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Absalom's Tragic Life

Absalom (Avshalom in Hebrew) was the 3rd son born to King David in Hebron during the early years of David's reign. Judging by Absalom's character later in life, he was a typical spoiled prince. He seemed to be a favorite of David's and didn't get much discipline growing up.

2 Samuel 14 describes Absalom as being a  beautiful man. From the top of his head to the soles of his feet there, wasn't a single fault with him and not a single person in Israel who could compare. Tall, strong, beautiful, with a head of long hair that would make most girls today despise him. He cut it yearly and the cuttings weighed about 5 pounds. 2 Samuel 14:26. He was extremely proud of it too. As per custom of the day...he probably used scented oils on it and laced jewels and gold dust in it.

 It wasn't until Absalom's young sister Tamar Tamar's Rape was raped by their half brother Amnon, who was heir to the throne, do we see Absalom's true character emerging. He took Tamar into his own home following the rape and cared for her as per custom of that day, but he never stopped stewing over what Amnon had done. It's quite possible David heard of the rape through Absalom himself, who was the first to find out about it from Tamar. If that's the case, Absalom may have demanded justice. After 2 years went by and David failed to take action, Absalom began to plot his own revenge with an eye on the throne as well.

David should have acted, but he didn't. Amnon was his 1st born, the heir to the throne. David's motives for not acting were entirely selfish. He was really protecting himself and not Amnon or Tamar. His own son had done a wicked thing and would be a huge blemish on the country and his family. It would look to everyone as if David failed as a father by not disciplining his sons. If he couldn't govern his own house how could the people expect him to govern their nation? The scandal would have rocked the entire middle east if it got out.

There's a lot of speculation people can make concerning the family dynamics in David's house. He had many wives and concubines which went against God's warning. It looks as if this created a lot of rivalry among siblings, jealousy, resentment, anger especially when a throne is tossed into the mix. After Tamar was raped, Absalom seemed to go off the deep end. When nothing was done about his sister this may have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

David was well aware of Absalom's animosity toward Amnon even though Absalom never said anything to Amnon about what happen good or bad. In 2 Samuel 13:24 Absalom invited David, all of his officials and all of his brothers to a banquet. King David declined in 13:25 by telling him it would be a huge burden to Absalom (probably financially, security wise, room for them, etc.) if he came bringing all of his officials with him. Absalom pressed his father to come anyway and still David declined, but gave his blessing. In v. 26. Absalom then tells David he wants Amnon to come.

David immediately asks "why". He was instantly suspicious of Absalom's motives. Absalom pressed him though so David gave in and sent Amnon and the rest of his sons.

Absalom then instructed his servants that when Amnon was good and drunk they were to kill him. They carried it out just as he said. His brothers then jumped up and ran for their lives thinking Absalom was picking them off for the throne. A report got to David before his sons did that Absalom had murdered all of his sons.

Grief stricken David tore his clothes and fell face down until his brother Shimeah told him "only Amnon is dead! This has been Absalom's intention ever since Amnon raped his sister!" 2 Samuel 13:32.

Absalom ran too. He not only had the future king and his brother murdered, but it was premeditated murder and the penalty was death. So he fled to his grandfather, Talmai the King of Geshur, where he took refuge for the next 3 years leaving David to mourn for Amnon day after day. Eventually time healed his wounds and he began to "long to see Absalom" 13:39

Joab knew David missed Absalom so he cooked up a scheme to get Absalom to come back to Israel. It eventually worked and after 3 years Absalom returned. But David told Joab "he must go to his own house and not see my face" 14:24. David worried if he allowed Absalom to see him he would think David condoned his sin and hoped it would draw his son into deeper repentance and humble him. Absalom didn't see David for 2 years after returning to Israel.

Eventually Absalom became impatient and sent for Joab repeatedly, but Joab ignored him. IN frustration, Absalom had his servants set fire to Joab's ripe wheat fields to force Joab to see him. That got Joab's attention. When Joab went to Absalom in a rage Absalom told him "Look, I sent word to you and said, 'Come here so I can send you to the king to ask, "Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!"' Now then, I want to see the king's face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death." 14:32

Hardly a humble, repentant man at all. Joab went to the king and was able to get David to see Absalom. When Absalom got there he bowed down before David and David showed his forgiveness of his son by kissing him. Over time, Absalom settled back into life in Israel, but began gathering men, chariots and horses. He also began inserting himself at the gate to hear complaints from the people meant for the king. Absalom would listen and settle their matters for them all the while gaining favor from the people. Whenever the people would come and bow down, he would offer his hand, pull them up and kiss them charming the pants off even the poorest.

He then would tell them "If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice." 2 Samuel 15:4. Not only was he gorgeous (a characteristic important to people in a leader), but he was kind to them, treating them with the highest respect, kissing them even and promising them swift justice if only he had some power. I wonder if he promised a chicken in every pot too?

"And so he stole the hearts of the men of Israel." 15:6. Four years later after systematically gaining widespread favor throughout the kingdom and suckering them thoroughly, he lied to David and said he needed to go to Hebron to fulfill a vow to the Lord. David let him go not knowing Absalom took 200 men with him, who had no idea what he was up to, then sent secret messengers throughout Israel instructing them that when they heard the trumpets to loudly proclaim Absalom was king. At this point, David was old and they were probably assuming David would make Absalom King instead of Solomon since Absalom now wielded so much authority as a sort of "judge" in Israel. Let's not forget, at this point, the people loved Absalom.

While in Hebron, Absalom sent for one of David's closest counselors, Ahithophel who was now conspiring with Absalom and whose following kept growing. A messenger told David the people were following Absalom now. David packed up, gathered his officials and they ran for the hills. A revolt was coming and he was the target. With his entire household following him, David fled Israel but left 10 concubines behind to take care of the palace. Absalom returned to Jerusalem with Ahtithophel and Absalom asked his advice on what to do next. Ahtithophel said "lie with your father's concubines whom he left to take care of the palace" 16:21

Per custom, whoever had the King's harem had the throne. Absalom wasn't just happy sleeping with the women. He made a public spectacle of it by erecting a tent on the palace roof and laying with the women in full view of the people in Jerusalem. 16:22 Atithophel then instructed Absalom to send 12,000 men to go after David and kill only him. Why in the world would this man who was a trusted counselor to David for decades turn on him so viciously? Ahtithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba 2 Samuel 11:3, 23:34 and his son Eliam (Bathsheba's father) was a close friend with Uriah her husband 1 Chronicles 3:5. Ahtithophel had a bone to pick with David and he meant to do it.

Instead, Absalom follows the advice of Hushai, another of David's trusted counselors, and decides to go with an vast army to slaughter David and his men. But Hushai secretly sent David a message telling him what Ahtithophel had advised, his own advice and what Absalom was planning to do. David and his men crossed the Jordan after getting the message to avoid Absalom. When Antithophel heard his advice had not been followed he went home, put his house in order then hung himself 17:23. He knew Absalom would fail and David would return. Though old, David was still a fierce warrior, military genius and his loyal men, though outnumbered, were just as vicious and fierce as the King. Absalom stood no chance and Antithophel knew his own life would be taken for treason.

Absalom had his father on the run and he chased with Israel to kill his father, but David was escaping because of Hushai. Then David sent out the thousands of men who went with him and Joab was leading them. But David gave an express command to Joab before he left "Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake." And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders." 18:5

Even after all of this David was still seeing Absalom as a young rebellious man who could be forgiven. Absalom was his son and David did love him, but still David was not handling business as he should be. David's men eventually defeated Israel's army and killed 20,000 men. Absalom ran into David's men. Riding a mule, he tried to get under thick branches of an oak tree to get away, but his long hair got caught in the branches and he was pulled from his mule.

"He was left hanging in midair while the mule he was riding on kept going. When one of the men saw this, he told Joab, 'I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree!' Joab said to the man who had told him this, "What! You saw him? Why didn't you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior's belt.' But the man replied, 'Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lift my hand against the king's son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, 'Protect the young man Absalom for my sake. And if I had betrayed the king by killing his son--and the king would certainly find out who did it--you yourself would be the first to abandon me!'" 18:9-13

So Joab took his javelin, went to Absalom and plunged it into his heart while he hung in the tree. Then 10 of Joab's armor bearers surrounded him and struck him to make sure he was dead. Now that Absalom was dead Joab sounded the trumpet so the men would stop pursuing Israel. They then took Absalom's body and threw it into a pit where they piled stones on top of him.

"During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King's Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, "I have no son to carry on the memory of my name." He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom's Monument to this day." 18:18

Absalom's did in fact have 3 sons, but they died and this monument in the photo is the actual monument. Now David had to be told the news that his son was dead and his orders had not been obeyed. When the messengers reached David he asked instantly "Is the young man Absalom safe?"18:29

Absalom was dead. "The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: 'O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!'" 18:33. Even when Joab arrived and told David he needed to go speak to his men and commend them on such a great victory David "covered his face and cried aloud, 'O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!'" 19:4.

Joab was not happy with this reaction and told David "'Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the LORD that if you don't go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from your youth till now.' So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, 'The king is sitting in the gateway,' they all came before him. Meanwhile, the Israelites had fled to their homes." 19:5-8

 Those men just saved his neck, throne and family and he was worried about his son who revolted and managed to turn most of his country against him. David returned to the palace and took the throne once more. Eventually Solomon was named successor. Despite Absalom's responsibility in the whole matter, the sin ultimately returned in David's lap. By not acting on Amnon's or Absalom's gross wickedness, by not reigning in his kids and disciplining them, David enabled their behavior and helped create monsters. By not doing what was right and handing out justice, David also condoned their wickedness. He tried to protect them and himself from the consequences, but "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap." Galatians 6:7-9

David was the first authority figure in his kids lives. If they couldn't respect his authority as a father and a ruler they would never respect anyone else, especially God's. By Absalom's rebellion, he was actually rebelling against God, thus the fight was with Him. The sin of such blatant disobedience to parents, authority figures and to God is never taken lightly and the end is always far from what we hope ends in our own destruction.


Meghan said...

An excellent work- both as expository essay and character study. Everything is easy to read and understand, and it keeps the reader intrigued. Now, laying aside the syle of your writing.... Shakespeare had nothing. THIS is true tragedy. :(

Ariel said...

Wow, thank you Meghan! Praise God it was a blessing to you. The Bible is full of tragedies, but the one thing that keeps standing out in all of them is despite us and our sin God is a great God. He's full of grace, mercy and His plans cannot be thwarted even when we fall on our faces and make a huge mess of everything. It's not man's right to serve God, it's a privilege. I also believe this is why God tells us not to judge those outside the church and to leave it to Him. We have no idea what's going on in someone's head and heart or what drives them, but He with Absalom.

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Disclaimer: I do not condone the teaching of men by women nor am I trying to exercise authority over men by using this blog as a method of teaching men. All posts are for the edification of women. For more on what I believe concerning this issue please see: Women - No Dominion Over Men
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