The End of Absalom

Posted: January 31, 2010 in 2 Samuel

2 Samuel 17-18, “The End of Absalom”
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Tonight, the President is giving the annual State of the Union address to Congress. Typically, the sitting President (whatever the party) tries to make things sound as strong as possible with room for improvement that only the government can make. If David had an opportunity to give a “State of the Kingdom” address during the chapters we’re reading tonight, he’d have no other choice than to say “The state of the Kingdom stinks & we need a miracle!” David has had the throne usurped by his own son – his trusted advisors have betrayed him – he’s on the run being insulted by people still loyal to Saul (after all these years) & he doesn’t really have anywhere to turn…except to God. David’s faith has remained absolutely steadfast even through his own failings & mistakes & we’re going to see his faith in God is well-placed as God shows Himself faithful to His promise for David to remain on the throne.

What makes these chapters so interesting is the fact that NONE of the people involved in this are perfect (by far!) & God still blesses them anyway. God shows Himself to be sovereign despite our sin – and for that we can be truly grateful!

2 Samuel 17 (NKJV)
1 Moreover Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Now let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. 2 I will come upon him while he is weary and weak, and make him afraid. And all the people who are with him will flee, and I will strike only the king. 3 Then I will bring back all the people to you. When all return except the man whom you seek, all the people will be at peace.” 4 And the saying pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel.

A. From a military viewpoint, this is actually a pretty good strategy. Ahithophel is suggesting a sneak attack on the king while he’s the weakest & disorganized, taking out only David & sparing the lives of the rest in order to show Absalom’s “graciousness” to the people. In any other kingdom (other than Israel) in any other place, this would have virtually been considered the status-quo after a military coup took place.
a. Of course, this ISN’T any other kingdom. God had a plan for Israel & David & a covenant to honor – and God is going to be faithful to His word, no matter what. …

B. Note who this advice pleased: “Absalom and ALL the elders of Israel.” How sad. Out of those who would have been considered elders among the people, all of them had betrayed David & aligned themselves with the usurper…
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5 Then Absalom said, “Now call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he says too.” 6 And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom spoke to him, saying, “Ahithophel has spoken in this manner. Shall we do as he says? If not, speak up.”

A. It’s possible Absalom was still suspicious of Hushai & he’s giving Hushai an opportunity to demonstrate where his true loyalty lies. From Hushai’s point of view, this is a tall order. Not only does he have to try to defeat the obviously sound counsel of Ahithophel, but he has to do so in a way that doesn’t reveal his true intents & get his head chopped off.

B. What did Hushai need? A miracle! He was in an impossible situation & needed wisdom that could only come from God. … (Gift of the word of wisdom???) Ultimately, we need to remember that with God, all things are possible. …
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7 So Hushai said to Absalom: “The advice that Ahithophel has given is not good at this time. 8 For,” said Hushai, “you know your father and his men, that they are mighty men, and they are enraged in their minds, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field; and your father is a man of war, and will not camp with the people. 9 Surely by now he is hidden in some pit, or in some other place. And it will be, when some of them are overthrown at the first, that whoever hears it will say, ‘There is a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.’ 10 And even he who is valiant, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will melt completely. For all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and those who are with him are valiant men.

A. Step #1: psyche out Absalom. Hushai attempts to paint David as a bear backed into a corner & this mighty warrior who chopped off the head of the giant Goliath & defeated armies on all sides of Israel would come out swinging & Absalom would experience a massive defeat & ultimate failure in the eyes of the people.

B. Is any of this true? No…Hushai is obviously bluffing here. He’s saying whatever he thinks needs to be said to stop Absalom from pursuing David when David was truly at his weakest.
a. What do we do with this? Just file it into the category of “All’s fair in love & war?” No. Just take it for what it is. This is not a section of Scripture that gives us Biblical counsel of how to deal with conflict; this is a section of Scripture that accurately records the history of how all this took place. Hushai may not have told an outright lie, but he was certainly misleading – the Bible doesn’t condemn him for it here, but neither does the Bible recommend that we do the same.
b. Ultimately, Hushai is attempting to save lives here – and God is going to use that to His glory. That should be our goal as well: to love God, to love people, and even in our failings seek to glorify God in all that we do.
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11 Therefore I advise that all Israel be fully gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, like the sand that is by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person. 12 So we will come upon him in some place where he may be found, and we will fall on him as the dew falls on the ground. And of him and all the men who are with him there shall not be left so much as one. 13 Moreover, if he has withdrawn into a city, then all Israel shall bring ropes to that city; and we will pull it into the river, until there is not one small stone found there.”

A. Step #2: stroke Absalom’s ego. 1st Hushai told him what he couldn’t do because of David’s strength; now Hushai is presenting an option that would (supposedly) make Absalom look like a stronger military leader than his father. Big numbers, big battles, big ego. … Absalom’s ego is going to be his downfall.

B. Hushai is buying time for David here. If Absalom had to hold off the pursuit long enough to gather an army together, David would have time to group & also gather his own army…which is exactly what David needed at the time.
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14 So Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The advice of Hushai the Archite is better than the advice of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had purposed to defeat the good advice of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring disaster on Absalom.

A. Question: was Hushai’s advice better than Ahithophel’s? No! Not if Absalom was going to be victorious. But God didn’t WANT Absalom to be victorious, so by a miracle of God (and by God’s grace alone) did Hushai’s advice win the day. …

B. Who’s the hero here? God! Hushai was available to be used by the Lord, but Hushai lacked in ability. The advice he gave was terrible – but because of God, it was wonderful!
a. Praise God that He can (and does) take our limited failed offerings to Him & uses them for His glory! What a privilege & blessing! …
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15 Then Hushai said to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, “Thus and so Ahithophel advised Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and so I have advised. 16 Now therefore, send quickly and tell David, saying, ‘Do not spend this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily cross over, lest the king and all the people who are with him be swallowed up.’ ” [Get outta here!]

17 Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz stayed at En Rogel, for they dared not be seen coming into the city; so a female servant would come and tell them, and they would go and tell King David. 18 Nevertheless a lad saw them, and told Absalom. But both of them went away quickly and came to a man’s house in Bahurim, who had a well in his court; and they went down into it. 19 Then the woman took and spread a covering over the well’s mouth, and spread ground grain on it; and the thing was not known. 20 And when Absalom’s servants came to the woman at the house, they said, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” So the woman said to them, “They have gone over the water brook.” And when they had searched and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.

A. Like Rahab the harlot, this servant girl hid the spies from soldiers looking for them, and allowed them to take the news & go free.
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21 Now it came to pass, after they had departed, that they came up out of the well and went and told King David, and said to David, “Arise and cross over the water quickly. For thus has Ahithophel advised against you.” 22 So David and all the people who were with him arose and crossed over the Jordan. By morning light not one of them was left who had not gone over the Jordan.

A. David got the point & got out of there. Even if Absalom had changed his mind & followed Ahithophel’s advice, it would be too late.
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23 Now when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not followed, he saddled a donkey, and arose and went home to his house, to his city. Then he put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died; and he was buried in his father’s tomb.

A. Ahithophel’s suicide…
B. Not unlike Judas who committed suicide after betraying the Son of David…
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24 Then David went to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed over the Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him. 25 And Absalom made Amasa captain of the army instead of Joab. This Amasa was the son of a man whose name was Jithra, an Israelite, who had gone in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab’s mother. 26 So Israel and Absalom encamped in the land of Gilead.

A. Since Joab had gone with David, Absalom needed a new commander & chose Amasa. Amasa was a relative of both Joab & David… This sin had caused more than a nation to split; it split families as well.
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27 Now it happened, when David had come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the people of Ammon, Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, 28 brought beds and basins, earthen vessels and wheat, barley and flour, parched grain and beans, lentils and parched seeds, 29 honey and curds, sheep and cheese of the herd, for David and the people who were with him to eat. For they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”

A. Gentiles here showing more compassion to David than his own people Israel! There were some Hebrews & some Gentiles here…just ministering according to the need. Sometimes that’s the best way to show the love of God.
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2 Samuel 18 (NKJV)
1 And David numbered the people who were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.

A. Time to recruit & develop an army. Not everyone had gone with Absalom…there was a remnant who remained loyal to the true king.

B. There is always a remnant… (Rom 11:5)
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2 Then David sent out one third of the people under the hand of Joab, one third under the hand of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and one third under the hand of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the people, “I also will surely go out with you myself.” 3 But the people answered, “You shall not go out! For if we flee away, they will not care about us; nor if half of us die, will they care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us now. For you are now more help to us in the city.” 4 Then the king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood beside the gate, and all the people went out by hundreds and by thousands.

A. David forbidden from fighting… He was probably pretty old by this point…
B. Note the reason the people didn’t want David to fight. They understood that he was more valuable to this in the city than on the battlefield. It wasn’t that David couldn’t fight or didn’t know how to fight (quite the contrary), but fighting was something other people could do; leading from the city was something only David could do.
a. Each person within the body of Christ has a different role in the body. We need to be careful about doing someone else’s role… Do yours! We need each person to do what God has called them & equipped them to do. …
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5 Now the king had commanded Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains orders concerning Absalom.

A. Keep this in mind for later. David obviously wants to show mercy to his son, but this is going to cause problems with the people later. What David could have done is to ask Joab (and the rest) to spare his life, but still arrest him in order to provide some form of punishment. But because David doesn’t want to deal with the problem (again), it’s only going to cause more issues. …
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6 So the people went out into the field of battle against Israel. And the battle was in the woods of Ephraim. 7 The people of Israel were overthrown there before the servants of David, and a great slaughter of twenty thousand took place there that day. 8 For the battle there was scattered over the face of the whole countryside, and the woods devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.

A. 20 thousand dead! All because of Absalom’s ego & selfish desire to take what had not been given him. Selfishness carries a high price…
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9 Then Absalom met the servants of David. Absalom rode on a mule. The mule went under the thick boughs of a great terebinth tree, and his head caught in the terebinth; so he was left hanging between heaven and earth. And the mule which was under him went on.

A. Caught by his pride? Possibly this is a reference to his hair…he could have been caught by his neck. Either way, Absalom was left hanging & helpless.
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10 Now a certain man saw it and told Joab, and said, “I just saw Absalom hanging in a terebinth tree!” 11 So Joab said to the man who told him, “You just saw him! And why did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have given you ten shekels of silver and a belt.” 12 But the man said to Joab, “Though I were to receive a thousand shekels of silver in my hand, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son. For in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying, ‘Beware lest anyone touch the young man Absalom!’ 13 Otherwise I would have dealt falsely against my own life. For there is nothing hidden from the king, and you yourself would have set yourself against me.”

A. Good answer from the soldier – he was absolutely right. The soldier had heard the command of the king & he was not about to place himself in transgression of it in fear of doing harm to someone whom the Lord Himself had chosen to protect. [Amalekite & claim to kill Saul…]

B. Joab’s boast of reward was likely just that: nothing more than a boast. If someone had killed Absalom without permission, Joab would have been forced to bring justice – even if Joab disagreed with the sentence. …
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14 Then Joab said, “I cannot linger with you.” And he took three spears in his hand and thrust them through Absalom’s heart, while he was still alive in the midst of the terebinth tree. 15 And ten young men who bore Joab’s armor surrounded Absalom, and struck and killed him.

A. Yikes! A bit of overkill here. 3 spears through the heart & 10 men attacking him with swords. …
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16 So Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing Israel. For Joab held back the people. 17 And they took Absalom and cast him into a large pit in the woods, and laid a very large heap of stones over him. Then all Israel fled, everyone to his tent.

A. Certainly did the job – with Absalom gone, none was left to resist Joab & the rest of David’s army. Joab didn’t have an interest in any more bloodshed; he just wanted Absalom dealt with.
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18 Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up a pillar for himself, which is in the King’s Valley. For he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name. And to this day it is called Absalom’s Monument.

A. Why is this included? The monument was still around at the time of this writing & some may have wondered if David (or others) had tried to honor Absalom after his death. The author simply clarifies that the monument had already been built. In the short time Absalom was on the throne, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stroke his ego a bit more by building the monument to himself.
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19 Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, “Let me run now and take the news to the king, how the LORD has avenged him of his enemies.” 20 And Joab said to him, “You shall not take the news this day, for you shall take the news another day. But today you shall take no news, because the king’s son is dead.” 21 Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” So the Cushite bowed himself to Joab and ran.

A. Very curious. Why would Joab not let Ahimaaz run with the news, but instead let the Gentile take it instead? Possibly because the fate of the messenger was often wrapped up with the message. Joab knew that David would not respond well to the news of Absalom’s death & perhaps he feared that David would react in a rage & “shoot” the messenger. Instead, Joab would rather risk a Gentile than a relative of the priest. (Rather cold, but just the way things were.)
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22 And Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “But whatever happens, please let me also run after the Cushite.” So Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?” 23 “But whatever happens,” he said, “let me run.” So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.

A. From a running perspective, that’s pretty impressive.  Despite the Cushite’s head start, Ahimaaz got on the flat ground, picked up the pace & beat the Cushite in the home stretch.
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24 Now David was sitting between the two gates. And the watchman went up to the roof over the gate, to the wall, lifted his eyes and looked, and there was a man, running alone. 25 Then the watchman cried out and told the king. And the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.” And he came rapidly and drew near. 26 Then the watchman saw another man running, and the watchman called to the gatekeeper and said, “There is another man, running alone!” And the king said, “He also brings news.” 27 So the watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” And the king said, “He is a good man, and comes with good news.” 28 So Ahimaaz called out and said to the king, “All is well!” Then he bowed down with his face to the earth before the king, and said, “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king!” 29 The king said, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant and me your servant, I saw a great tumult, but I did not know what it was about.”

A. Ahimaaz told the king of the victory, but he left out a very important detail: the fact that Absalom was dead. It seems that he told an outright lie to the king – why? It’s possible that he knew what David’s response would be if he knew of his son’s death & he wanted the king to show visible joy at the defeat of his enemy. Perhaps Ahimaaz just wanted to receive the king’s favor by bringing good news.
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30 And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still. 31 Just then the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “There is good news, my lord the king! For the LORD has avenged you this day of all those who rose against you.” 32 And the king said to the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” So the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise against you to do harm, be like that young man!” 33 Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”

A. The Cushite tells David the full truth, and David responds in grief, as anticipated.

B. Was it wrong for David to grieve his son? No – but we need to remember that this wasn’t just his son; this was a usurper who was the cause of 20,000 to die that day. Was Absalom more valuable than any of the others? Of course not – David had a duty not only as a father, but as a king. (Joab will address this in the next chapter.)

C. (Smith) “The thing that David desired, but could not do. He could not die in Absalom’s stead, God did do for us, in that Jesus died in our stead, in order to redeem us unto God. Such love! Such deep love.” David couldn’t die in Absalom’s place because David had no way of dealing with his own sin; much less dealing with Absalom’s sin. In life, David took pains to NOT deal with Absalom’s sin. He loved his son, but couldn’t do anything about it. How much different with God! Through Jesus Christ, both God’s justice & God’s love are perfectly satisfied! The death that must take place for God’s holy righteousness is meted out – and yet the life He lovingly desires to birth in us is given out as well. Praise be to God for both His perfect justice & His perfect love!

Conclusion:
A lot of heartbreak takes place in these chapters: continued betrayal, deception, war, slaughter, and the death of a beloved (though wayward) son. We close with a nation in shock & a father in grief. Yet at the same time, we close knowing that though truly sinful horrific things took place to get to this point, God is still using these things for His glory & His good.

Due to David’s sin with Bathsheba, Nathan prophesied that God would discipline David through his family – and that’s exactly what God did. When first on the run, David had prayed that God would turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness (Ch 15:31), and that’s God exactly what God did. God had promised David to build him an everlasting house, which required David remaining on the throne (Ch 7:12), and that’s exactly what God did through the death of Absalom.

Sin was deeply involved in all of this – no doubt. But God is sovereign despite our sin. Praise the Lord for it! How it all works together is a mystery, but we can praise God for the fact that it’s true. God is truly sovereign, and there is no circumstance that will ever thwart His rule & reign.

What does that tell us practically? It tells us that no matter what circumstance we’re going through at the moment, we can place our trust in the Lord Jesus! You may be experiencing blessing upon blessing – well praise the Lord & recognize that every good & perfect gift is given us by our Heavenly Father. You may be experiencing frustration & heartache – praise the Lord in those circumstances as well, knowing that His grace is sufficient for your every need & that God will still somehow bring Himself glory through your life. God is not happy about the sin (or the things have resulted from a sinful fallen world) you’re facing, but neither is He less sovereign because of it.

This is the very reason James can write “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (Jas 1:2-3) It’s not that the situation itself is joyful, but that we can rejoice in the God who is above our situation & with us in the middle of our trial! Are you suffering right now? Going through a trial? Frustrated beyond belief with work, family, or whatever? Then seek God in the midst of it. God has not stepped off His throne & allowed you to walk through this time without His knowledge. He still rules & still reigns & His grace is still sufficient for whatever situation we may face.

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