The End of Absalom

And 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, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” 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.” But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king’s son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him. 2 Samuel 18:9-15.

Joab knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that David wants Absalom spared. But when Absalom gets caught in those oak branches, he takes it upon himself to do what needs to be done. All the people heard David command him to “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” Joab’s own man reminds him when asked why Absalom is not hanging dead in that tree already.

Joab surely believes David’s judgment is clouded by his love for his son, and takes responsibility for doing what must be done. He knows that a living Absalom means constant conflict, rebellion and soldiers dying until either he or David is dead. Joab casts his lot with David, even though he will pay for it.

Joab is a killer. He’s not a model of godly behavior. He is more of a patriot, a man who serves what he believes is the national interest. He is not always right, as in the time he slew Abner, who had just come from making peace with David to unite Israel and Judah. But he is not always wrong either. And he is willing to die if that is what executing Absalom gets him. I believe Joab made the right call.

When God’s Finger is on the Scale

Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. Now Absalom had set Amasa over the army instead of Joab. Amasa was the son of a man named Ithra the Ishmaelite, who had married Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab’s mother. And Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead.

When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.” 2 Samuel 17:24-29

David was on the run and Absalom had the advantage. David’s former counselor, Ahithopel, had sided with Absalom, and offered a plan to finish David off. David’s friend, Hushai, stayed in Jerusalem to pretend loyalty to Absalom, and thwart Ahithopel’s counsel. Through all the small details, things start coming together for David. It is God who turns Absalom away from the good advice of Ahithopel.

I played a lot of chess in my youth, and I learned that you can have a huge material advantage and still lose your king. And the object of the game is to get the king! And it only takes one mistake at a crucial time to lose him.

Our king is eternal and holds the future in His hand. No matter what happens, no matter hard far behind you are, nor how far ahead you seem to be, do not make the crucial mistake of forgetting you are here for the king, his purposes, and at His pleasure.

Heavy is the Crown

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself. 2 Samuel 16:9-14.

As David flees Jerusalem, all sorts of mischief take place that accompanies a transition of power in ancient times. A man named Ziba brings provisions for David while telling a lie about his master, Mephibosheth, claiming he is also after David’s throne. Ziba says this to gain favor and David awards him Mephibosheth’s property on the spot. Mephibosheth is actually loyal to David, even though he is grandson of the last king, Saul. Meanwhile, another one of Saul’s relatives hurls rocks at David and curses him. David declines his man’s offer to behead the offender because God may be using the man to punish him.

This extreme caution during a tumultuous time says as much about his guilty conscience as it does about his pious concern for making a grave mistake at this time. It is interesting that he does not call for the Ephod and seek a word from God, but presumes his own guilt. Yet, he is open to God vindicating him.

We often have the same ambivalence. We forget how God has restored us and fear that He may be settling scores with us still. We doubt the authority He has given us and fear using it. We don’t ask God because we fear the answer.

Fear is what made Adam hide from God. Fear is what made Abram give his wife to Abimelech, and to Pharoah. Fear is what made the entire army back down to Goliath. David is having a crisis of faith here, yet God will restore him again.

Absalom the Politician

After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel. 2 Samuel 15:1-6.

Joab’s scheme to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem and reunite him with his father is not going the way he expected. Absalom is back, but he’s being ignored. He decides to fix that and begins to actively campaign to be king. It’s it an elected position, but Absalom must sense that there is some current of discontent in the kingdom. So he begins to endear himself to the people who have grievances.

Using what would become a template for campaigns far in the future, Absalom wins the hearts malcontents everywhere by doing no more than “feeling their pain.” Nowhere does it say he actually solved anyone’s problems. But he is very successful nonetheless, and he collects enough supporters to create a powerful conspiracy to have himself crowned in Hebron.

Since the way ex-kings in the ancient world were usually dealt with was with the sword of the new king, David flees Jerusalem. His unpopularity had to be noticable enough, even to him, that he did not call the army to resist the rebellion. He had his loyalists, including the Levites with the Ark of God, but he sends them back.

David’s unwillingness to fight for his crown is noteworthy. He didn’t fight to get it. Yet he’d fight the Philistines or the Amalekites at the drop of a hat. He saw his authority, the crown, as something borrowed from God, whereas defeating Israel’s enemies was a standing order from God. He may have thought this was how God was making a change in leadership, and he was wary of resisting it.

Today the church in America has largely forgotten it’s mission of evangelizing the lost. Rather than seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we seek a secure republic that will protect our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We want to win the election more than we want to win the lost. Then we wonder why we are so vastly outnumbered.

Joab the Fixer

Now Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart went out to Absalom. And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner and put on mourning garments. Do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead. Go to the king and speak thus to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth. 2 Samuel 14:1-3.

Perhaps it was because Joab was David’s nephew that he felt so free to act on his own. He assassinated Abner, who had come to reunite the kingdom under David. Now he is trying to rehabilitate the image of Absalom, who had his brother killed. This will blow up in Joab’s face later when Absalom conspires to replace David. This cannot be what he had hoped, because Joab has been loyal to David, even doing his dirty work like making sure Uriah died in battle.

Joab invokes the Lord’s name when it suits him, but we never see him inquiring of the Lord. He does what he thinks needs done, according to his own understanding.

David gives Joab a lot of freedom, but he knows what’s going on, and he will eventually order Joab’s death for what he has done. Likewise, God sees the conniving plans of man, and allows it because he has given us authority to act. But he will eventually pass judgement on those actions.