David and Absalom

Last week we discussed how the repercussions of David’s sins trickled down into his children. David’s oldest son and heir, Amnon assaulted his half-sister Tamar. And then David decided to do nothing about it. He didn’t punish Amnon in any fashion. Enter Absalom, who is David’s third son and Tamar’s brother. Absalom waited two years for David to do something to punish Amnon, and when David did nothing, Absalom took matters into his own hands. He had invited Amnon out to a picnic and while he was feasting, he had him murdered.

Afterwards, Absalom fled, staying far away for fear of punishment from his father and king, David. But just as David refused to punish Amnon, after a few years, David wanted Absalom back. He missed his son. So David invites Absalom back to Jerusalem and forgives him.

Just as David did not punish Amnon for assaulting Tamar, David does not punish Absalom for murdering his brother in cold blood.

This does not earn Absalom’s loyalty. It actually causes Absalom to view David with contempt and begin to think that maybe…just maybe, David is no longer fit to be king. And that is where we pick up today. So please go get your Bibles and open it up to 2 Samuel 15:1-6.

15 After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run ahead of him. 2 Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the road into the gate; and when anyone brought a suit before the king for judgment, Absalom would call out and say, “From what city are you?” When the person said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” 3 Absalom would say, “See, your claims are good and right; but there is no one deputed by the king to hear you.” 4 Absalom said moreover, “If only I were judge in the land! Then all who had a suit or cause might come to me, and I would give them justice.” 5 Whenever people came near to do obeisance to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of them, and kiss them. 6 Thus Absalom did to every Israelite who came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole the hearts of the people of Israel.

So Absalom starts to sew a little bit of discord in Israel. He gets up early and goes to stand out by the gate, and basically intercepts anyone who is taking an issue to the king. Part of the job of the king was to hear issues of the people and dispense justice as he saw fit. And people would come from far and wide in the kingdom to ask the king to deal with such issues. Absalom basically stops these people as they enter the city and makes small talk, asking where they are from and basically expressing an interest in them. He would then ask them why they came to the city and hear about their issues. He would then validate them that their issue was good and sincere, and totally the kind of thing you would take before the king…if only the king was doing their job and listening to them.

Absalom is directly implying here that the king is not doing his job. Now we don’t know if David was shirking this duty or not. It seems unlikely, as David hasn’t been recently called out in this section of the Bible for failing his kingly duties and not listening to people. But Absalom is basically telling people that David isn’t doing his job anymore, and oh, wouldn’t it be nice if Absalom was king? And then Absalom could help them and dispense the justice they are asking for?

Absalom is basically saying here “David is a bad king, isn’t it about time that we a have new king…like say me?”

And the people believed him, and through this, the Bible says, he stole the heart of the people of Israel. Absalom convinced the people he had their best interest at heart and David no longer cared for them.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 15:7-12.

7 At the end of four[a] years Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go to Hebron and pay the vow that I have made to the Lord. 8 For your servant made a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram: If the Lord will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will worship the Lord in Hebron.”[b9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he got up, and went to Hebron. 10 But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then shout: Absalom has become king at Hebron!” 11 Two hundred men from Jerusalem went with Absalom; they were invited guests, and they went in their innocence, knowing nothing of the matter. 12 While Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for[c]Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. The conspiracy grew in strength, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.

One day Absalom goes to his father, the king, and basically asks to go make a religious pilgrimage to Hebron. Absalom claims it’s because while he was on the run after killing Amnon he made a vow to God that if God would bring him back to Jerusalem, that he would go to Hebron one day and worship God there.

David has no reason to believe Absalom wouldn’t mean exactly what he says, and David is certainly not the type of man to stand between his son and God. So he gives Absalom his blessing to leave.

But Absalom is not being honest. It is not his intent to go worship God. Instead he sends messages out to all the people of Israel basically saying that he is going to become king.

Absalom is calling on the fact that people love him to try to overthrow his father and put himself in place as king of Israel.

One of David’s advisors, a guy named Ahithophel, even joins Absalom.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 15:13-17.

13 A messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the Israelites have gone after Absalom.” 14 Then David said to all his officials who were with him at Jerusalem, “Get up! Let us flee, or there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Hurry, or he will soon overtake us, and bring disaster down upon us, and attack the city with the edge of the sword.” 15 The king’s officials said to the king, “Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king decides.” 16 So the king left, followed by all his household, except ten concubines whom he left behind to look after the house. 17 The king left, followed by all the people; and they stopped at the last house.

A messenger comes to David and tells him that most of Israel has put their faith in Absalom and that basically Absalom is raising an army. And David doesn’t want Jerusalem to be put under siege or hurt by Absalom basically bringing war to Jerusalem, so he makes the hard decision to flee.

It’s a tactical decision, one that will keep Jerusalem safe and keep take David out of reach of Absalom for a little while longer, but it also leaves Jerusalem open for Absalom to just walk in and basically set himself up as king.

David gathers up most of his family and leaves, lots of people who are loyal to him following him on his way out. And he stops just at the last house of Jerusalem.

Someone please reads 2 Samuel 15:24-31.

24 Abiathar came up, and Zadok also, with all the Levites, carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set down the ark of God, until the people had all passed out of the city. 25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and the place where it stays. 26 But if he says, ‘I take no pleasure in you,’ here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.” 27 The king also said to the priest Zadok, “Look,[a] go back to the city in peace, you and Abiathar,[b]with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan son of Abiathar. 28 See, I will wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem, and they remained there.

30 But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, with his head covered and walking barefoot; and all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went. 31 David was told that Ahithophel was among the conspirators with Absalom. And David said, “O Lord, I pray you, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”

The priests also pack up and begin to leave Jerusalem, bringing with them the ark of the covenant. They wait with David at the edge of the city until everyone who is planning to leave the city has done so, and then David stops them from following the people out. He tells them to stay in the city with the ark of covenant, because David knows what happens next is in God’s hands. If God wills it, David will come back and be king again. But if God does not will it, then David will not be king. But the ark belongs in Jerusalem and therefore there it will stay.

He tells the priests to stay in the city and watch. He tells them where he is going—into the wilderness—and that they can send him word if they need to. And then the priests take the ark of the covenant back into the city.

Then David goes up on the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives is a place just outside of Jerusalem’s old city, named “Mount of Olives” because olives literally grow on it. This is a place we’re going to see referenced again and again in the Bible, a place that is important not just here in David’s time but later to Jesus. So David is just outside the city and he is crying as he goes up the mount—crying because everything has come to this, that the people must leave his city because of one of his own sons. But also he is upset because he has learned one of his own advisors has betrayed him.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 15:32-37.

32 When David came to the summit, where God was worshiped, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and earth on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go on with me, you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father’s servant in time past, so now I will be your servant,’ then you will defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel. 35 The priests Zadok and Abiathar will be with you there. So whatever you hear from the king’s house, tell it to the priests Zadok and Abiathar. 36 Their two sons are with them there, Zadok’s son Ahimaaz and Abiathar’s son Jonathan; and by them you shall report to me everything you hear.” 37 So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.

While on top of the mountain, a man named Hushai meets David. Hushai is loyal to David and very upset that David is going to leave the city and wants to go with him. But David has a better idea. Because David may be leaving the city for Absalom but he hasn’t given up. He tells Hushai to basically make friends with Absalom and get Absalom to trust him. Hushai is then to serve two purposes: one he is to be a spy. He’s to let the priests know anything he hears so they can report it to David. But perhaps more importantly, he asks Hushai to give Absalom bad advice.

Because David knows that Ahithophel will give Absalom the best advice he can, and that if Ahithophel’s advice is followed it gives Absalom a better chance of winning. But if Hushai gives bad advice then maybe, just maybe, Absalom will do something stupid and it will give David to reclaim his throne.

So Hushai goes back into the city and is there when Absalom arrives.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 16:15-19.

15 Now Absalom and all the Israelites[a] came to Jerusalem; Ahithophel was with him. 16 When Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came to Absalom, Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” 17 Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” 18 Hushai said to Absalom, “No; but the one whom the Lord and this people and all the Israelites have chosen, his I will be, and with him I will remain. 19 Moreover, whom should I serve? Should it not be his son? Just as I have served your father, so I will serve you.”

Absalom arrives in the city, and David’s old advisor Ahithophel is with him. Hushai, however, meets up with them shouting, “Long live the king!” And Absalom calls him out—because Absalom knows Hushai is David’s friend, so he’s suspicious at first, demanding to know what happened to Hushai’s loyalty and demanding to know why he didn’t go with David.

Hushai counters by saying that his loyalty is with the one God and the people have chosen, and whoever God has chosen, Hushai will be loyal to. And after all, isn’t Absalom, David’s son? So he will serve Absalom just as he served David.

Absalom buys this hook line and sinker, and makes Hushai one of his advisors.

Now Absalom needs to figure out what he’s going to do for his next move. Should he go after his father and attack? Should he sit tight in Jerusalem and just wait David out? So he gathers his advisors and asks their opinions. First up is Ahithophel. Someone please read 2 Samuel 17:1-4.

17 Moreover Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will set out and pursue David tonight. 2 I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged, and throw him into a panic; and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, 3 and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man,[a] and all the people will be at peace.” 4 The advice pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel.

Ahithophel asks Absalom for 12,000 men. He wants to take those men and go after David right now—and not wait a single minute longer. Ahithophel knows that right now David is probably feeling tired and sad and like nothing is working in his favor, and if he gets attacked right now while he and all his people are feeling like this, they have a good chance of winning. He wants to kill David and then bring all the people who left with him back to Absalom.

This is really good advice. And if Absalom had done this, there is a good chance he might have won the day and we’d remember Absalom as the second king of Israel.

But Absalom didn’t just ask for Ahitohpel’s advice. He also asks for the advice of Hushai—who as we know is a spy for David who’s sole purpose is to convince Absalom of bad advice.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 17:7-14.

7 Then Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” 8 Hushai continued, “You know that your father and his men are warriors, and that they are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. Besides, your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the troops. 9 Even now he has hidden himself in one of the pits, or in some other place. And when some of our troops[a] fall at the first attack, whoever hears it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the troops who follow Absalom.’ 10 Then even the valiant warrior, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt with fear; for all Israel knows that your father is a warrior, and that those who are with him are valiant warriors. 11 But my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beer-sheba, like the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person. 12 So we shall come upon him in whatever place he may be found, and we shall light on him as the dew falls on the ground; and he will not survive, nor will any of those with him. 13 If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we shall drag it into the valley, until not even a pebble is to be found there.” 14 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 ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring ruin on Absalom.

Hushai says that Ahithophel’s advice is bad. After all everyone knows David and his men are fierce warriors and they’re not sad, he says, but enraged!! Like a mother bear separated from her cubs! Also, Hushai points out, David is like an expert warrior—after all he spent his entire youth at war with either the Philistines or Saul—and undoubtedly he has hidden himself so well they will never find him. Hushai says that it will all end with Absalom’s troops being slaughtered and this will not be good for Absalom.

Hushai then says their better bet is to gather all of Israel and then Absalom should personally go out into battle with his people, leading them from the front lines. This advice, I should point out, will mean Absalom would delay in going after David because it will take time to gather that many people.

But Absalom listens to Hushai and chooses his advice over Ahithophel’s.

Hushai, being a spy, then immediately sends word to David about what has been decided, so that David can anticipate Absalom’s movements and not be killed by him. And David is able to move all of his people and escape Absalom’s coming army before Absalom even gets there.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 18:1-8.

18 Then David mustered the men who were with him, and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. 2 And David divided the army into three groups:[a] one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. The king said to the men, “I myself will also go out with you.” 3 But the men said, “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us;[b] therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.” 4 The king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands. 5 The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.

6 So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. 7 The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.

David gathers all his men and commanders to him and divides them up. And this time David wants to go out and lead them himself. But this time his commanders protest, basically saying he is too valuable to risk. If they die but he lives, it will have been worth it, but if he dies, what good is this whole battle? So it is better that he stays back.

David listens to their advice but then gives his commanders one last order, he asks that they deal gently with Absalom.

Basically David doesn’t want Absalom to die. Despite everything Absalom has done—despite the fact that Absalom has literally tried to overthrow David and has led to battles and death and destruction, David doesn’t want Absalom to be punished. And in a melee, battle like this, it’s really hard to keep from killing one specific person. This puts a huge burden on the commanders. Because this ends up being a huge battle, that is spread over all of Israel.

This inability to discipline and punish his own children is one of David’s fatal flaws. It’s what led to Amnon and this whole situation to begin with.

But in the end, David’s men triumph and win the day.

Can someone please read 18:9-15.

9 Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging[a]between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 10 A man saw it, and told Joab, “I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” 11 Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” 12 But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son; for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying: For my sake protect the young man Absalom! 13 On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life[b] (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” 14 Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” He took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak. 15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

Absalom is out in the battle, unlike David, because remember the advice Hushai gave him was to go out into the battle himself. He’s riding a mule and the mule goes under a tree, and Absalom gets caught in it, unable to get himself down! The way he’s described as being caught, it’s clear he’s alive but just unable to untangle himself.

And a soldier reports back to one of David’s commanders, Joab, that they saw Absalom in a tree. And Joab is like “What? IF that’s true why did you not kill him?” And the man is basically like “Umm, David said not to? I’m not going to go against the king.”

And Joab is like “This is so stupid. David was stupid to give this command and I guess I’m going to have to do this myself.” So Joab leads his men and goes and kills Absalom.

Joab disobeys a direct order from David, because David didn’t want Absalom killed. But Joab knows that if Absalom doesn’t die, that if he lives, this rebellion will never fully be quelled. And he knows David will forgive Absalom and not punish him—just like Amnon—and that could lead to another revolt. So Joab does what he thinks is necessary to save David and the kingdom.

With Absalom dead, the fight ends. His men have nothing to fight for without their would-be king. David becomes king again but at the cost of his son.

The rebellion is over. David is king. But not even David can live forever. Next week we’ll discuss the final story of King David.