ABSALOM’S REBELLION 2 Samuel 15–20
“Say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’ ” (2 Sam. 15:10).In difficult times we may even wonder if God has deserted us. Particularly if our conscience is not clear. Absalom’s rebellion was just such a time for David.
David ruled over Judah for seven years before the northern tribes acknowledged him as monarch. This rift between north and south was exploited by Absalom. His claim that he would support any northerner who came to Jerusalem with a complaint or legal case gradually won their support. After Absalom’s rebellion was put down, the tension between the two sections again exploded briefly before being put down by Joab. Half a century later, after the death of Solomon in 931B.C, sectional differences were still so intense that the kingdom broke into two parts. The northern splinter-kingdom, called Israel, existed until its destruction in 722B.C The southern splinter-kingdom, Judah, survived until 586B.C
Absalom gradually won allegiance of Israel’s northern tribes and was proclaimed king (15:1–12). David fled Jerusalem with a few companions (v. 13–16:14). In Jerusalem one of David’s secret supporters gave Absalom advice, enabling David to escape south (16:15–17:29). David raised troops there, and in the ensuing battle Absalom was killed (18:1–18). David set aside grief to honor his army (19:1–8), and returned to Jerusalem (vv. 9–43). Joab put down another brief northern rebellion and David’s throne was secured (20:1–26).
Understanding the Text
“Absalom . . . stole the hearts of the men of Israel” 2 Sam. 15:1–12. Some commentators blame David’s refusal to see Absalom for two years after his return from exile for making this handsome son bitter. But Absalom’s plot follows a pattern established long before. Absalom had waited patiently to kill his brother Amnon (13:23). Now he labored patiently for four years to lay a foundation for his rebellion. Absalom’s revolt was well-planned and premeditated. Absalom was not so much bitter as determined to have his father’s throne. It’s popular these days to excuse a person’s actions by blaming someone else for treating him or her unfairly. Yet in fact each of us is responsible for his own choices and actions. “There will your servant be” 2 Sam. 15:13–23. David had served his country well. Yet most of his own people now rejected him. Their unfaithfulness is underlined by a mercenary captain who entered David’s service only the day before, and yet was prepared to keep his oath of allegiance even if it should mean death. There is nothing as painful as betrayal by a person we have every right to expect will be loyal. “If He says, ‘I am not pleased with you’ ” 2 Sam. 15:24–37. When the priests and Levites prepared to leave Jerusalem carrying God’s ark, David sent them back. David’s remarks reveal his own uncertainty. God might no longer be pleased with David, and the rebellion might be God’s way of removing him from the throne. If so, David wanted the ark to remain a symbol of faith. And if God remained pleased with David, the king would surely return to the ark. David may have been uncertain. But his priorities remained clear. God was to be worshiped, not used in political campaigns. David also remained a wise politician. He left behind several faithful men who would have gone with him, to provide him with information and to try to disrupt Absalom’s plans. “You man of blood, you scoundrel!” 2 Sam. 16:5–14 When Shimei reviled David he may have expressed David’s own inmost doubts. David had not mistreated Saul’s family, but he had indirectly caused many deaths. He surely had acted like a scoundrel in his affair with Bathsheba. The sins of his sons must also have weighed heavily on his heart. This may be reflected in David’s refusal to let one of his supporters silence Shimei. After all, David suggested, he may be doing God’s work (cf. v. 10). David preferred to leave it all up to the Lord. God might very well transform those curses into blessing. What others say about us matters very little. They may wish us ill. But if God is for us, what we will receive will be good. “So I advise you” 2 Sam. 16:15–17:29. David’s friend Hushai was able to disrupt Absalom’s plans. The advice he gave permitted David to escape, while following the advice of Ahithophel would have guaranteed David’s death. Christians often receive conflicting advice from friends, relatives, or counselors. Often what we need is not more advice, but the wisdom from God to know what advice is best. How good to have the promise, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). “O my son Absalom” 2 Sam. 18:1–19:8. In the battle that followed Absalom was killed—against the king’s express orders. Rather than rejoice in the triumph, David was brokenhearted with grief. Joab’s rebuke reminded David of his duty, and the king went to receive the congratulations of those who had fought for him so loyally. David’s sorrow for Absalom’s death was undoubtedly misplaced, but understandable. It’s hard to acknowledge when our children’s actions merit punishment. But like David we must at times put aside personal feelings and serve the public good. “Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand” 2 Sam. 20:1–13. Joab was a harsh man, but completely loyal to David. Like many loyal men, this commander of David’s army acted at times without orders, or ignored orders if he thought his action was in the king’s best interest. Earlier Joab had assassinated Abner, the Israelite military leader who was negotiating with David. In this battle Joab personally killed Absalom despite David’s command that he be spared. Now Joab murdered Amasa, who had commanded Absalom’s forces. While Joab might be commended for his loyalty, he merits no praise for his actions. Many Christians seem to take Joab’s course. They proclaim their loyalty to God, and they do try to serve Him. But they want to serve God their way, without submitting to His Word.
In Flight (2 Sam. 15–16)
We can sense David’s mood as he fled Jerusalem with just a few retainers. Absalom, with a large army, was in pursuit. The situation seemed hopeless. And to top it all off, Shimei cursed David, shouting that God was just paying David what David deserved for his bloody past. Everything had gone wrong. Besides, David’s conscience wasn’t clear. There were grounds to think that Shimei might be right. No wonder David seemed despondent and depressed as he gathered his cloak around him, and hurried over the Brook Kidron in the late evening shadows. How did David really feel? And what can we do when we find ourselves feeling as he must have? The answer is in Psalm 3, which David penned “when he fled from his son Absalom.” First David looked around. O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him” (Ps. 3:1–2). Then David looked back. But You are a shield around me, O Lord, my Glorious One, who lifts up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and He answers me from His holy hill (vv. 3–4). Then David looked up. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side. Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! For You have struck all my enemies on the jaw; You have broken the teeth of the wicked (vv. 5–7). Then David looked ahead. From the Lord comes deliverance. May Your blessing be upon Your people (v. 8). Looking around, you and I see our difficulties realistically. But looking back, we remember that God has helped us in the past. Looking up, we find peace as we commit ourselves and our needs to the Lord. And looking ahead, we know we can expect good things from God.
When we face difficulties, we need to follow the simple pattern of looking—around, back, up, and ahead—with faith.