Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself a pillar that is in the King’s Valley, for he said, ‘I have no son to keep my name in remembrance’; he called the pillar by his own name. It is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.
2 Samuel 18:18
Who of us doesn’t want to be remembered! Even if we do not aim for fame or stardom, we want to believe we have done something that will endure, that will last. Today’s scripture tells us about David’s son, Absalom, who wanted people to remember him.
If you go to Israel and stand on the heights of the Mount of Olives you can look down and see Yad Abshalom, or Absalom’s Monument. It stands on the eastern side of Jerusalem, on the eastern slope of the Kidron Valley rising up to the Mount of Olives. It is an ancient stone monument with a conical cap marking the traditional site that Absalom built in his honor.
Yet, the monument that Absalom built for himself stands more as a monument to arrogant treachery than remembrance of Absalom. For millennia it has been a custom for residents of Jerusalem to bring their children to Absalom’s monument to hurl stones at it and curse Absalom.
Read the tragic story of Absalom (2 Samuel 13-19) and you see a story of deceit, rebellion, treachery and lust. As the son of King David he was born to title and privilege; he lived what seemed a charmed and enviable life. Scripture even pauses to note Absalom’s Hollywood good looks: “Now in all Israel there was no one to be praised so much for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him” (2 Samuel 14:25).
But all the while Absalom was adored by the public, ugliness and evil festered within. He ran with a fast crowd and schemed, plotted and maneuvered, even turning a nation against and ousting his father David in a palace coup. As Absalom’s elderly David fled to the wilderness, Absalom seized his father’s throne. What a stained memory Absalom made for himself.
Now consider a very different memory left to us. Take a car or bus and travel 35 miles north to the village of Nablus and there you can see Jacob’s well. That is the very place where the greater Son of David, Jesus, drank water, refreshed Himself, and talked to the famed “woman at the well” (John 4:1-26). This is the very well that Jacob dug almost 4,000 years ago to provide water for his family and flock. It is remembered and memorialized to this day, still providing water for a thirsty tourist.
Absalom and Jacob mark the two ways of life that the Psalms, Proverbs and Sermon of the Mount talk about. One life is devoted to self and power, while the other is devoted to others and giving. One tried to lift himself higher and higher, the other rolled up his sleeves, got down into the dirt, and dug. One is scarcely remembered except to be cursed, the other lives on as a blessing and is blessed.
Thinking of Absalom and of Jacob, I believe that Winston Churchill said it well: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” As we begin a new week, Ralph Waldo Emerson can help me, and all of us, focus on living lives worth remembering: “…to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Isn’t that a great way to be remembered!
A fellow traveler,