2 Samuel 15 – Absalom’s Rebellion
A. Absalom’s deceptive take-over.
1. (1-6) Absalom steals the hearts of the men of Israel.
After this it happened that Absalom provided himself with chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him. Now Absalom would rise early and stand beside the way to the gate. So it was, whenever anyone who had a lawsuit came to the king for a decision, that Absalom would call to him and say, “What city are you from?” And he would say, “Your servant is from such and such a tribe of Israel.” Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your case is good and right; but there is no deputy of the king to hear you.” Moreover Absalom would say, “Oh, that I were made judge in the land, and everyone who has any suit or cause would come to me; then I would give him justice.” And so it was, whenever anyone came near to bow down to him, that he would put out his hand and take him and kiss him. In this manner Absalom acted toward all Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.
a. Chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him: This means that Absalom did not want the chariot for speed, but to make an impressive procession. This was Absalom the politician, sensing what the people wanted and knowing how to give them the image of it.
i. Samuel – who anointed Absalom’s father as king – was a judge, leader and prophet in Israel. Yet Samuel never went around with horses and chariots and an entourage. Samuel traveled on foot – and as a man, Absalom wasn’t worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as Samuel.
b. Whenever anyone who had a lawsuit came to the king for a decision: Ancient kings were more than the heads of government, they were also the “supreme court” of their kingdom. If someone believed that a local court did not give them justice, they then appealed to the court of the king, where the king or a representative of the king heard their case.
c. Your case is good and right; but there is no deputy of the king to hear you: Absalom stirred up dissatisfaction with David’s government and campaigned against David by promising to provide justice that David (supposedly) denied the people.
d. Oh, that I were made judge in the land…I would give him justice: Absalom had reason to be disillusioned with David’s administration of justice. When Amnon raped Tamar, David did nothing. When Absalom did something about it, David banished Absalom and kept him at a distance even when he came back.
e. Whenever anyone came near to bow down to him, that he would put out his hand and take him and kiss him: Absalom was skilled at projecting a “man of the people” image. In an obvious display, he wouldn’t let others bow down to him but would lift them up, shake their hand, and embrace them.
i. From what we know of Absalom, we can guess that he really didn’t consider himself a “man of the people” at all. He regularly acted as if he was above others and the laws that applied to others didn’t apply to him. He knew he was better looking, better connected, better off, and had better political instincts than almost anyone. But these political instincts made Absalom aware that he had to create the image of a man of the people.
ii. In ancient Israel they were too easily impressed by image and too slow to see or appreciate the reality behind the image. Since the days of ancient Israel, we have only become more impressed by image over reality.
iii. “Absalom appeared to be the real and was the undisputed heir to the throne; David could not, in the course of nature, live very long; and most people are more disposed to hail the beams of the rising, than exult in those of the setting, sun.” (Clarke)
f. Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel: Absalom’s cunning campaign worked. He became more popular and more trusted than David.
i. Absalom knew exactly how to do this.
· He carefully cultivated an exciting, enticing image (chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him).
· He worked hard (Absalom would rise early).
· He knew where to position himself (beside the way to the gate).
· He looked for troubled people (anyone who had a lawsuit).
· He reached out to troubled people (Absalom would call to him).
· He took a personal interest in the troubled person (What city are you from?).
· He sympathized with the person (your case is good and right).
· He never attacked David directly (no deputy of the king to hear you).
· He left the troubled person more troubled (no deputy of the king to hear you).
· Without directly attacking David, Absalom promised to do better. (Oh, that I were made judge in the land, and everyone who has any suit or cause would come to me; then I would give him justice.)
ii. Absalom’s clever approach made him able to subvert and divide David’s kingdom without saying any specific thing that could condemn him. If someone objected Absalom would simply say, “Tell me one specific thing that I have said or done.” In fact, Absalom could do all this and say, “I’m helping David to deal with all this discontent.” In fact, Absalom was promoting discontent.
iii. David was Israel’s greatest king – and Israel became dissatisfied with him and let a wicked, amoral man steal their hearts. There are many reasons why this happened.
· David was getting older.
· David’s sins diminished his standing.
· People like change and Absalom was exciting.
· Absalom was very skilled and cunning.
· David had to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings, and be rejected like the Son of David would later be rejected.
iv. “Behold a king, the greatest that ever lived, a profound politician, an able general, a brave soldier, a poet of the most sublime genius and character, a prophet of the Most High God, and the deliverer of his country, driven from his dominions by his own son, abandoned by his fickle people.” (Clarke)
v. We might say that Absalom’s greatest sin was impatience. Absalom “seemed to stand nearest to the throne; but his sin was, that he sought it during his father’s life, and endeavoured to dethrone him in order to sit in his stead.” (Clarke)
2. (7-10) Absalom plans the overthrow of David’s kingdom.
Now it came to pass after forty years that Absalom said to the king, “Please, let me go to Hebron and pay the vow which I made to the LORD. For your servant took a vow while I dwelt at Geshur in Syria, saying, ‘If the LORD indeed brings me back to Jerusalem, then I will serve the LORD.’” And the king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron. Then Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom reigns in Hebron!’”
a. After forty years: This perhaps was Absalom’s age at the time, but some believe that this is a minor corruption of the text and that it should read four years based on the readings in Syriac and Arabic translations, Josephus, and some Hebrew manuscripts.
b. Let me go to Hebron and pay the vow which I made to the LORD: Absalom committed treason under the guise of worship. He knew that the appearance of spirituality could work in his favor.
i. It is possible – perhaps likely – that Absalom did all this feeling spiritual and in God’s will. Men in Absalom’s place often deceive themselves with words like this: “Lord, You know we need new leadership. Thank you for raising me up for such a time as this. Guide me and bless me, O Lord, as I endeavor to do what is best for Your people.”
ii. Divisive people almost never see themselves as divisive. They see themselves as crusaders for God’s righteous cause and often believe or hope God’s hand is upon them. This is especially a problem because many people will only believe a person is divisive if that person admits to being divisive.
c. Go in peace: Ironically, these were David’s last words to Absalom. Upon hearing these, Absalom went to carry out the plot to overthrow David’s kingdom.
d. Absalom reigns in Hebron: Absalom counted on the hope that most of Israel would see this as succession and not treason.
3. (11-12) Legitimacy for Absalom’s government.
And with Absalom went two hundred men invited from Jerusalem, and they went along innocently and did not know anything. Then Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city; from Giloh; while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy grew strong, for the people with Absalom continually increased in number.
a. With Absalom went two hundred men invited from Jerusalem: Absalom wisely knew that he needed others to endorse – or at least to appear to endorse – his government. He counted on these two hundred men who were not against David, to at least be silent and therefore give the impression that they were for Absalom.
i. When the innocent and unknowing are among the divisive, their silence is always received as agreement.
b. Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor: Absalom’s government gained more prestige when one of David’s top aides defected to his side. This genuinely hurt David; he described his feelings in Psalm 41: Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me (Psalm 41:9).
i. Ahithophel was renowned for his wisdom and wise counsel (2 Samuel 16:23). Even wise men can take their side with divisive and destructive leaders. In Ahithophel’s case, it was probably prompted by a sense of personal hurt and bitterness because of what David did to Ahithophel’s granddaughter Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3 and 23:34).
c. While he offered sacrifices: Absalom was careful to keep up his religious practices, both for the sake of image and because he was deceived enough to think that God wanted to bless him.
d. And the conspiracy grew strong: Once some people started coming to Absalom’s side, it encouraged more and more to come. Momentum for division builds because others are already causing division.
B. David escapes with the help of faithful friends.
1. (13-18) David flees from Jerusalem.
Now a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.” So David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee; or we shall not escape from Absalom. Make haste to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly and bring disaster upon us, and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” And the king’s servants said to the king, “We are your servants, ready to do whatever my lord the king commands.” Then the king went out with all his household after him. But the king left ten women, concubines, to keep the house. And the king went out with all the people after him, and stopped at the outskirts. Then all his servants passed before him; and all the Cherethites, all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men who had followed him from Gath, passed before the king.
a. Arise, and let us flee; or we shall not escape from Absalom: David knew well that Absalom was a ruthless man who valued power over principle. He didn’t want the city of Jerusalem to become a battleground (strike the city with the edge of the sword), so he fled the city.
b. The king’s…the king…the king: The writer here wanted to emphasize that David was the king, despite Absalom’s treachery.
c. The king left ten women, concubines, to keep the house: David thought – and had reason to think – that these ten women could be safely left behind. He felt he needed someone to look after the house.
i. Sadly, this also tells us that David had at least ten concubines. A concubine was essentially a legal mistress. In addition to David’s many wives, this shows that David was a man who sometimes indulged his passions instead of restraining them in a godly way.
d. All the Cherethites, all the Pelethites: These men comprised David’s personal bodyguard. The Gittites faithfully followed him from the time he lived among the Philistines (who followed him from Gath). These men who were faithful to David before he became successful also stuck with him when his success seemed to fade away.
i. It is remarkable that in this defining moment of his latter reign, foreigners rallied around David. It is more remarkable – and tragic – that his own countrymen and his own family were nowhere to be found.
e. Passed before the king: As David watched this procession leave Jerusalem and head for safety, he was greatly pained. This was reflected in the Psalm that David wrote during this time.
i. David was afraid: My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. So I said, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.” (Psalm 55:4-8)
ii. David put his trust in God: LORD, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.” But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. (Psalm 3:1-6)
iii. Psalms 41, 61, 62, and 63 were also written during this period.
2. (19-23) David’s faithful friends.
Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why are you also going with us? Return and remain with the king. For you are a foreigner and also an exile from your own place. In fact, you came only yesterday. Should I make you wander up and down with us today, since I go I know not where? Return, and take your brethren back. Mercy and truth be with you.” But Ittai answered the king and said, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely in whatever place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also your servant will be.” So David said to Ittai, “Go, and cross over.” Then Ittai the Gittite and all his men and all the little ones who were with him crossed over. And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people crossed over. The king himself also crossed over the Brook Kidron, and all the people crossed over toward the way of the wilderness.
a. Why are you also going with us? As David watched the procession of his faithful supporters, Ittai the Gittite caught his eye. David couldn’t understand why this newly arrived foreigner took the risk of such open loyalty to David.
b. Return and remain with the king: In calling Absalom the king, David showed that he would not cling to the throne. At that moment it seemed that Absalom would succeed, so David called him the king and left it with the LORD.
c. As my lord the king lives: Ittai meant David, not Absalom. David told Ittai, “Remain with the king.” Ittai answered back, “That’s exactly what I intend to do – and you are the king.”
d. Whatever place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also your servant will be: Ittai was loyal to David when it looked certain that it would cost him something. True loyalty isn’t demonstrated until it is likely to cost something to be loyal.
i. “Remember, the more rebels there are, the more need for us to be conspicuously loyal to our King.” (Maclaren)
ii. We learn a lot from Ittai’s demonstration of loyalty.
· Ittai was loyal when David was down.
· Ittai was loyal decisively.
· Ittai was loyal voluntarily.
· Ittai was loyal though he was a new-comer to David’s cause.
· Ittai was loyal publicly.
· Ittai was loyal knowing that the fate of David was now his fate.
iii. “If Ittai, charmed with David’s person and character, though a foreigner and a stranger, felt that he could enlist beneath his banner for life – yea, and declared that he would do so there and then-how much more may you and I, if we know what Christ has done for us, and who He is and what He deserves at our hands, at this good hour plight our troth to Him and vow, ‘As the Lord liveth, surely in whatsoever place my Lord and Saviour shall be, whether in death or life, even there also shall His servant be.’” (Spurgeon)
iv. We must determine that wherever Jesus is, we will be also. Jesus lives in the heavenlies, so will we be. Jesus is with His church, so will we be. Jesus is busy in His work, so will we be. Jesus is with His children, so will we be.
e. Toward the way of the wilderness: Many years before, David left the safety of Saul’s palace to live as a fugitive. Those years in the wilderness prepared David to be king. God sent David out into the wilderness to continue the same work in his life.
i. “Ah! We do not like going over Kedron. When it comes to the pinch, how we struggle against suffering, and especially against dishonour and slander! How many there were who would have gone on pilgrimage, but that Mr. Shame proved too much for them; they could not bear to go over the black brook Kedron, could not endure to be made nothing of for the sake of the Lord of glory, but they even turned back.” (Spurgeon)
3. (24-26) David’s submission to God’s chastening.
There was Zadok also, and all the Levites with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God, and Abiathar went up until all the people had finished crossing over from the city. Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.”
a. Zadok also, and all the Levites with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God: The priests were loyal to David, even though it probably meant death for them if Absalom succeeded. It was good that the men who should be spiritually sensitive to Absalom’s evil and David’s good were indeed sensitive to it.
b. Carry the ark of God back into the city: David trusted in God, not in the ark of the covenant. He was willing to let the ark go back to Jerusalem and to put his fate in God’s hands.
c. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me back…. if He says thus: “I have no delight in you,” here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him: David’s humble and chastened spirit proved he knew God dealt with him righteously. David submitted to God with an active submission, not a passive one.
4. (27-29) David sends the priests back to gather information.
The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace, and your two sons with you, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will wait in the plains of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” Therefore Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem. And they remained there.
a. Are you not a seer? David recognized that Zadok was a prophet. A man of supernatural insight might be a valuable information source for David.
5. (30) David on the Mount of Olives.
So David went up by the Ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went up; and he had his head covered and went barefoot. And all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went up.
a. David went up by the Ascent of the Mount of Olives: When Jesus went from the Last Supper to the garden of Gethsemane to pray, He essentially traced these same steps of David. Both David and Jesus suffered for sin, but Jesus suffered for our sins and David suffered for his own.
b. Wept as he went up; and he had his head covered and went barefoot: These were emblems of mourning. David was struck by the greatness of this tragedy for the nation, for his family, and for himself.
i. This wasn’t a pity-party or soreness merely over the consequences of his sin. “He is crushed by the consciousness that his punishment is deserved – the bitter fruit of the sin that filled all his later life with darkness. His courage and his buoyancy have left him.” (Maclaren)
ii. “In light of all the facts it is almost certain that the tears David shed as he climbed Olivet, were rather those of humiliation and penitence, than those of self-centered regret. For Absalom there was no excuse, but David carried in his own heart ceaselessly the sense of his own past sin.” (Morgan)
iii. This shows David was a redeemed man. Some would say that God let David off easy – that he deserved the death penalty for adultery and murder. If God forgave him and spared David that penalty, surely David would just do it again. Those who think this way do not understand how grace and forgiveness work in the heart of the redeemed. David’s sin was ever before him – and in a strange combination of deep gratitude and horror over his forgiven sin, David never did it again.
6. (31-37) David hears of Ahithophel’s defection to Absalom.
Then someone told David, saying, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness!” Now it happened when David had come to the top of the mountain, where he worshiped God; there was Hushai the Archite coming to meet him with his robe torn and dust on his head. David said to him, “If you go on with me, then you will become a burden to me. But if you return to the city, and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; as I was your father’s servant previously, so I will now also be your servant,’ then you may defeat the counsel of Ahithophel for me. And do you not have Zadok and Abiathar the priests with you there? Therefore it will be that whatever you hear from the king’s house, you shall tell to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. Indeed they have there with them their two sons, Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son, and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son; and by them you shall send me everything you hear.” So Hushai, David’s friend, went into the city. And Absalom came into Jerusalem.
a. Turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness: David knew that Ahithophel was normally a good advisor, but he prayed that he would give foolish counsel to Absalom.
i. “This was done accordingly: great is the power of faithful prayer. The queen-mother of Scotland was heard to say, that she more feared the prayers of John Knox than an army of fighting men.” (Trapp)
b. David had come to the top of the mountain, where he worshiped God: David’s life was in danger and he had to flee. Yet he took time to stop at the top of the Mount of Olives, look back upon Jerusalem and the tabernacle, and he worshiped God. David knew worship was always important and he could worship when circumstances were bad.
c. Then you may defeat the counsel of Ahithophel for me: David sent his other aide Hushai back to Jerusalem to frustrate Ahithophel’s counsel to Absalom.
d. Absalom came into Jerusalem: Absalom came into Jerusalem as a cunning, wicked rebel. David came into Jerusalem as a brave, noble conqueror (2 Samuel 5:6-7). Jesus came into Jerusalem as a servant-king (Matthew 21:4-10).