnon, he overlooks this crime by his favorite son as he runs away to exile. Nevertheless, all the wrongs stacking up are multiplied when Absalom is allowed to return to his father’s kingdom, but David won’t see him despite giving him a judicial pardon. The love of his father is withheld and sets in motion the anguish he will experience when Absalom is murdered.
If we are brutally honest, we can possibly recognize a desire of revenge in our own hearts. It may not result in murder upon murder as in this tragic story of the great king of Israel, but it can show up when we do not rejoice in another’s success that we believed should be ours or when one friend appears to prefer another friend over us.
David forgot the grace and forgiveness he had previously received in the way he handled this series of events with his children, and he missed his responsibility in more than one way.
“Sin fed on sin. The rape of Tamar fed into the murder of Amnon, which fed into the hardheartedness of David. Absalom responded to Amnon’s sin by sinning. Then David responded to Absalom’s sin by sinning. Absalom got rid of Amnon by killing him. Then David got rid of Absalom by shunning him. David lost his son Amnon because of the sin of Absalom. David lost his son Absalom by his own sin.”Eugene Peterson
David recognizes the depth of the consequences of all these multiplying sins when Absalom seizes the kingdom from him, and he is forced to flee once again into the wilderness. It is there, in the wilderness during suffering that he once more sees more clearly and when the battle to retake his kingdom begins, he commands that Absalom should be dealt with gently. But he is brutally stabbed to death by one of David’s generals who knew of the kings’ command and disobeyed it anyway. David had gotten in touch with his love for Absalom in the command to be gentle, but it was too late for the two of them to reconnect as the father and son we see in the New Testament story of “the Prodigal Son.”
These tragic scenes in David’s story remind us of how sins so easily can multiply in any of our lives and the value of keeping short accounts with one another, confronting an issue at the outset, and then seeking repentance, forgiveness, and love. All these years later we too often fail also. And when we do, it demonstrates how much we have yet to learn about the commands to love one another and that it is one of the things we will be judged on.
The words attributed to the letter by Benjamin Rush certainly ring true – “Two wrongs don’t make one right: Two wrongs won’t right a wrong.”