So far in our study of 2 Samuel we have seen David crowned in exile, unite a nation under one God and one king (David), found a new capital (Jerusalem), conquer nations, expand Israel’s borders, retrieve the Ark of the Covenant and establish centralized worship among the people. In chapter 11 he made that infamous string of mistakes with Bathsheba, Uriah and the cover-up of both. Since then, life continues to go downhill.
This week we discussed the persisting repercussions of David’s sins. Yes, God forgave him (2 Samuel 12:13–15), but consequences continue coming. And not all of these melodramatic, soap-opera-worthy events are directly related to David’s sin. Some of them stem from faulty or incomplete parenting. Some of them grow out of the sin of others. (Remember Amnon and Absalom? They’re hardly innocent bystanders.) Some , I believe, result from David’s inability to forgive himself.
Let’s talk about the drama. If you did the homework, you know the stories, so I’ll just hit on the high points and issues requiring further clarification. If you’ve not yet checked out the homework, you can get it HERE.
Absalom Pursues the Throne
Prince Absalom clearly didn’t respect his father and methodically went about securing the hearts of the people. He did this by hiring a chariot and horses and fifty men to run before him announcing his presence everywhere he went. (Does this remind anyone else of Haman in the story of Esther? If you’re not familiar with the story, begin reading in Esther 3. It’s another great dramatic piece of Scripture.) Then Absalom sat on the road blocking paths to the palace and directly undermined the authority of his father, King David. He allowed people to bow down to him and he kissed them and gave them all that they desired. As the ladies expressed last night, he performed all sorts of butt-kissing. And it worked.
After four years of this campaign, Absalom invited 200 men of Jerusalem to Hebron where he initiated his own coronation. He even won over Ahithophel, David’s number one go-to adviser.
A few things about this:
- Hebron is important because it is the place where Samuel anointed and crowned Saul as the first monarchy of Israel. It is also where Judah crowned David. In other words, Hebron is the city where men become kings.
- Ahithophel is a key player, not only because he was David’s top adviser, but also because his word was believed to be second only to God’s. He wasn’t a prophet, but he was a wise man greatly revered. He was also Bathsheba’s grandfather, which may shed a little light on why he would so easily turn on David. You know, the guy who stole his granddaughter, murdered her husband, is faulted with the death of his great-grandson, tries to cover up the whole thing and somehow still gets to sit on the throne as “a man after God’s own heart.” Yeah, that guy.
- Why would Absalom do all of this? Didn’t he love his father? Respect God’s anointed? Well, one explanation is simply a desire for power. Another catalyst may have been a residual discontent (bitterness?) over David’s handling of the situation between Amnon and Tamar. Absalom waited two years for someone — anyone — to do something to avenge his sister’s honor. David did nothing. As a result, Absalom likely lost all appreciation of his father’s leadership and ability to perform justice. Now, I don’t want to be naive and think that Absalom knew anything about true justice, but he certainly didn’t see David doing what he (Absalom) felt was right. He believed himself to be more capable of ruling and more worthy of the throne. As he garnered the hearts of the people, what remained to prevent him? Even David gave him leave (with peace!) to go to Hebron.
This is the part that had our in-home group scratching our heads and crying out in frustration. What is wrong with this man?!
There is no way he could not have known what was going on. Absalom had been usurping his authority for four years. As king, David would have known. His loyal subjects would have known and they would have told him. And yet he did nothing. In fact, when Absalom feeds him the lie about a vow to worship in Hebron, David lets him go. He would vividly remember the significance of that city and yet … he does nothing. He sits around and waits for a message and then … again he does nothing. He doesn’t fight. He doesn’t debate. He does absolutely nothing kingly, nothing that reflects the confident warrior we once knew him to be. Instead, he grabs his family and his things and leaves. He is in a walled city!! Why would he leave?! This whole thing presents a man drastically contrasted to David’s previous character. It baffles me. And yet, it is what it is.
As David leaves, everyone chooses sides. Fortunately most seem to follow him rather than Absalom. Mephibosheth’s response causes some stir, but let me assure you his story isn’t over. All was not as presented here, as you’ll discover in our next set of homework. Ittai’s response was also unexpected. His profession of faith and loyalty parallel that of Ruth (Ruth 1:16–19) and Rahab (Joshua 2:9–11), both also Gentiles who clung to the one true, most powerful God of the Israelites.
Hushai wishes to go with David, but, in a bold act of leadership, David launches a plan.
Ahithophel vs. Hushai and the Great Battle
Hushai stays in Jerusalem under the guise of transferred loyalty to Absalom. David encouraged him to “frustrate” the advice of Ahithophel, and that he does well. When Ahithophel tells Absalom to attack David immediately, Hushai tells him to wait until he has gathered all the men of Israel so that they will far outnumber David’s men and have no chance of defeat. Both men offer logical plans, but Hushai’s plan allows David and his men more time to rest, recover, regroup and be ready for battle.
After pride comes the fall … or is it your pride will leave you hanging in a tree? Both were true for Absalom! His glorious hair becomes tangled in branches while his faithful steed — er, I mean donkey — runs off without him. Joab takes matters into his own hands (as is his M.O.) and murders the king’s son while he remains stranded, dangling by his coveted locks. Messengers are sent to David with the news of a successful battle and Absalom’s death, and that’s when confusion ensues. The victorious soldiers return to find their king grieving his son, the enemy he had sent them to fight. They’re left embarrassed and ashamed.
Your Turn: What are your thoughts on all of this? What applications can we take from these stories for our lives today?