Absalom & Oedipus: Redeeming Fathers & Sons

Follow the narrative: A young male pup named Hank is born, suckles his mother amongst the litter, grows and develops sexually, at which point he begins looking for a mate; however, Hank runs in a pack and each pack has an alpha male, which is probably the father to Hank’s litter, who dominates the other males and has his pick of the females.  The other males can either challenge the alpha (by injuring or killing him in a physical confrontation), or they can suffer unconsummated sexual desires, or they can bide their time until they can leave and find a new pack.  On a very basic level, this is true of humans, too;  just observe any co-ed set of high schoolers.

Sigmund Freud’s theory that all boys developing into men experience some degree of an Oedipal Complex is sufficiently ingrained in popular culture as being icky.  It probably could pass without being explained here, but in one summary sentence, the theory essentially states “all boys, as they enter manhood, desire to kill their fathers so they can sleep with their mothers.” 

Freud observed something in human interaction, then alluded to a literary inspiration wherein King Oedipus literally kills his father and sleeps with his mother (unwittingly).  He might have picked another name, however, that would have been as fitting, and that is Absalom, King David’s usurping son found in 2 Samuel.

Meet Absalom

Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel. What shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s (David’s) concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.”

So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. (2 Samuel 16:20-22 ESV)

            Absalom does have somewhat justifiable motivations because David had earlier turned a blind eye to the rape of Absalom’s sister, Tamar, by Absalom’s half-brother Amnon, but this is still one of the more horrifying stories in the Old Testament, and it doesn’t end well for Absalom, for David, or for the nation of Israel.  The question is then raised: It makes sense to include this story in the Bible if the Bible is meant to be an historical document.  But if the Bible is also supposed to provide some belief we should hold about God, then what kind of terrible truth is it?

        The Terrible Truth   

The terrible truth is as old as humanity.  Man is born a usurper of fathers.  Adam overthrew his Father in the garden by consummating an evil desire (You will surely be like Him, or You can be Him).  Interestingly, in the act of overthrowing the Father, man conspired with a woman, Eve, whose name literally means “the mother of all living.”  And each son born from the union of Adam and Eve also bears in his DNA the conspiracy to “kill” his father, and there will forever be a struggle between a father and his son; between one generation and its heirs.

            The pattern repeats itself from Adam, through Noah and Ham, through Isaac and Jacob, through Jesse and David, through David and Absalom, through the history of the Kings, on until finally God steps in and fathers a new Adam in Jesus. 

A New Model

Jesus, who was born of the flesh of a woman, but whose father was the Holy Spirit, did nothing unless He had seen His Father do it first; said nothing unless He had heard His Father say it first.  He did not strive to be King and overthrow His Father, like Absalom had done, even though equality with the King was something He could have grasped; rather, He humbly served and was obedient to His Father, even to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Jesus essentially overthrows the pattern set in place by His earthly father Adam, by serving His heavenly Father, and then is glorified and set on a throne at the right hand of His Father.  There is no death of the Father in this case; there is only a peaceful co-ruling, co-honoring love between a Father and a Son.


Fortunately, this sonship is offered to all of humanity through Christ’s obedient death on the cross.  Mankind is offered the chance to live in a redeemed relationship between a father and a son by being co-heirs with Christ; by having a Spirit that cries out “Abba, Father!” and having that cry consummated with the welcoming arms of a Father who will not be overthrown; who will not turn a blind eye to the injustice being done by our earthly (half-) brothers and sisters; and who will give us crowns in His kingdom.

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