When the word came that the sword would never leave David's house and there would be trouble in the family...they weren't kidding. Today’s reading is all about Absalom. We have already seen him taking revenge on his half-brother Amnon who raped his sister Tamar. Today Absalom is bound and determined to take the throne away from his father David, and still David does not want this young man harmed. There have been no consequences for David's children who have been disobedient and downright evil. The chariots, horses, and 50 men to run ahead of him was intended to attract attention to Absalom and to remind people that he was David's son and an heir to the throne. The runners would announce the coming of his chariot. He ingratiated himself to the people by telling the dissatisfied people there was no deputy of the king to hear them. Absalom was in effect telling them David was too busy to hear their case, and too busy to delegate someone to act in his place. Using his personal charm and by making many promises Absalom managed to win the affection and loyalty of the Israelites.
His next step was asking permission...using a lie...to move to Hebron, nearly 20 miles away, to start his rebellion. Absalom was born there so the request didn't seem out of the ordinary. And by saying Absalom reigns in Hebron, he purposely alluded to David's kingship. David had been anointed king in Hebron. Absalom's next move was to enlist David's advisor and counselor, Ahithophel to join him. David's reaction is a bit surprising here. When he hears the news about Absalom he prepares to flee. David was a fierce warrior, and it would have been easy for he and his troops to defeat Absalom and his men, but David chose to flee. Perhaps he wanted to avoid necessary loss of life and the tragedy of a military assault on the city of Jerusalem. As they left the city, David and the royal family stopped at the east edge of town before crossing the Kidron Valley to allow the royal bodyguard to pass in review. The Kerethites and Pelethites were Philistine mercenaries who made up David's bodyguard. They had been with David for years, owed him their loyalty, and would defend he and his family to the death. Ittai the Gittite had only been in David's service for a short while but his words to David echo Ruth's words to Naomi. He promised to go wherever David went, in life and in death.
Zadok and Abiathar were the main priests serving during David's reign. They too were loyal to David. They wanted to bring the ark of the covenant with them, but David sent it back to the city. He was going into exile, not the ark. David trusted in the Lord, saying if the Lord wanted David back in Jerusalem, he would return but if not, he would accept whatever the Lord had for him. And David wanted the priests in Jerusalem at the tabernacle, praying for him. If they received a message from the Lord, there would be a way to get it to David. They could also gather information for David. When David found out his advisor was in cahoots with Absalom, he prayed that the Lord would turn his counsel into foolishness. Many believe Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather and by siding with Absalom he was gaining revenge for David killing Uriah and taking Bathsheba as his wife. Ahithophel’s name means brother of folly.
Hushai the Archite was David's friend, and he was willing to go anywhere with David. But David sent him to Jerusalem to frustrate the advice of Ahithophel, thereby sending Absalom mixed messages about what he should do. David and his family had not gone far when they encountered Ziba the longtime servant of both Saul and Mephibosheth. He had donkeys for David's family to ride and food for their journey. According to Ziba, Mephibosheth had stayed in Jerusalem, sure that this would be the day his father Saul’s kingdom would be restored to him. Even though David had treated him well he still harbored hope that he would one day be king like his father. In anger David gave Ziba all that belonged to Mephibosheth. Again...consequences.
The journey away from the city of Jerusalem gets even more interesting as they reach Bahurim. There a distant relative of Saul sees the king and his party and Shimei begging to throw rocks at them. Throwing rocks and stones is a gesture of contempt, like the king was simply a stray dog. Stones could also be dangerous weapons. That is what they used to put people to death with. David was a man of war and he had killed Uriah, but he did not kill Saul’s family. This was an unjust charge. David refused to punish or harm Shimei, believing perhaps this was part of his discipline from the Lord for his sin with Bathsheba. And maybe David thought since his own son showed him no loyalty, why should this Benjamite.
Absalom did enter Jerusalem along with his band of men, Ahithophel and Hushai. Absalom questioned Hushai but he pledged his support for whoever the current king was. This was his cover so that he could frustrate the advice Ahithophel would give Absalom. Concubines were unofficial wives. In ancient times, taking over a king’s harem was a recognized means of claiming the throne. Had Absalom left David's concubines alone there would have been a chance for reconciliation. But pitching a tent, probably a bridal tent, on the top of the palace made the people of Israel fully aware that he was engaging in sexual relations with his father’s concubines. This would stir up the people one way or another.
When Absalom asked Ahithophel for advice, what he received was actually good, sound advice. But Hushai went to work and gave advice that sounded good but wasn't. Word is sent to David to keep moving and cross the Jordan River because Absalom was coming after him. He went as far as Mahanaim which was the home of Ish-Bosheth. David found shelter there and plenty of food and water. Now it was time for David the mighty warrior to make a plan. He didn't leave Jerusalem with a large number of troops but many loyal followers made their way to him. With the troops at his disposal David divided them into three companies. They marched out under Abishai the oldest son of David's sister Zeruiah, Joab his younger brother who had become the commander of David's army, and Ittai the Gittite. Not much is known about him other than he was extremely committed to David.
The people asked David to stay in the city for fear he might be killed. He did what they thought was best but instructed his three commanders to spare Absalom’s life. The field of battle was the woods of Ephraim and scripture tells us more were lost to the woods than in the fighting. It was a dense forest on the east side of the Jordan River. Absalom’s newly organized army was no match for the experienced soldiers of David and because the woods were so dense and rugged more men died because of the woods. The oak tree or Terebinth grew to about 35 feet in height, and the forest was full of them. Here we see some rich symbolism. The mule was the usual Mount for kings and princes. Just as Absalom lost his mule from underneath him, so he lost the royal seat he so badly wanted. And his suspension in midair indicates that the rebellion had left him with no ground under his feet. He was powerless to defend himself, much less to lead a nation. Absalom was most likely caught in the tree by his own hair...a young man entangled by his own pride.
When Joab found out Absalom was hanging in a tree, he sent a soldier to kill him, but the soldier refused having heard David's command to spare the boy. Joab was angry at Absalom and went to kill him, himself. He drove three javelins into his heart but that may mean torso. They may not have killed Absalom immediately so the men with Joab beat Absalom until he died. Rather than take Absalom back to Jerusalem for a proper burial, Joab threw him into a ravine and covered him with stones. This too may be symbolic. If you go back to Deuteronomy 21:20-21 we read that the penalty for a rebellious son was stoning him to death. Messengers returned to Mahanaim with good news of the military victory but terrible news about Absalom. David was overcome with sorrow at the death of his son. It is amazing considering what Absalom had done. But we see a picture here of how much the Lord loves us even when we are sinful, disobedient and rebellious.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W