While it often seems to us that David’s son Absalom plays a minor role in scripture, it turns out that his history occupies quite a section of scripture. I thought it interesting to consider what lessons we might learn from the young man. After all, his place in scripture was important enough that much of it was preserved for us. While his birth is recorded in 2 Samuel 3:3, his actual activities are the primary subject of 2 Samuel 13 through 18 (six chapters), while David continued to mourn him in chapter 19.
Sometimes I am amazed at how much scripture reveals to us of which we remain fairly unaware. Absalom was listed as the third son of David in 2 Samuel 3:3. The birth order was Amnon, Chileab, and Absalom, each by a different mother. Other sons followed him of course, but our interest is in Absalom at this point. In the background, we find that Absalom’s mother, Maacah, was not an Israelite woman. She was the daughter of the royal family of Geshur. By the time we encounter Absalom in chapter 13, he will be a young man. He had a sister named Tamar, who figures into the story also – and in a prominent way. Absalom was to name one of his own daughters after his mother, but that is another story. (The second Maacah, Absalom’s daughter would later become a wife of King Rehoboam. Because Absalom and Solomon were (half) brothers, this would make second Maacah a niece to King Solomon. She was thus a first cousin to King Rehoboam, who married her.) Sorry about that rabbit trail! Anyway, first Maacah was not only King David’s wife and Absalom’s mother, she was the daughter of a certain King Talmai of Geshur. According to the book of Joshua (13:13), the people of Geshur were not dispossessed by the Israelites during the conquest of the land. This Talmai fellow was, then, the king of a people who lived somewhat independently among the Israelites even in the time of David. All that matters because, when Absalom went into exile, he went and lived with his grandparents in Geshur. He wasn’t far from home, but he was not at home during the time of his exile. Geshur was northeast of the Sea of Galilee in an area that was sometimes called Bashan. Jesus was almost surely a visitor of the successor peoples in that area. It wasn’t too far from Bethsaida. So, Absalom was of royal seed with respect to both his parents. By the way, the case can be made that the death of Amnon would promote Absalom to crown prince.
It is in 2 Samuel 13 that we encounter the horrible treatment of Tamar at the hands of Amnon. The man humiliated his half-sister in two very significant ways. First, he deceived and raped her. Then he despised her and banished her from his presence. Keep in mind that he was the heir-apparent (crown prince) of the kingdom. Had he agreed to marry her, she would have kept some of her status, even if she were a minor wife. The mark of these events would create an untenable future for her. Certainly no person of royal heritage would ever take her to wife if word got out, and it probably did. Amnon’s double sin was a stench for sure. Absalom took his devastated sister into his own house. When it comes to Amnon, I am reminded of how Satan often treats us. He deceives and violates us and then offers us shame rather than comfort. Sometimes he even has us shunned among his loyal adherents.
It would appear Absalom had done what he could for Tamar. However, he seems to have slowly plotted his revenge on the man who had so harmed his sister, regardless of the fact that man was the crown prince. In time, he would bring about the murder of his brother Amnon because of the treatment of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:29). However, the murder of Amnon was a matter of national import because of who he was. Murder is always heinous, but to murder someone like Crown-prince Amnon elevated the matter for the whole kingdom. It was similar to regicide (killing the king is what regicide means). Absalom selectively had the offender murdered. Scripture makes it clear he was not at war. It was simply a murder, a fratricide. While most of the king’s sons were present at the feast, only Amnon was targeted. It does not appear Absalom was after the throne, only revenge. He wasn’t after the throne – yet.
This event left David in a quandary with no solution. Murder was a crime worthy of the death penalty without respect to the status of the victim. But, the future king . . . All eyes were now on the king. What would he do? To have Absalom executed would leave the king with yet another son lost. It would even have the taint of regicide, given Absalom’s connection to the King of Geshur. That could even cause a bit of a war, although that would not have been likely. To fail to punish Absalom would be perceived as weakness in David’s role as king. Absalom took the matter out of David’s hands by fleeing to be with his grandfather. I’m sure that “solution” was, at once, uncomfortable and comfortable to them both.
Some three years later, Joab (David’s chief general) recognized that David missed his son and might be reconciled. So Joab contrived to persuade David to receive Absalom back to Jerusalem. Joab sent messengers, with the king’s permission, to bring Absalom back home. However, David had instructed that Absalom was not to appear at court – he would not see his face. The exile was ended but the relationship was not restored. After about two years of this “internal exile,” Absalom contrived to get back into the king’s court, again using Joab as an intermediary.
It was at that point that Absalom began his insurrection. From that point he set himself on a course the only conclusion of which would be regicide, which, in this case, would also be patricide. There is no information as to when he set his heart to murder the king, but when he began to woo the people away from the king, that seems to have been inevitable. His key declaration was “Oh, that I were judge in the land!” (2 Samuel 15:4-6). This declaration was the description of a wish that he could replace the king. That is clear in the text. Those to whom he made the declaration had come to the king for judgment in difficult matters. The die was cast. He could not be the judge in the land so long as David sat on the throne unless David made the appointment. To replace David as “judge in the land” would mean to overthrow David as king. There can be little doubt that the two were the same thing.
How would Absalom replace David other than to kill him? In biblical times anyway, kings did not survive coups. To permit the displaced king to live would also present a threat to the new king. Whatever Absalom thought at the time, his desires now included the death of his father, the king.
So, after about four years, Absalom made his move as they say. He contrived to go to Hebron to announce that he was the new king in the land. Let’s remember that Hebron was the place where David began his reign. It was a long time coming, but nine years after Amnon abused Tamar, her brother Absalom set out to wrest the kingdom away from their father. Now it was not about Tamar, it was about Absalom.
Eventually Absalom moved on Jerusalem militarily. Under the circumstances of the time, David had no viable choice but to flee the city. This, of course, opened the city up to Absalom. Had David remained, there can be no doubt that the city and its people would have been destroyed. That would serve no useful purpose. Furthermore, by that time, David still hoped for some sort of reconciliation with Absalom. At the very least, he would not risk Absalom’s life in the war of insurrection. So he left town. Absalom added insult to injury when he got to Jerusalem. He violated the concubines David had left behind to tend the palace. It seems certain that when David heard of that, he would realize everything was gone for him as long as Absalom remained alive. Still, David wished for no harm to come to the young man.
There is a good bit more to the story. Details of David’s flight and of the intrigues of the two courts make for interesting reading on their own. But the key story of interest to us consists of two parts. One part relates to Absalom’s death. The other is to examine Absalom’s fall.
Absalom’s death, or his father’s, was an inevitable outcome of his rebellion. He had gone too far. He could not again serve his father the king. He could not remain in the rank of succession to the throne. When he had set out to kill his father, he created the context in which the death of one or the other of them was inevitable. There could be no other outcome. David’s temporary exile would eventually end, either in his death or his return to power. That was the only alternative to David’s death unless he died of other causes before he could return. Surely Absalom knew that, and it would keep him dedicated to David’s death. The only other outcome, of course, was the death of Absalom, which David devoutly forbade. Of course, we know that Absalom did die and that David mourned him so publically that he humiliated his own supporters and was at risk of losing their support.
But let’s turn our attention to Absalom and the path he followed to his fate. His father’s mercy notwithstanding, Absalom came to disrespect his father. This disrespect would inevitably lead to hatred. In time, he judged his father as being unworthy of the throne. This would lead to the desire to supplant his father. Inexorably, the need for patricide/regicide would grow in him to become his primary – almost sole – motivation. All else would serve that need. It is the fall of Absalom from a loved son of the king to the hater of the king’s soul that dominates the narrative. When Absalom stated that he wanted to be judge in Israel, he had already judged his father. This was the turning point. Before that point, he would be angry and disappointed, perhaps even fearful. But having judged his father, he began the process that led him to seek his father’s life.
There were contributing factors of course. Anger at his brother was where it all started. After the exile, he refocused his anger at his father because of his treatment of him. It did not matter that David took the best course of action that he could. Anger is not a reasoning emotion. Absalom was also judgmental. The epitome of his judgment was the condemnation of his own father, of all people. He even sought to publicly humiliate his father by raping David’s concubines in a very public manner.
There we have it. The spirit of Absalom caused him to judge his father and then to seek his father’s destruction. But David never failed to love his son. Could it be that a spirit of Absalom remains in the world today? It seems we are in a time when the role of “father” is under attack from virtually every quarter. We can even see it in the Body of Christ when all constraint is lost and spiritual fathers are judged by those they serve.