Jonadab We learned in verse 5 that Jonadab was the one who devised the scheme by which Amnon could rape his sister. In verse 32,
he appears again as the two-faced individual he was. He informed the king that the rumors were false, ‘for Amnon only is dead. for by the appointment of Absalom this hath been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar.” What a hypocrite!
Exile and Restoration Having committed the murder, Absalom fled to his mother’s people at Geshur. But, oh, how David loved
Absalom! Verse 27 says, “David mourned for his son every day. “ The
heart of the king longed to go out to Absalom, and although he was
not able to, he was comforted concerning Amnon because he was
dead. I believe this means that David’s conscience was eased some-what because, as long as Amnon was alive, he was overshadowed by his inability to punish him for the crime. He felt paralyzed in handling him. He knew he should be punished but did not want to go
back and reopen old personal wounds. I am sure that not a day went
by without David thinking about the incident between Amnon and
Tamar, and berated himself for not having acted promptly at the time.
But now, Amnon is dead and the matter was out of his hands and for-gotten.
Absalom remained in exile for three years. Then, through a series
of events masterminded by Joab, and recorded in chapter 14, he was
permitted to return to Jerusalem. However, another two years elapsed before he was permitted to see his father.
An interesting sidelight about Absalom is the fact that
physically he was a perfect specimen of a man. In 14:25
we read that “in all Israel there was none to be so much praised
as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. “ Once a year, when he cut his hair, it was found to weigh two hundred shekels by the king’s weight. Recall that the spearhead of Goliath weighed six hundred shekels which we determined was fifteen pounds. The king’s shekel may have been slightly different, but Absalom cut approximately five pounds of hair every year.
Eventually, Absalom was again allowed into his father’s
presence. Verse 33 says, “he came to the king, and bowed him-self
on his face to the ground before the king. and the king kissed Absalom. “
Unfortunately, no sooner was he back in royal favor, than he began to
have aspirations toward the throne. Keep in mind, the line of normal
dynastic succession. Amnon, the firstborn, was dead. We know nothing of Chiliab, who possibly did not survive to adulthood. Absalom, the third born, was next in line. David was now past middle age and Absalom had doubtless convinced himself that he could do a better job of ruling the nation. He certainly coveted the power associated with the position. With selfish motivation, and with a superhuman effort outside the Will of God, he began plotting to take the throne by force from his father, King David.
Absalom was a thoroughly ungodly man. Had he succeeded in
establishing himself as king, it would have been a disaster for Israel. He viewed the throne as a base of power and for personal glory. He was devoid of any degree of loyalty to David, either as his father or as his king. He planned his coup carefully and only the hand of God kept him from succeeding in it.
Winning the People In those days there were no billboards, no radios, no television for aspiring politicians. Two activities for making personal aspirations known were popular: First, the person could hire professional runners to run ahead of his chariot. As they ran, they would loudly proclaim his name and his exploits. Hearing them, people would look from their windows and would soon associate his name with his face. This recognition was very helpful when it came time to muster popular support. To that end, Absalom hired fifty runners (11 Sam. 15:1). They would call out such phrases as “Absalom is great, here comes Prince Absalom.“ All heads would turn toward the handsome man with the full head of hair, riding behind the charioteer. There was probably a no more dashing figure in all of Israel. As a charismatic, popular leader of men, he was unsurpassed.
Politics Second, a would-be leader made himself known by always
being in the city gate. We have already learned that the gate was the
center of political and social activity in the city. It was Lot who “sat in
the gate of Sodom” in a place of political leadership. It was at the gate of Bethlehem that Boaz negotiated the transaction in which he gained
Ruth for his wife. Likewise, it was at the gate that Absalom encountered all of those people who went in and out seeking justice from the king.
Verse 2 says, “Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate”.
Not only did Absalom promote himself during these encounters,
he also poisoned their minds against King David and his advisers. He
pretended to show personal interest in each person, inquiring as to
where he was from and listening to his complaint. Then, he would
totally agree with that person’s view of his problem or claim (vss. 3-4):
And Absalom said unto him, See, thy matters are good and right, but
there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee. And Absalom said
moreover, Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man who
hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!
Recognizing him as the prince, the people would attempt to
prostrate themselves before him according to the custom of the day.
Absalom would stop each one, kissing him as one did an equal.
Verse 6 says, “And on this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment”.
Absalom campaigned in this way about four years. As he stood in
the gate and filtered out those who were going to see the king, David
eventually became insulated from the problems of the people.
Verse 6 concludes, “so Absalom stole the hearts of the people.
Crowned Finally, when Absalom knew that the time was right for
action, he sought permission from King David to go on a
religious pilgrimage to Hebron. Mean while, he had his
followers so well organized that at the proper moment it could be
proclaimed through the entire land, “Absalom reigneth in Hebron.
I do not think it is coincidental that Absalom went back to Hebron
to begin his open revolt. It was the chief city of his tribe of Judah and
the place where David was first inaugurated king. By going back to
David’s early roots, he must have expected to recruit the same support that his father had in the earlier years. To further camouflage his intent, he took two hundred men from Jerusalem with him as invited guests.
They were not his supporters but served to cloud his purpose. Verse 11 says, “they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.
Not that he lacked for supporters, which included even Ahithophel,
David’s closest private counselor, because, verse 12 concludes, “the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom”.
Back in Jerusalem, David finally received the message:
“The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom. “ His
immediate response was that retreat would be necessary.
According to verse 14:
And David said unto all his servants that were with him
at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else
escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake
us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with
the edge of the sword.
David was surrounded by personal bodyguards and officials who were completely loyal. They assured him, “Behold, thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my Lord the king shall appoint. “ So he and his entourage and family left, leaving behind only ten concubines to look after the security of the palace.
Intrigue and Counter Intrigue Shortly after David had left the city, weeping and mourning with every step, someone told him that Ahithophel, his counselor, was now among the conspirators with Absalom. His response was, “O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of ahithophel into foolishness. “ Shortly afterward, he was joined by Hushai, who had rent his clothes and poured dirt on his head in mourning over the King’s retreat. David ordered him to return and join Absalom as a counterspy, then report their military plans back to him. He would report to David through the two loyal priests, Abiathar and Zadok. “Behold, they have there with them their two sons, and by them ye shall send unto me every thing that ye can hear”
Hushai In chapter 16:15, the narrative of Absalom’s invasion continues. We read that Absalom and all his followers entered
Jerusalem with Ahithophel, David’s former friend and counselor.
Immediately Hushai, the double agent, approached him and said, “God
save the king. “ Absalom was suspicious and asked, “Is this
thy kindness to thy friend? why wentest thou not with thy friend? “ Hushai
was cunning enough to be convincing. He replied (vss. 18-19):
Nay; but whom the Lord, and this people, and all the men of
Israel, choose, his will I be, and with him will I abide. And
again, whom should I serve? should I not serve in the
presence of his son? as I have served in thy father’s presence,
so will I be in thy presence. With his eloquence he convinced Absalom of his loyalty to him rather than King David.
Absalom then turned to Ahithophel and asked advice as
to his next the step in the coup. His reply was, “Go in
unto thy father’s concubines, which he hath left to keep the house”
(vs. 2 1). This, as we have seen before, was an announcement that one claimed the position of a defeated king. “So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel” (vs. 22). This was his formal
claim to his father ’s throne and it was so understood by all the people of Jerusalem. The coup was complete. There could be no turning back.
The advice that Ahithophel gave in II Samuel 17:1-3 was
good advice for Absalom’s purposes. He counseled pursuing David with an army of twelve thousand men, while he and his supporters were still exhausted after their sudden retreat.
Ahithophel even promised that he would be the one to strike down
the king and lead his followers back to Jerusalem. No wonder he has
been called a type of Judas! The narrative goes on to say that the ad-vice “pleased Absalom well” (vs. 4). What a son! He could be pleased
with a plan that included the deliberate murder of his father!
However, Absalom wanted a second opinion. He called
Hushai, and outlined Ahithophel’s strategy and asked for
comments. Hushai recognized that this was good advice from Absalom’s view-point, but very bad for David. So, as a counter-spy, he came up with a counter-plan. But first he explained why he believed Ahithophel’s strategy would not work (vss. 8-10):
Thou knowest thy father and his men, that they be
mighty men, and they be chafed in their minds, as a bear
robbed of her whelps in the field: and thy father is a man
of war, and will not lodge with the people. Behold, he is hid
now in some pit, or in some other place: and it will come to
pass, when some of them be overthrown at the first, that
whosoever heareth it will say, There is a slaughter among
the people that follow Absalom. And he also that is valiant,
whose heart is as the heart of a lion, shall utterly melt. for
all Israel knoweth that thy father is a mighty man, and they
which be with him are valiant men.
Then he presented his counter-plan (vss. 11-13) that Absalom first
muster an army from all Israel, “as the sand that is by the sea for multitude” and that Absalom personally lead it. Then they could fall upon David and his forces “as the dew falleth on the ground” and annihilate them all. If perchance he had taken refuge in a city, they would tear it down “until there be not one small stone found there”.
The final decision and the reason for it are found in verse 14:
And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of
Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.
For the Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of
Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring evil
David’s spies In obedience to David’s earlier instructions, we read in
verse 15 that Hushai sent a complete account of the two
plans to the king, passing the message through a maidservant to the
two sons of the priests who had remained just outside the city to
prevent being seen going in or out. They were seen, however, by a lad who promptly reported it to Absalom (vs. 18). So, they hid in the well of a friendly householder, whose wife spread grain over the opening, and sent Absalom’s messengers looking for them in the opposite direction. When the young men reached David, they passed the word from Hushai, “Arise, and pass quickly over the water. for thus hath Ahithophel counseled against you. Immediately that same night David and all who were with him crossed over the Jordan into the wilderness.
Suicide When Ahithophel saw that Absalom was not going to follow
his advice, he foresaw the tragedy that would come to the side he
had chosen. He saddled his donkey, hurried home, evidently to another city, set his house in order, and strangled himself. He knew that he was a traitor to his old friend, and now he sensed that God’s hand was against him as well as Absalom. Suicide seemed like the only answer.
Flight and Pursuit Absalom had made Amasa, a cousin of Joab, his Commander-in-Chief. As they set out in pursuit, David went to Mahanaim. At this point David’s previous political savvy began to pay off. You recall that back in II Samuel 12:29-31, following the attack on Rabbah and the sons of Ammon, David did not slaughter them as he usually did. He put them to work. Now, as he fled across the Jordan, he was met by Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah; Machir, son of Ammiel of Lodebar; and one Barzillai, a Gileadite. The men brought need provisions that included beds, utensils, and a generous supply of food. They evidently remembered how David had spared the lives of their relatives. You will also note from II Samuel 16:1-3, that Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth had also brought supplies.
As news of Absalom’s movements reached him, David saw that
the time for retreat was over and it was necessary to stand and fight. He took a census of his men (who numbered in the thousands) and divided them into three companies with a third under Joab, a third under Abishai, Joab’s brother, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The old thrill of battle must have been coursing through David’s veins, for he announced, “I will surely go forth with you myself also.“
However, his people dissuaded him, saying (18:3):
Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not
care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us:
but now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore now
it is better that thou succour us out of the city.
David agreed to stay behind at Mahanaim and wait by the gate
for news of the battle. But, as his army passed out before him, all the
people heard him command his generals, “Deal gently for my sake with
the young man, even with Absalom. “ His ill-founded, ill-proportioned,
warped love for his evil son, was beginning to take precedence over his love for God’s kingdom and God’s people.
XXXV RESTORATION, HEALING AND CONSOLIDATION
Absalom, following the advice of Hushai rather than that of
Ahithophel, set out with a large army to defeat his father. It was to be
his final and fatal mistake. We read in II Samuel 18:6, that the battle was begun in the forest of Ephraim. There, the army of Israel under the leadership of Absalom, was defeated as they fought against the army of their exiled king. David’s army prevailed, and the slaughter was great that day, 20,000 men, as the battle was spread over the entire countryside.
Death of Absalom As Absalom was riding on his mule, he passed under a thick oak with great tangled branches. As his head and hair became caught in the limbs of the tree, his mule kept going and left him dangling, swinging helplessly between the tree and the ground below. A soldier saw him hanging there and quickly ran and told Joab. “Why didst thou not smite him? “ Joab demanded. “I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle. “Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king’s son,“ the man replied (vs. 12). He reminded Joab that everyone had heard David charge his commanders to “deal gently with Absalom”.
The young man probably also knew what David had done on two
previous occasions-to the Amalekite who claimed to have killed King
Saul, and to the two who had slain Saul’s son Ish-bosheth on his bed.
For he added that such an action would have been “against mine own life. “ Even though he was afraid to kill Absalom, Joab was of a different mentality. Wasting no further time in discussion, he took three darts (or spears) and thrust them into the heart of Absalom as he dangled by his hair from the oak tree.
Joab blew the trumpet announcing victory and proclaimed that
the leader of the revolt had been slain. They cast Absalom ignominiously into a pit and put a heap of stones over him. All his army fled in disgrace and defeat.
The Victor in Mourning Following the victory, a footrace ensued between Cushi, and Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok, to take the news back to King David who was waiting by the gate of Mahanaim. Ahimaaz reached the king first, but refrained from telling him that Absalom was dead, even though David specifically asked about him. When Cushi arrived with his report, he was asked the same question, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” He replied, “The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is”
(vs. 32). His meaning was obvious. Verse 33 says,
And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber
over the gate, and wept. and as he went, thus he said, 0 my
son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had
died for thee, 0 Absalom, my son, my son!
David’s grief was totally out of proportion when we consider the
character and revolt of Absalom, and far beyond what he had exhibited for Amnon. By this time in his life, so much tragedy had befallen him and members of his family, that he became psychologically devastated. Do you remember how he reacted when the son born of Bathsheba died? In those days, he was a man in control of himself. Now, this new tragedy has sapped that strength of character which had made him the leader he had been. He was deteriorating rapidly-physically and psychologically.
While he lamented, Joab was informed (19:1) how the king was
weeping and mourning. Joab could not understand Such depth of grief over the death of one who would have taken David’s life if given the chance. The victory that David’s army had enjoyed that day turned to mourning because of David’s improper reaction to the death of the man who led the armies that were attempting to destroy him. As a result, the people sneaked away from the victory celebration. They crept away, verse 3 says, “as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle. “ But David covered his face and cried loudly, “O my son Absalom, 0 Absalom, my son, my son!”
Joab’s rebuke Joab, never hesitant to approach the king, came into the room where he was and delivered a stinging rebuke (vss. 5-6):
Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which
this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy
daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy
concubines, In that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest
thy friends. For thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest
neither princes nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if
Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had
pleased thee well.
Then in verse 7 he continued with what was, in effect, an order and a
threat. Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy
servants: for I swear by the Lord, if thou go not forth, there
will not tarry one with thee this night. and that will be worse
unto thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now.
One can almost picture Joab grabbing David by the shoulders,
trying to shake some sense into him and bring him back to reality.
Hearing joab’s threat, David pulled himself together and went to
sit in the gate. Word of David’s recovery traveled fast and all his people joined him in the gate with their spirits renewed.
Return to Jerusalem It took time for David to regain his throne in Jerusalem. First, the tribes of Israel who had anointed Absalom sought peace and the opportunity to bring him back to his throne. Then, he offered terms of peace to his own tribe of Judah. Part of his arrangement involved the selection of Amasa, Absalom’s general, to replace Joab as his Commander-in-Chief. Joab’s act of slaying Absalom, and his later rebuke of David over Absalom, were probably behind this move, but Joab was not going to take it without response and resistance.
Finally, David began the journey back across the Jordan to resume
his rightful position as monarch. The activities which went on, and the
obeisance of one individual (and group) after another, who had to make their peace with him as he continued his triumphal progress back to Jerusalem, are recorded in II Samuel 19:9-43.
One of the first official acts he performed when he got back to his
palace, was to take the ten concubines, whom he had left to keep the
house, and put them under guard. These were the ones whom Absalom had raped in view of all the city. David continued to provide them with sustenance, but no longer maintained a personal relationship with them. They were shut up until the day of their deaths and lived as widows.
Revolt of Sheba David’s problems were not over. Even as he was on his way back to Jerusalem, the men of Israel and the men of Judah were arguing fiercely over which group had more right to the honor of bringing back the king (II Sam. 19:41-43). Taking advantage of this, a worthless man named Sheba attempted to lead another coup and take the crown once more from David. Although the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the king, many from Israel followed Sheba. David knew he had to act quickly. Calling in his new General, Amasa, he ordered him to muster the fighting men of Judah and be ready to go to battle within three days. Amasa left on his errand, “but he tarried longer than the set time which he had appointed him” (II Sam. 20:5). This verse says a great deal about Amasa.
He was still loyal to the opposition. He had led these same people in
support of Absalom. The political move David had made in giving Joab’s position to Amasa had been a bad one both tactically and strategically. It was intended to rein trench him in the hearts of Judah, but it put David in serious difficulty. He needed a General who could act quickly and decisively, and Amasa was failing to do so.
Joab, on the other hand, was a man of action. I believe he would
have had the armies of Judah ready to march within two days. But David did not give the job to Joab when Amasa delayed. Instead, he ordered Abishai, Joab’s brother, to pursue Sheba. He realized the danger, saying, “Now shall Sheba the son of Bichri do us more harm than did Absalom” (vs.6). It was essential that Sheba be captured and returned for trial or else killed before he found a hiding place from which to rally the nation behind him. At the same time, however, Joab and his hand-picked mighty men set out in pursuit of Sheba (vs. 8).