Absalom was the favored but disobedient son of David – proud of his beauty, especially his hair (2 Sam. 14:25-26). He was also one of the most despicable, godless characters in the Bible. There is no sign that God ever had a place in his thoughts. He was fierce, arrogant, self-willed and unscrupulous. He killed his half-brother Amnon, set Joab’s field on fire, secretly plotted against his father, drove him from Jerusalem, took over the palace, and then made plans to wipe out David’s forces. Instead, David won the battle and Absalom was slain, a judgment he deserved. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed” (Gen. 9:6 NKJV). Absalom Kills Amnon Absalom, Tamar and Amnon had the same father, but Amnon had a different mother. Amnon lusted after his half-sister Tamar and raped her. This awful sin in David’s family was part of the divine chastisement David suffered because of his sin with Bathsheba. Jehovah’s sentence, “I will raise evil against you from your own house” (2 Sam. 12:11), was being carried out.
Absalom hated Amnon because of this incest, but David did not even rebuke him. Absalom decided to kill Amnon for raping his sister. He invited the king’s sons to a feast, and when Amnon was drunk, he had his servants kill him (13:28). David did not punish Amnon for rape, nor did he punish Absalom for murdering Amnon. But since Absalom plotted Amnon’s murder, he had to flee.
Absalom Plans Rebellion
Absalom was not grateful to his father for allowing him to return to Jerusalem. Instead, he planned to depose him. He stationed himself at the busiest gate of the city, and gained the people’s favor by hearing their complaints with pretended sympathy (15:5-6). He was a clever and crooked politician. David could hardly have been ignorant of his son’s plot, yet he made no attempt to stop him. David idolized his son, and this was one of his chief failures. He knew Absalom was exalting himself, and that God had designated Solomon to be the next king (1 Chr. 22:9; 2 Sam. 7:12; 12:25). He knew that the flesh ruled him, but he did nothing to restrain him.
Some years later Absalom said, “Let me go to Hebron and pay the vow which I made to the Lord … saying, ‘If the LORD indeed brings me back to Jerusalem, then I will serve the LORD’” (2 Sam. 15:7-8). Absalom was lying, but David did not question him, and Absalom went to Hebron to begin his rebellion. He sent spies throughout Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom reigns in Hebron!’” (15:10). This should be a warning to parents not to assume that their children know the Lord, but to look for the fruits of that relationship. Absalom’s rebellion against David assumed considerable strength.
David Flees Jerusalem
When David heard that “the hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom” he fled Jerusalem with his servants (15:13-14). He did not want to see the city he loved become a scene of battle. But he also fled because he loved Absalom and did not wish to harm him. He concluded that this was more retribution for his sins of adultery and murder. The Lord had declared that adversity would come from his family. This was fulfilled when his favorite son rebelled. Nevertheless, David clung to the Lord in all this chastisement. This was when he penned Psalm 3, which bears this inscription: “A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom, his son.” In spite of his fears he trusted the Lord: “You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head … I will not be afraid” (Ps. 3:3,6).
When Ahithophel, David’s esteemed counselor, defected to Absalom’s side, David prayed that his counsel to Absalom would be “foolishness” (15:31). God eventually answered that prayer, as Ahithophel advised Absalom to do an abominable thing: “Go in to your father’s concubines” (16:21). This act would be a crude declaration that everything David owned now belonged to Absalom. Again, this was a part of God’s chastening. The Lord had said to David, “I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives” (12:11). This was eventually fulfilled. When David left his concubines “to keep the house … Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel” (15:16; 16:22).
After the king and his household left the city, and all the people after him, Ittai, David’s devoted follower, greatly comforted his heart with his show of devotion. When David told him to return to Absalom, he said he wanted to be with his king in life or death. In his devotion and attachment to David, Ittai is a blessed type of those who are true to the Lord in the time of His rejection (15:19-22).
There was much weeping as David crossed the Brook Kidron. They had been carrying the ark, but then the king directed Zadok saying, “Carry the ark of God into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him” (15:25-26). The ark, the symbol of God’s presence, was esteemed by David more than anything. He refused to expose it to the possible insults of Absalom and his faction. David knew he was being chastised. He regarded himself unworthy for the ark to accompany him, and refused to pretend that God was on his side.
David was deeply submitted to God’s will. He saw the Lord’s hand in all his afflictions. Can we do the same? God-sustained faith always sees God’s hand in the midst of affliction. In this dark hour of Absalom’s revolt, David saw God’s disciplinary hand and that preserved him from bitterness against God and the fear of man. The more we discern God’s controlling hand in our circumstances, the more we will possess the peace which passes understanding (Phil. 4:7).
“So David went up by the Ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept … and he had his head covered and went barefoot. And all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping” (2 Sam. 15:30). What a sight – the weeping king, barefooted, head covered, ascending Olivet! God’s chastening rod was heavy, and he humbled himself with these outward signs of self-abasement, self-condemnation, and mourning for his sins.
David here reminds us of Christ who ascended the Mount of Olives and wept (Lk.19:37,41). As David crossed the Brook Kidron, so did Christ (Jn. 18:1). As David went forth a despised and rejected king, so was the Redeemer as He went to Gethsemane. As David was accompanied by some devoted followers, so was Christ (Lk. 23:27). As Ahithophel, his trusted counselor, left him and joined his enemy, so did Judas betray Christ and join His foes (Lk. 22:47). As the people who followed David up Olivet were sorrowful, so were the disciples who followed Christ to Gethsemane (Lk. 22:45). But while seeing these comparisons, let’s not forget the sharp contrast – David’s suffering was caused by his own sins, while Christ suffered because of our sins.
“Someone told David: “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom” (2 Sam. 15:31). Next to his son’s revolt, this was the bitterest taste in David’s cup of sorrow. Ahithophel was David’s trusted counselor and friend. He not only forsook David, but defected to his enemy. David described their fellowship this way: “We took sweet counsel together” (Ps. 55:14). He felt his treachery keenly: “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Ps. 41:9). “It is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me … then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance” (Ps. 55:12-13). David feared Ahithophel’s counsel to Absalom more than Absalom’s revolt, for he was a highly respected statesman. “The advice of Ahithophel … was as if one had inquired at the oracle of God” (2 Sam. 16:23).
David prayed: “O LORD, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (15:31). Here David gives us an example that we too may pray that God defeats the plans of the wicked: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jas. 5:16). The Lord answered David’s prayer: “The LORD had purposed to defeat the good advice of Ahithophel … that the LORD might bring disaster on Absalom” (2 Sam. 17:14).
“David had come to the top of the mountain, where he worshiped God” (15:32). This should teach us that difficulties should not hinder our worship. We may worship the Lord as truly in the valley as on the mountaintop. Though David was away from the tabernacle, God was still accessible. Nothing should prevent us from worshiping the Lord.
In 2 Samuel 17, Absalom’s counselors, Ahithophel and Hushai, gave contradictory counsel about whether to attack David at this time, as well as how to attack. Ahithophel’s advice was: “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and weak … and I will strike only the king. Then I will bring back all the people to you” (17:1-3). If David could be destroyed, the rebellion would end and Absalom would be made king. The cold-blooded proposal of Ahithophel to kill the Lord’s anointed met with hearty approval from Absalom and all Israel’s elders (17:4). But Ahithophel had not reckoned with the Lord, who loved David.
When Absalom told Hushai of Ahithophel’s advice, Hushai suggested that killing David was not such a simple task as Ahithophel supposed, because David was a rugged veteran with valiant warriors. Hushai also said that David was likely hiding, and was an expert at evading capture. Instead, Hushai said this: “I advise that all Israel be gathered to you … and that you go to battle in person” (17:11). The twelve thousand men Ahithophel asked for would not be successful against David and his warriors. Absalom must mobilize all the men of Israel to overwhelm his father by sheer force of numbers. There is a practical lesson here: Never underestimate the strength of spiritual enemies, and seek the best means of overcoming them. Satan generally attacks by surprise, and he has 6000 years of experience in tempting us since he first tempted our parents in the Garden. We need to tread cautiously or he will defeat us.
In counseling Absalom to gather an overwhelming force, Hushai was stalling for time. The longer Absalom delayed taking action, the better Hushai’s real goal would be achieved – to give David more time to ready his forces and select the best site for the battle. This was totally different from Ahithophel’s advice: “I will … pursue David tonight.” Hushai also suggested that Absalom “go to battle in person.” This advice resulted in Absalom’s death. Had he followed Ahithophel’s advice, he would have remained safe in Jerusalem. By accepting Hushai’s advice to go to battle himself, he went to his death.
But it was the Lord, not Hushai who defeated Ahithophel’s counsel: “For the LORD had purposed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel … that the LORD might bring disaster on Absalom” (17:14). The Lord gave Hushai the counsel, and then made Absalom follow it. Through Hushai’s conspiracy, acting as a spy for David, the king was saved. The sovereign God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). And “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men” (Dan. 4:17). It is good to know that God intervenes for the protection and welfare of His people. God used Hushai’s advice to save David. Upon seeing his counsel defeated, and unable to slay the king, Ahithophel committed suicide by hanging, reminding us of Judas Iscariot who also hanged himself (Mt. 27:5).
The Civil War
There was a civil war. David’s army had three divisions commanded by Joab, Abishai and Ittai. David was ready to join his warriors, but the people said no: “You are worth ten thousand of us now” (2 Sam. 18:3). As his captains departed, he said, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (18:5).
The battle took place in a wild jungle, with many steep canyons. Absalom lost 20,000 men “and the woods devoured more people that day than the sword devoured” (18:8). Absalom fled, but his hair got entangled in the bough of an oak, and “he was left hanging between heaven and earth” (18:9). The first man who saw him would not kill him for he had heard the king’s request. But one of David’s captains, the unscrupulous Joab, “took three spears in his hand and thrust them through Absalom’s heart while he was still alive” (18:14). Joab disregarded the kings command to deal gently with Absalom; his body was cast into a pit and covered with stones – a criminal’s grave.
With Absalom dead, the rebellion ended. Joab knew that Absalom’s death would end the rebellion. David was sitting in the gate of the city, anxiously waiting for word. When David heard that his son was dead, he wept and cried, “O my son Absalom … if only I had died in your place!” (18:33). David loved his son, and was extremely grieved when he died because he was not sure of his son’s relationship with the Lord. David was a great king but a poor father, and Absalom was evidence of his failure.
By Maurice Bassali
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org