In the last study we studied 2 Samuel 17:24-18:18, which records Absalom’s defeat and death during his civil war against David. Turning now to today’s lesson, we will be studying 18:19 through 19:15. In this passage we see David’s restoration to the throne. But at first, David’s grief interferes in a rather large way. The passage opens in 18:19-32 with the account of how David learned of the fate of Absalom. Ahimaaz, the son of the priest, Zadok, and one of the two who had warned David of Absalom’s plans back at the start of the war, wanted to carry the news of the victory to David (v. 19). But Joab, knowing that David would not see Absalom’s death as good news, sent a Cushite instead (vv. 20-21). A Cushite, being a foreigner, would have been able to deliver the message without emotional involvement, which hopefully would enable David to receive the news with less emotion.

But Ahimaaz wanted desperately to participate in the task; and after further discussion, Joab gave him permission. Unfortunately for Joab’s plan, Ahimaaz was such a good runner that he outran the Cushite and arrived first, even though he may have taken a longer route (vv. 22-23).

At this point the narrative shifts to David who was waiting between the gates for news (v. 24). “Between the gates” was literally a space between double gates in city walls that were common at the time. When I was in Israel, I saw that configuration at several archaeological sites. The wall would be quite thick with two sets of gates, an inner gate and an outer gate. The city was more secure that way.

A sentinel on top of the gate, which probably was the highest point, saw a man running towards the city. Then he saw a second man running (vv. 25-26). When the first man got closer the lookout recognized Ahimaaz (v. 27).

Thus Ahimaaz arrived first and told David they had won the battle (v. 28). But David was more interested in knowing about Absalom. Ahimaaz, being aware of the caution that Joab had expressed, answered evasively (vv. 29-30). Then the Cushite arrived. He repeated the news about the victory; and in response to David’s inquiry about Absalom, he gave David the bad news (vv. 31-32).

The news about Absalom’s death greatly grieved David. Indeed he was so upset, he neglected his kingly duties to the people that day. In 18:33-19:8 we learn that David’s first reaction was to find a private place where he could weep. And as he wept, he cried out,” my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you” (v. 33). Who can know what guilt accompanied this grief (v. 33). We already have seen the multiple opportunities David had to express love to Absalom and his other sons, but which he wasted. It is tempting to try to psychoanalyze David, but that really can’t be done. We don’t know enough about his make up, though we do know he was a complex individual.

David’s mourning was so excessive under the circumstances of just winning a great, decisive battle for his throne, especially when the one whom he was mourning was the leader of the rebellion, that it threw his army into confusion. In a situation like this, it was expected that the king would present himself to his troops and rejoice with them over the victory. They had put their lives on the line for him and his throne. And they should be rewarded. But David shut himself away.

David with his inappropriate mourning had caused his entire army to slink into the city feeling like they had fled the battlefield, rather than like they had just won a great victory (vv. 2-3). So Joab boldly went to the king and chastised David for his behavior. He accused David of bringing shame to the faces of the officers and men who had saved his life and throne, and the lives of his family. Moreover Joab accused the king of hating those who loved him, by loving someone who hated him. Joab even went so far as to suggest that David would have been happier if Absalom had lived, and all of his commanders and officers had died (vv. 5-6). And then Joab threatened David by saying that if David did not go out to his men, all of them would desert him by nightfall (v. 7). David listened to Joab’s advice. He got up and took his seat in the gate so that his troops could gather before him (v. 8). Nothing is recorded about what David said and did, but we can assume he spoke the right words to his men, and rewarded them in appropriate ways.

Now David was ready to return to Jerusalem to reclaim his throne. But he wanted the people to make a fuss about bringing him. And that kind of support was quick to come, even among the tribes that had supported Absalom. In 19:9-15 we see that many among the tribes that had largely supported Absalom believed that their tribes had done David an injustice in rebelling against him. So there was considerable talk that they should rally to him now (vv. 9-10). David heard this and sent word to his own tribe of Judah that he wanted their support at the forefront. He said this partly because he wanted to make sure Judah came to his support early and strongly, and partly to get back at Joab. David included in the message that he would make Amasa, Absalom’s former army commander, his army commander (vv. 11-13).

Some suggest that David’s arrangement to have the tribe of Judah at the forefront of the return was wise indeed. After all, the rebellion began in that tribe; and it would not look good for David’s own tribe to drag its feet in the restoration. But others believe that David’s action had the effect of driving a wedge between Judah and the other tribes. Later events seem to indicate that the latter view is correct (19:41-43).

But the decision to make Amasa his army commander was a very poor one. It wasn’t even a just thing to do. To begin, although it was a way of holding out an olive branch to the vanquished enemy, it was too high a price to pay. It would make no sense to David’s loyal supporters who had fought for him to make the rebel commander-in-chief who had fought against David commander-in -chief in place of Joab. Moreover it was a nasty and intentional blow to Joab, who could be a mean and nasty enemy. As it turned out, Amasa suffered the consequences of the decision. But that is a later story (20:9-10).

Turning to application, I would focus on the relationship between David and Joab. Their relationship went back to the days when David was fleeing Saul in the wilderness of Judea (1 Sam. 26:6). In those days Joab had been a loyal and effective comrade and friend of David’s. And then after David became king, Joab became his trusted military leader. He played a key role in many battles. But Joab was more than an army commander. Joab did David’s dirty work so to speak. For example, as you may remember, it was Joab who put Uriah the Hittite in the hottest area of battle, in order to cause Uriah’s death (2 Sam. 11:14-15). Joab also was a powerful figure at court. It was he, remember, who arranged for Absalom to return to Jerusalem.

Now Joab always had been bold and independent. He knew David’s secrets, and he took liberties with the king that no one else would have dared to take. But this time Joab went too far. He deliberately and openly disobeyed David’s order to protect Absalom. Indeed he killed the king’s son with his disobedience. And then, while David was grieving for Absalom, Joab came to David and berated him as if the king were a disobedient boy. David acknowledged that Joab was correct about his needing to go out to the people. But David was deeply angry with Joab. And as we have seen, David avenged himself on Joab by demoting Joab in favor of Amasa.

It seems to me that the primary lesson here is seen in Joab. For years Joab was a good friend and loyal commander of David’s forces. It made him a powerful person in Israel. But when he directly disobeyed David’s order to protect Absalom, he stepped too far over the bounds of his authority.

I believe some Christian leaders do the same thing. They serve God faithfully and loyally for years; and then they completely overstep the bounds of their authority. For some it is a sexual boundary that they overstep. They begin to believe that the heavy load of ministry they carry makes them an exception to the rule of sexual morality. For others it is a power boundary they overstep. They begin to believe that they are to dictate the behavior of those under their influence (spouses, children, congregations, etc.) rather than teach them the biblical principles of godly behavior. In other words they want the people under their influence to follow them instead of Jesus. Are you overstepping any boundaries?


Our study for today is 2 Samuel 17:24-18:18, which reports Absalom’s defeat and death during his civil war against David. Verses 17:24-29 set the position of David’s and Absalom’s forces prior to the decisive battle. The city of Mahanaim was located on the other side of the Jordan in Gilead near the River Jabbok. By the time of this major battle, David had raised a large army. Absalom also had recruited a large force; and he already had taken it across the Jordan to engage David’s army. Absalom’s army was under the command of a man named Amasa, who was a distant cousin of Joab’s. They camped at an unspecified place in Gilead.

Now I believe we need to realize at this point that the battle to be described in chapter 18 was not the only battle of the war. It was the climactic battle, the decisive battle. But there would have been other, lesser battles. Moreover it is important to recognize that a considerable amount of time would have passed since the events of 17:15-23. It would have taken David and Absalom a long time to gather and organize the large armies described here.

By the time of this battle, David had gathered support from many citizens. Indeed the situation in Mahanaim illustrates that. Some of the wealthier citizens of Mahanaim provided David and his troops with much needed food and other supplies as they prepared for the battle.

At the beginning of chapter 18 we see the final preparations by David for the coming battle. David divided his troops into three companies, each under the command of a general. His original plan was to lead the army himself, as commander in chief. But the three generals, Joab, Abishai, and Ittai the Gittite talked him out of that notion. They argued that it was too risky. A dead David would be the end of everything. A living David was worth 10,000 of any one of them.

That wasn’t much of an exaggeration. David was a fairly popular king. Only he had sufficient power with the people to command the kind of support that was needed to obtain a victory. If David had been killed, his army would have melted away in a flash; and Absalom would have been on the throne.

So the generals recommended that David remain behind in the city in command of the reserve troops, ready to send help if needed. He agreed, and they followed that plan. Therefore, as the army moved out to go to war, David stood in the city gate and reviewed the troops as they passed by.

There are two additional interesting aspects to this paragraph. First is the placement of Ittai the Gittite as a commander over a third of his army. We learned about Ittai back in chapter 15 (vv. 19-23). He was a foreigner who had come into David’s employ so recently that David offered to let him return to Jerusalem rather than risk his life and the lives of his men in David’s war against Absalom.

Now we see David giving Ittai the huge responsibility of commanding a third of his army. The king must have been greatly impressed with Ittai’s skills and loyalty. Undoubtedly David knew much more about him than we are told in the text. The fact that David made Ittai a general also suggests to me that the 600 Gittites mentioned in 15:18 were Ittai’s men, rather than old companions of David’s.

The second additional interesting aspect of this paragraph is David’s statement about his son Absalom to his commanders as they leave: “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And don’t miss the fact that other troops, in addition to the generals, heard David say that. That becomes important later.

“Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” There didn’t seem to be any doubt in David’s mind that his army would win the battle that day, and thus the war. He was concerned not about the outcome of the battle, but about his son. He was saying, in essence, “Go easy on my boy.” “Go easy on my boy to please me.”

Verses 6-8 give a very brief account of the battle. The place given as the location of the battle has created quite a debate among scholars. “The forest of Ephraim” is a phrase that normally would be associated with the territory settled by the tribe of Ephraim. But that territory is located north of Jerusalem on the western side of the Jordan River, and we have been told that the armies were in Gilead on the eastern side of the river.

Most scholars are convinced that the battle took place in Gilead rather than in traditional Ephraim. There is no known explanation for the name. Gilead is not a forested area today, but it could have been in the days of David. The Turks denuded much of the area of forests during their years of rule.

Gilead was a good place from David’s perspective. It was a region that was loyal to him, as we saw in 17:27-29, where the inhabitants supplied David and his men with food and other equipment. It seems that his men knew the terrain better, because as verse eight says of Absolom’s army, “the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.” Apparently Absalom’s men tended to get lost in the woods; and many of them perished in one way or another during their wanderings. But David’s men knew how to survive in that area.

Next, in verses 9-15, comes the death of Absalom. Absalom supplies a perfect illustration of how the forest could devour a person. When Absalom saw certain of David’s men, he panicked, or simply made too quick a turn, or something; and the result was that his head got caught in the branches of a great oak tree. And it happened in such a way that he couldn’t free himself. His long hair, of which he was so proud, may have had something to do with it; but it was his head that was caught (v. 9).

Thus he was captured without a fight. There he was, hanging helpless from the tree; and any of David’s men who were present easily could have killed him. But they had heard David ask his generals to deal gently with Absalom. So one of them went to tell Joab who must have been near by, because he arrived on the scene fairly quickly (v.10). I suspect the soldier was surprised at Joab’s reaction. Joab wanted to know why the man hadn’t killed Absalom. Indeed Joab would have rewarded him had he done it (v. 11).

The man told Joab that he wouldn’t kill the king’s son for a thousand pieces of silver, because he took the king’s request that Absalom be protected as a command. And he reminded Joab that had he killed the king, Joab himself easily could become a witness against him (vv. 12-13). Joab quickly lost patience with the man, who in Joab’s view apparently had too much integrity for the situation (v. 14a). By this time Joab was at the scene where Absalom still hung from the tree. He wasted no time, but struck Absalom in the heart with three pointed staffs. However that didn’t kill Absalom, so Joab’s ten armor-bearers finished the job (vv. 14b-15).

There is an interesting side issue here. You may recall that Joab was the one who took the initiative to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem (back in chapter 14). Personally I believe that decision was strictly political; and so was this one. That is, at the time Joab arranged for Absalom to be restored at court, he believed that was the best thing for David and the country. Now things were totally different. Now in Joab’s view, the best thing for David and the country was for Absalom to be dead. So he killed him in spite of David’s request.

In verses 16-18 we see that Joab stopped the pursuit at that point in order to end the killing. Absalom was dead, which meant the war was over. There was no need to destroy any more fellow Hebrews. Then they buried Absalom’s body under a huge pile of stones. The author concluded the section by reminding his readers that Absalom earlier had erected a monument to himself that was still standing as he was writing the book. According to 2 Sam. 14:27, Absalom had three sons, so the statement that he had no son to keep his name in remembrance is a bit peculiar. Perhaps none of his sons lived to adulthood.

Turning to application, it seems to me that the great lesson to be seen in this passage is in David’s relationship to Absalom. Chapter 18, verse 5, is the key verse: “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” In a way I find it quite touching that David wanted his generals to go easy on his son. David still loved Absalom in spite of all Absalom had done.

But another part of me wants to cry out, “Why didn’t you show him love? Why didn’t you love him enough to discipline him and the other boys when they were younger? When you permitted him to return to Jerusalem after his murder of Amnon, and gave him official restoration at court, why didn’t you go all the way and forgive him when you had the chance? What good was your love of your sons to anyone, including them? You spoiled them, but never gave yourself to them. You gave them money, but never played with them. You grieved over their sins, but never told them you loved them.


Our study for today, in which we shall see the main events of the civil war unfolding, is 2 Samuel 16:15-17:23. When David chose to abandon Jerusalem rather than defend it, Absalom and those who had gathered to his cause took it without a fight (v. 15). Then Hushai, following David’s plan, approached Absalom, proclaiming, “Long live the king!” (v. 16). Absalom was surprised by Hushai’s apparent defection from David; but after an explanation, he believed Hushai, and took him into his confidence (vv. 17-19).

Next, in verses 16:20-17:5, Ahithophel who was loyal to Absalom gave Absalom two pieces of advice. Ahithophel’s first advice to Absalom was to take the ten concubines that David left to care for the palace (15:16) and sexually use them, which he did. He had a tent with open sides pitched on the roof of the palace and had sex with his fathers concubines in full view of the public (16:20-22). This seems like strange advice to us, but in their cultural context it had wisdom. An act such as this made a final break with David. There was no going back. There never could be forgiveness; and under those circumstances, Absalom’s forces would fight harder, because they would believe that they didn’t dare lose the war. Incidentally, this was a fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy back in 12:11. Absalom was publicly doing to David what David had done privately with Bathsheba.

Ahithophel’s second piece of advice to Absalom was to give Ahithophel 12,000 men to immediately take against David (17:1-4). The idea was to find David and kill him before he had any opportunity to raise a resistance against Absalom. Ahithophel’s advice was highly esteemed by Absalom, as it had been by his father before him (16:23). And Absalom and the elders liked it,

Ahithophel’s advice to pursue David immediately was solid. A swift blow might have defeated him, even if they weren’t able to kill him. But Absalom made the mistake of seeking a second opinion from Hushai, who was David’s man.

As we see in verses 5-14, Hushai offered a different strategy, one that would afford David time to organize, if it were followed. Hushai suggested that Ahithophel’s advice was flawed, because David and his men were experienced warriors who would fight the way a bear defends her cubs. Moreover David himself would be well hidden. There would be no chance of killing him. In addition, if word got out that some of Absalom’s troops were killed, it would discourage the rest of Absalom’s armies (vv. 7-10).

Hushai recommended, instead, that Absalom not attack until he could gather a great army from all Israel with which he could easily crush David and his forces (vv. 11-13). What Hushai did not say, and which Absalom and his elders did not think about, was the fact that once the dust settled, the people in the various tribes might rally to David as readily as to Absalom. And indeed that is what happened.

Notice the commentary by the author in the last sentence of verse 14. In his view the Lord was behind the decision by Absalom to follow Hushai’s advice, because the Lord wanted Absalom to be ruined.

Hushai had no way of knowing which advice Absalom would follow. So, as recorded in verses 15-22, he immediately sent word to David through the priests to cross the Jordan as soon as possible. The message consisted of a report on the two plans offered by Ahithophel and Hushai and a recommendation to cross the Jordan to safety immediately (vv. 15-16). The priest’s sons were stationed not in the city, but at a place called En-rogel, the spring of Rogel, located on the outskirts of the city. They were there, because their spying efforts would be discovered if they were seen moving in and out of the city. So a servant-girl was to carry the message to the sons of the priest at En-rogel, and they were to carry it to David from there (v. 17).

Unfortunately, they were seen anyway. A boy, who was a spy for Absalom, saw them and reported their activities. Only quick thinking and the help of a woman saved their lives. They hid in a well, and the woman placed a covering over the opening and spread drying grain on it (vv. 18-19). Then she then told Absalom’s people that they had gone in a certain direction, and they were not discovered (v 20).

Thus the mission of the sons of the priest was accomplished. David got Hushai’s message and crossed the Jordan to safety (vv. 21-22).

As it turned out, the situation wasn’t as urgent as it could have been, because Absalom decided to follow Hushai’s advice instead of Ahithophel’s. This crushed Ahithophel’s spirit, because he knew, or at least sensed, that David’s escape meant that David eventually would win the war. And of course that would be the end of Ahithophel. He would be killed as a traitor. So Ahithophel calmly went home and took his own life (v. 23).

Turning to application, we find in this passage a contrast between Ahithophel and Hushai. Let’s begin with Ahithophel. He started out as a trusted adviser to King David. Then he joined Absalom’s conspiracy as a trusted adviser of Absalom. But Absalom didn’t follow his advice. And Ahithophel ended up taking his own life.

Ahithophel made a choice. Politically it was a gamble that he lost. He backed the wrong horse, so to speak. And it cost him his life. But Ahithophel’s decision was more than a political decision. It was a moral decision. He betrayed David by his choice. And David was God’s anointed. Ahithophel by his choice went against God. Thus he demonstrated his poor character and his sinful nature. His example is one we do not want to follow.

And then there was Hushai. Absalom followed Hushai’s advice, and David won the war as a result. Hushai also had been a trusted adviser to David. But he chose to be loyal to God’s anointed, David, by posing as a defector on David’s behalf. Hushai’s decision, like that of Ahithophel, also was both political and moral. But Hushai chose the moral road of loyalty to God’s anointed, and thus to God. Therefore Hushai is a good example for us to follow.


Due to problems with my Internet connection and some out of state company, I have been unable to post a lesson the last couple of weeks. The company has returned home, and I am back on line. Therefore I can post a lesson this morning.

Our study for today is 2 Samuel 15:1-16:14, which reports Absalom’s rebellion and David’s subsequent flight from Jerusalem. In the last study Absalom returned to favor at David’s court, but with no reconciliation between him and his father, the king.

With David’s restoration of Absalom to favor at court, Absalom once again had the freedom to act the part of the king’s eldest son. And in verses 1-6 we see him immediately beginning to do so in style and with a sinister purpose.

The horse-drawn carriage and the fifty men were for show. They were intended as a display of princely pomp; and it succeeded. Absalom made a big impression on the minds of the people in Jerusalem. But he did much more than that.

Every day he spent time talking with the people from all over Israel who came to David’s court seeking justice. He engaged them in friendly conversation, and took the opportunity not only to sympathize with them, but also to feed their fears and grievances. Since he didn’t have to render any actual decisions, he easily could lead everyone to believe they were in the right. If only I were the judge, he would tell them, then you would get your justice.

Of course David could not personally hear every complainant; nor could his judges procure justice for everyone, no matter how hard they tried. It also is possible that the judges were not always as hardworking as they needed to be, or their judgments as just as they needed to be. So in this way Absalom was able to win the support of the people.

In addition to that, the people soon began to treat Absalom in kingly ways, bowing before him. And when they did that, Absalom would kiss their hands. Thus Absalom endeared himself to people by being personal with them. He stole their hearts, says verse six.

It’s hard to believe that David was unaware of Absalom’s activities. But as you well know, David never did anything to restrain his sons. After four years of this underhanded gathering of support, we see in verses 7-12 that Absalom was ready to make his move for the throne.

It is uncertain why Absalom chose Hebron as a base of operations. Perhaps the percentage of dissatisfied Israelites there was greater than other places. Perhaps he saw irony in beginning where David himself had begun many years before. Or perhaps it simply was because Hebron was the place of his birth.

At any rate, Absalom went to Hebron on the pretense of fulfilling a vow he supposedly had made to God while in Geshur. By getting David’s prior approval to go there, Absalom raised no suspicions and gave himself time to organize the revolt. David’s last words to his son are filled with irony. “Go in peace,” said David, as Absalom left to plan a war against him. So off to Hebron Absalom went; and there he began gathering sympathizers to himself.

Two specific things that Absalom did in Hebron are mentioned. One, he sent messengers, literally “spies,” into all of Israel. They are called “spies,” because they were to spy out the feelings of the people and to make the announcement that Absalom was king at a given signal so that all the tribes would think it was useless to resist the coup. And two, he sent for Ahithophel, a counselor of David’s whom he apparently previously had enlisted into his scheme. Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:3 compared with 23:43).

The coup was so well planned that Absalom had 200 of David’s key people in Jerusalem involved with Absalom’s feast at Hebron, and thus they were unavailable to help David. Moreover a large number of people whom Absalom previously had enlisted in the rebellion knew to come to Absalom at Hebron. This meant that a large force gathered quickly.

In verses 13-23 we see that David was informed about the coup attempt. Details of the report to David are not given, but David clearly understood that the situation was grave, because he made no attempt to defend Jerusalem, but instead fled to provide time to organize a resistance. All of David’s family, his officials and all others loyal to him fled with him, including of course his bodyguards, the Cherethites and Pelethites. The only people left behind were ten concubines, who were to care for the palace.

Notice that one man is singled out for special notice, namely, Ittai the Gittite. It is uncertain whether the 600 Gittites were Ittai’s men recently come with him from Gath, or that they were the faithful 600 men who had gathered around David at Gath in the early days when David was fleeing Saul (1 Sam. 27:2-3). In any case, Ittai apparently recently had allied himself with David; and so David gave him the option of returning to Jerusalem, where he could serve whomever turned out to be king at the end of the war. But Ittai was fiercely committed to be loyal to David to the death. So he stayed with David.

In verses 24-29 David sent Abiathar, Zadok, and the Levites who had come along carrying the Ark of the Covenant, back to Jerusalem. It was part of his strategy against Absalom. He instructed them to be his “eyes and ears” in Jerusalem, and their sons were to be messengers who would bring him information about Absalom’s activities.

We see in verses 30-31 that the adversity of Absalom’s rebellion humbled David. After sending the priests back to the city, David made the long climb up the Mount of Olives. But he didn’t just go up the mountain. He covered his head, removed his shoes, and wept as he made the climb, in a demonstration of grief and mourning. And the people joined him in the mourning.

Then word came to David of Ahithophel’s involvement with Absalom. He did the only thing he could—pray. He prayed that the Lord would “turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” And as we shall see, the Lord answered that prayer in a positive way.

In verses 32-37 David sets the rest of his strategy in place. At the top of the mountain, where there was a place of worship, an elderly advisor of his named Hushai came to join David. I say “elderly,” because that would be the only reason Hushai would have been a burden to David, as David says in verse 34.

David suggests that Hushai return to Jerusalem and pretend to join the conspiracy. Then he could work against the counsel of Ahithophel in Absalom’s camp, and work with the priests Zadok and Abiathar to get intelligence to David.

In 16:1-4 we find David still moving away from Jerusalem. He was just past the summit of the Mount of Olives when Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth, or your translation may have Merib-baal, came to him. As you see he came bearing many gifts and a story. His story was that Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, had taken advantage of David’s woes and stayed in Jerusalem, thinking that he, Mephibosheth, as Saul’s only remaining heir, might get the crown back.

David believed Ziba; and he awarded Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s property on the spot. Now we are going to see later, in chapter 19:24-30, when Mephibosheth came to David, that Mephibosheth had a totally different story. So it may have been that Ziba was angling for the property from the beginning. But we will deal with that when we do chapter 19.

In verses 5-14 we see an interesting event. When David, as he traveled along, came to the village of Bahurim, a man named Shimei, also of the house of Saul, accosted him in a rather strange incident. When Shimei saw David and his company coming by, he came out of his house and began to curse and throw stones at David and his servants.

Joab’s brother, Abishai, immediately volunteered to take off the man’s head, but David would have none of it. David was willing to believe that the Lord himself may have inspired the man to curse him; and whether he did or not, the Lord might reward David for remaining humble. So David ordered the man left alone.

In verse 14 we find David and his group finally arriving at a safe place; namely the Jordan River. Once they managed to cross the Jordan, which they do in chapter 17, they would be safe. And there they could prepare themselves for war against Absalom.

Turning to application, I suggest you think about the key individuals. First, we note the characteristics exhibited by Absalom in chapter 15. He exhibited pride, cunning, disloyalty, and in the end, betrayal. All of these characteristics are negative and sinful. Therefore Absalom becomes a negative role model for us.

David, on the other hand, as always (apart from relations with his family) was at his best under duress. In this situation, we see his good characteristics emerging once again. He was gracious with Ittai. He exhibited good strategy by sending the priests and Hushai back to Jerusalem to be his eyes and ears. And more important, he once again exhibited humility. He took of his shoes in an act of penitence, wept, mourned, prayed, and worshipped before God as he left Jerusalem. And he took a humble attitude towards the cursing aimed at him by Shimei. In addition David expressed appreciation to Ziba, though in the end that appreciation may have been misguided. Therefore in these ways David is a good role model for us.


Today we continue our study of 2 Samuel. In the first half of the book we saw David’s rise to power and his glory days as king (1:1-9:13). Then beginning at chapter 10 we began to see David’s fall and its consequences. The fall commenced with David’s adultery with Bathsheba, followed by the murder of her husband, Uriah (11:1-27). The consequences were severe. First, the son born of his adultery died (12:13-23). Second, David’s son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar (13:1-22). And third, we saw Absalom’s murder of Amnon in revenge of Tamar’s rape (13:23-39. Thus the Lord’s predictions about David’s family clearly were coming true.

All right, we are ready to take up chapter 14. Verse one tells us that Joab perceived that David’s mind was on Absalom. And that led Joab to go to considerable lengths, first, to get Absalom back in Jerusalem; and then second, to work out a reconciliation between David and his son. Most commentators have interpreted verse one, I assume on the basis of the last verse of chapter 13, to mean that David was well disposed towards Absalom. But neither 13:39 nor 14:1 actually state that David thought well of him. Thus others argue that although David was ready to let Absalom return to Jerusalem (we learn that in verse 21), he was not ready to reconcile with the man. The fact that David refused to meet face to face with Absalom for two years after Absalom’s return indicates this rather clearly (v. 28).

So the question arises as to why Joab was so interested in getting Absalom back in the capital. Obviously we cannot get into Joab’s head to answer that question. But we can speculate a bit. One possible reason is that Joab liked Absalom, that he was personally attached to him. But the more likely reason is that Joab saw Absalom as the best person to succeed David on the throne of Israel in spite of Absalom’s murder of the original crown prince, Amnon.

At any rate, Joab arranged for a “wise” woman from Tekoa to learn a complex story with which to convince David to permit Absalom to return. The word “wise” here means in the sense of “crafty.” She was a woman who could act out a convincing story before an important person. And she did a really good job. At first David seems to be completely taken in by her fabricated case. She told him she was a widow in extended deep grief, not due to the loss of her husband who had died much earlier, but due to the more recent loss of a son.

The story was that her only two sons got into a fight in the field. There was no one there to separate them, and the one, in the passion of the moment, killed the other. That is, she was saying to David that the killing was not a premeditated murder, but an act of passion (vv. 5-6).

Her family wanted blood revenge. That is, they wanted her to deliver the remaining son to them that he might be killed as punishment for the murder of his brother (v. 7). From their perspective, that seemed the only just thing to do. But from the widow’s perspective, it would be robbing her, and her dead husband, of the only remaining family heir. The family would come to an end with his death.

Verse eight tells us that David ruled in her favor. The orders to be issued were orders to permit the boy to live. The woman’s reply in verse nine was intended to absolve David of any guilt should his decision to let the boy live lead to any wrong-doing in the future. The blame would be on her and her family, not on the king.

David replied to her that if anyone bothered her about this matter in the future, she should bring it to his attention (v. 10). In verse 11, the woman seems to have desired additional assurance from the king beyond what he already had given her. He generously gave her the added assurance by repeating it with an oath added.

The woman, who was quite bold, had not completed her mission. So in verses 12 and 13 she asked to speak once more. And after receiving permission to do so, she very bluntly accused David of having done something against God’s people. This reminds us of Nathan’s confrontation of David, though it is not the same by any stretch.

“This word,” or “this decision” as the NRSV translates it, in verse 13 refers to David’s decision to let the woman’s son live. And the woman is claiming that David convicted himself of something. In other words she was saying that the decision to let her son live was inconsistent with his decision not to permit the banished Absalom to come home.

It is quite a shock to the reader to see her suddenly say something like that. Presumably David also was shocked. While the king sat there trying to figure out how to react to her, the woman went on to explain. She reminded David of the brevity of human life and of the mercy of God (v. 14). “We all must die,” she reminded David, the idea being to remind him that he only had so many years before his opportunity for fellowship with his son would be gone.

But the kicker was her contrast of David’s action to that of the Lord. God, who is merciful, not only does not take away life, he seeks ways to forgive those who deserve banishment. Wow! But the woman still was not finished. In verses 15-17 she cleverly returned to the context of her story, suggesting that it was her personal situation that led her to speak as she had. She began to speak to David in flattering terms, describing him as a man of insight, “like the angel of God” (v. 17).

At this point in the conversation David began to catch on. He had had some time to process what was happening. And he began to realize that there was more to this woman’s story than he knew. And he suspected the hand of his uncle Joab. So he asked her straight out if Joab was behind it. And she admitted he was.

Joab must have been nearby following as carefully as he could the whole conversation, because David was able to call him in (v. 21). Then David rendered his decision to Joab, since Joab rather than the woman was the one who actually had been seeking it. He granted permission for Absalom to return, and gave Joab the responsibility of bringing him, which he immediately did (v. 21). But David, although he took the road of mercy, went down the road only part of the way. He refused to forgive Absalom, and would not allow the young man into his presence (v. 24).

In verses 25-27 the author appears to be setting up the future narrative. The author provides information that helps prepare readers for several things that are coming. One, Absalom’s physical handsomeness was greater than any other. Two, he cut his hair only once a year. And three, he had three sons and a daughter.

This information is not very extensive, but it still is helpful. First, it helps explain why Absalom was wildly popular in Jerusalem. He now was the eldest of the king’s sons, and his striking good looks along with his beautiful family would have made him attractive to the people as a successor to the throne. Particular mention is made of the beauty of the daughter, who was named after Absalom’s raped sister.

Second, Absalom’s good looks also would have fired his ego. As we shall see, Absalom thought highly of himself. Indeed his preoccupation with his hair was an indication of that. Absalom thought so much of himself he felt obliged to seek his father’s throne before David’s death, and without the Lord’s approval.

And third, mention of Absalom’s hair also prepares the reader for the story of Absalom’s death, which would end the revolution he started. You will remember that he died because his long hair caught in a tree branch and left him hanging helpless where Joab easily could kill him (18:9-15).

In the balance of the chapter (vv. 28-33), we see the restless and self-involved attitude of Absalom in action. After two years of putting up with the king’s decree that Absalom not enter David’s presence, Absalom had had enough. He twice sent word to Joab that he wanted to see the king. Obviously Absalom believed Joab could arrange it. But Joab ignored Absalom’s messages. So Absalom forced Joab’s hand by burning Joab’s barley field.

It worked. Joab quickly came to complain. The old adage “hit them in the pocketbook” may be older than we thought. When Joab came, Absalom demanded that Joab get him an audience with the king. Absalom bitterly complained that he would have been better off to have stayed in Geshur; and he insisted that David could kill him if he still found guilt in him. But he wanted that audience. And he got it.

When Absalom’s opportunity finally came, he prostrated himself before David, and David kissed him. His kiss was the sign of Absalom’s restoration to favor. But it didn’t really indicate forgiveness. The conversation evidently was brief and formal, with no real reconciliation between the two men. It certainly did not create any loyalty in Absalom.

When we ask what we learn from this chapter, one thing leaps out at me. It is the failure of David to fully forgive. Absalom had committed an horrendous crime. Perhaps justice required some sort of severe punishment for Absalom. But that didn’t happen.

If we ask what David’s options were, David could have put a price on Absalom’s head and made it clear he never was to come back to Israel on pain of death. At least that would have been clean. But David didn’t do that. It seems he didn’t do anything. Absalom was out of the country, and David just left things alone.

Then when Absalom put pressure on Joab to help him return, David once again was faced with a choice. He could have refused. But in his weakness he decided to restore Absalom without forgiving him.

Then two years later, during the moment when Absalom was on his face before David after so many years, David had another opportunity to offer him full forgiveness. But David didn’t do it. That was a crucial moment in both their lives. Instead of a genuine, personal reconciliation, there was only a formal acceptance. And that eventually led to Absalom’s attempt to grasp David’s throne illegally. It seems to me that David, once he decided to move along the way of forgiveness, should have gone all the way with it. It might have avoided Absalom’s revolution, which would have avoided a great deal of personal pain for David, including the death of Absalom. Let us learn from this example to forgive those from whom we may be estranged, and be reconciled.