In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.”2 Samuel 15:1-6
Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.
King David was a great king but not always a great father. Absalom was exiled from Jerusalem for killing his brother for three years. But Absalom, like a politician, began to lobby for his own return. Eventually King David appeased Absalom and allowed him to live in Jerusalem, but David would not allow him in the royal court. Absalom then began to lobby for two more years to get a face-to-face with the king. Eventually, King David appeased Absalom once again.
What did all of this appeasement accomplish? Instead of gratitude, it showed Absalom that David could be lobbied and manipulated. Absalom took advantage of this. Whenever someone came to Jerusalem with a complaint, Absalom would set himself up as their advocate. He would flatter them and campaign for his own rise to power. After doing this unchecked for a time, he stole the hearts of the people of Israel. Many wanted Absalom to be king instead of his father David.
This is usually the result of appeasement.
My wife and I were watching the movie Harriet the other night which tells the story of the life of Harriet Tubman. Her story is really important to me because I helped to create and launch an anti-trafficking organization that we named after her. It’s called Araminta Freedom Initiative (her given slave name was Araminta and often shortened to “Minty”).
There was a moment in the movie when the Underground Railroad, which had organized the escape and freedom of so many slaves, faced a new U.S. law that made their mission 100 times more difficult. It was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. It allowed slave hunters to bring slaves back from the North even after they had escaped. So, in order to escape to freedom, slaves now had to make it not just to Pennsylvania but all the way to Canada. The only reason this law was passed was to appease the Southern states. It was an attempt to avoid secession. It was appeasement in its purest form, and the effects were devastating. It didn’t accomplish unity in the end as civil war happened anyway.
History would learn again about the harmful effects of appeasement in the 1930s with Nazi Germany. Over and over again, appeasement was offered as a way to avoid war. Over and over again Nazi Germany gained more control, power, and influence in the region. Appeasement not only failed, as WWII came anyway, but it harmed entire people groups in the process.
When someone is clearly in the wrong, the enemy always dangles the option of appeasement in front of people who are afraid of conflict. This option is often touted as a form of peace-keeping. But Jesus never called us to be peace-keepers. He called us to be peace-makers. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Peace-making often involves setting hard and fast boundaries, engaging in conflict instead of avoiding it, and not believing the lie of appeasement.
King David appeased Absalom and almost completely lost his throne. The North tried to appease the South and thousands of slaves were torn away from freedom and return to slavery in the process. Yet, the Civil War came anyway. The world tried to appease Nazi Germany to avoid war. Yet, genocide and WWII were the devastating results.
Appeasement is never the right way forward when what you’re dealing with is clearly not what God wants. We should never let conflict avoidance lead us to passive acquiescence. In the end, it causes more harm.