The Clever Politician

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. (2 Samuel 15:4-6)

Absalom was the son of King David, and seemed to be in line for the throne. But it didn’t come fast enough for Absalom. He saw his best years passing by and David was still alive. Bitter because of David’s unwise parenting, inspired by raw ambition, and energized by brilliant political instincts, Absalom began to overthrow the reign of King David.

First he hired an entourage, a posse. 2 Samuel 15:1 says that he had “chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.” Absalom did not want the chariot for speed, but to make an impressive procession. This was Absalom the politician, sensing what the people want and knowing how to provide them with an image to respond to.

Absalom's Chariot

Then, Absalom subtly undermined King David at the courts of law. When anyone came to David’s court Absalom got to them first and said, “Your case is good and right; but there is no deputy of the king to hear you” (2 Samuel 15:3). Absalom stirred up dissatisfaction with David’s government and campaigned against David by promising to provide justice that was supposedly denied the people.

But Absalom was energized more by political instincts than by a quest for justice. Our text tells us, “Whenever anyone came near to bow down to him, that he would put out his hand and take him and kiss him.” Absalom had great people skills. He wouldn’t let others bow down to him but would lift them up, shake their hand, and embrace them.

In ancient Israel they were too easily impressed by image and too slow to see or appreciate the reality behind the image. Since then, we are only more impressed by image over reality. Nevertheless, in the days of ancient Israel, “Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” His clever campaign worked. He became more popular and more trusted than David. Looking at the whole picture in 2 Samuel 15:1-6, Absalom knew exactly how to do this:

– He cultivated an exciting, enticing image with the chariots and entourage
– He worked hard, rising early
– He knew where to position himself
– He looked for troubled people
– He reached out to troubled people
– He took a personal interest in the troubled person
– He sympathized with the person
– He never attacked David directly
– He left the troubled person more troubled
– He promised to do better than David, without directly attacking him

Absalom’s clever approach made him able to weaken and divide David’s kingdom without saying any specific thing that could condemn him. In fact, Absalom could do all this and say, “I’m helping David to deal with all this discontent” while Absalom was in fact promoting discontent.

David was Israel’s greatest king – and Israel became dissatisfied with him and let a wicked, amoral man steal their hearts. How could it happen?

– It happened because David was getting older
– It happened because David’s sins diminished his standing
– It happened because sometimes people like change and Absalom was exciting
– It happened because Absalom was very skilled and clever
– It happened because David had to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings (click here for more on this), and be rejected like the Son of David would later be rejected

If David, the greatest king of Israel except the Messiah Himself, should suffer so, we should never despise how God might use suffering in our own life.

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David’s weekly devotional is also translated into German.

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