We’re studying the life of David as told through the book of 2 Samuel, and when we get to today’s chapter 15, things are a mess in the kingdom.
Of course, God knows everything, and he told the people of Israel the kingdom would be a mess. Way back in 1 Samuel 8, when the prophet Samuel was still alive, the people asked for a king. The motivation of the people? 1 Samuel 5b,
“now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
All the other cool nations have a king, we want one, too. Samuel tried to talk them out of it with sound doctrine: Samuel said you already have a king, the Lord God. But the people continued to protest. Samuel warned the people the king would draft their husbands into the army and take a tenth of everything they owned. And also warned the people in 1 Samuel 8:18,
“When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Well, that day has come, and kingdom is a mess, and the people finally have their prayers answered, like it or not.
II. The Sword Will Never Depart
While King David may have been a brilliant warrior and a man after God’s own heart, David’s family life was a mess. David had many wives and concubines and at least 19 sons and 1 daughter that I could find in the scriptures. This set up a power struggle within David’s family since only 1 son could inherit the throne when David passed on.
Early on as a king, David commits adultery with Bathsheba, and worse, then tries to cover it up by having her husband Uriah murdered. When the prophet Nathan confronts David, David repents of his sin. And like each one of us, when we repent of our sins to the Lord, the Lord is just and merciful and forgives us of those sins. However, the Lord also tells us that in this life, we are responsible for the sins we commit, and we bear the consequences of those sins. Somebody that robs a bank, for instance, may come to Christ while in prison. But that doesn’t mean his jailers are going to open the doors and set him free. His freedom from his sin comes in the next life, and he may freely lay that burden down at the feet of Jesus. Here are the verses on forgiveness and consequences addressed to David in 2 Samuel 12:10-14. The Lord said to David through the prophet Nathan –
Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
Our scripture today centers on the 3rd son of David, named Absalom. Ironically, Absalom’s name comes from the Hebrew meaning “father of peace,” and Absalom most definitely didn’t live up to his name. Absalom instead was central to the prophecy that the sword would never depart from the house of David.
The trouble started a few chapters back, when another son Amnon violated his half-sister Tamar as Theresa taught us last week on a wonderful lesson about grieving and the consequences of sin. Absalom, furious about this violation to his sister, waited two years and then setup an ambush to kill Amnon, then Absalom flees to Geshur and goes into hiding for three years.
David is, of course furious at Absalom, but eventually David’s heart begins to thaw. Absalom may have killed David’s son Amnon, but Absalom, too, is David’s son. David has Absalom brought back to Jerusalem, but it still takes another two years before David is willing to look at Absalom face to face.
III. Absalom the Demagogue
But Absalom aspired to ascend to the throne. He’s the oldest surviving son and heir to the throne, but Absalom is impatient and full of pride. One bible study commentary called Absalom a “demagogue.” Now, I confess my vocabulary limitations here. I don’t know how many stories or newspaper articles that called somebody a demagogue, and I guess I’ve always been too lazy to look up the definition. Well, no more. According to Random House Unabridged Dictionary,
Demagogue, noun, [dem-uh-gog, -gawg]
a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people.
Or as another put it,
One who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.
David might have been a mighty warrior, but Absalom was pretty. He’s described in 2 Samuel 14:25-26,
In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.
Two hundred sheckels is about 5 pounds of hair. I tried to find a picture of what 5 pounds of hair looks like for an illustration, and the closest I could find was this –
This is only 3.5 pounds of hair, so Absalom had even more. And Absalom spent his days campaigning for the hearts of the people. Look at 2 Samuel 15:1-6,
In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.”
Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.
So Absalom would greet the people and tell them that of course they are right, and whatever dispute they have should be settled in their favor. It’s flattery and pandering, but people are so swayed when they hear the words they want to hear. Reminds of me 2 Timothy 4:3,
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
And when anybody bowed down to Absalom as though he were a king, he’d take their hand and kiss them. And the people loved him for it.
IV. Absalom the King
Absalom did this for four years, about as long as the typical presidential election cycle, winning the hearts and minds of the people and undermining David’s rule by implying David wasn’t doing a good job. And after four years, Absalom made his move to overthrow David. 2 Samuel 15:7-10,
At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the Lord. While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: ‘If the Lord takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron.’”
The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he went to Hebron.
Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’”
And so the coup, the overthrown of King David by his own son Absalom begins. I note here that Absalom is using a religious pretext to begin the revolution. As far as David knew, this was going to be a religious feast in Hebron, but Absalom used religion as a cover for his sins.
As soon as Absalom was ready, the trumpets sound and the messengers quickly spread the word: “Absalom is king and reigns in Hebron!” The war has begun. Knowing that the first move in overthrowing the kingdom is to kill the old king, David moves quickly in verse 14,
Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.”
David brings his personal bodyguards, and abdicates the throne. David is protecting the inhabitants because he knows that Absalom will kill everybody in resistance. Who will fight for David? The hearts of Israel were with that pretty demagogue from Hebron, Absalom.
But David has a miraculous army provided to him. David has visitors from out of town, 600 Gittites led by Ittai. David tells Ittai, sorry about the mess but you know how children are, why, just look at this place, and I’m sorry it’s time for you to go in 2 Samuel 15:19-21,
The king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the Lord show you kindness and faithfulness.”
But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
I find this interesting, David is the true king of Israel, but rejected by his people. The Gittites are gentiles, people outside Israel, that rally to the king with devotion. Like Jesus, rejected by His own as the true king of Israel. And like the Gittites, we are the gentiles that form the church that follow Him. Ittai of the Gittites expresses a commitment that should be a model for all Christians. “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
David goes to the Mount of Olives and weeps for Absalom, his son. All those years of his son being in exile, and the beginnings of a reconciliation, but not once did Absalom ever ask for forgiveness of his sins for killing his brother Amnon. Instead, using religion as an excuse, Absalom plotted the overthrown of his father and now occupies Jerusalem. By fleeing the city, David has spared Jerusalem a bloodbath, but now David is in danger. What is the future of the kingdom of Israel and God’ covenant with David?
V. The Fall of Absalom
But despite David’s failings, the Lord was with him. Absalom was full of pride and ambition, and we all know that prides goes before the fall. Absalom assembles an army to destroy David, but David has his army of gentiles led by his captain, Joab. David still loves his son, despite his son’s evil ambitions, and tells his captain Joab in 2 Samuel 18:5,
The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.”
The pain that David must have been going through, overthrown by his murderous son, yet… it’s still his son.
Scripture says David’s army marched out to the forest of Ephraim to meet Absalom’s army. It was a rout. David’s men slaughtered 20,000 of Absalom’s men, and Absalom, well, scripture tells this best, 2 Samuel 18:9-11,14.
Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.
When one of the men saw what had happened, he told Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.”
Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt.”
Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree.
Absalom’s pride did him in, hung by his own hair. The battle was over, and when David hears that Absalom is dead, 2 Samuel 18:33,
The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
VI. A Father’s Love
Was David’s affection misplaced? Absalom was wicked, unrepentant, prideful, a manipulator, a demagogue, and a control freak. And that was on his good days. In many ways, this is the exact opposite of the parable of the prodigal son. The son demanded his inheritance and then spent it all, and with his tail between his legs, took himself back home, hoping to be a servant in his father’s house. To his surprise, his father rand out to greet him with open arms and held a banquet for his son.
Absalom never put his tail between his legs to come home. All accounts seem to indicate he was unrepentant to the end and died by his own pride.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s our destiny without our savior. We are wicked, unrepentant, prideful, a manipulator, a demagogue and a control freak, destined to be undone by our own pride. Romans 3:23 says,
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
And yet, for all our sinful pride, our Father in heaven loves us. Romans 5:8 says,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Understanding who we are in Christ also means understanding who we are without Christ. Without Christ, we are like Mephiboseth, lame in both feet and living in poverty and shame. Without Christ, we are enemies of God. Without Christ, we choose a destination of destruction.
David, despite his many flaws, loved his son no matter the cost.
The very thing that David was willing to do – but could not do – was to save his son Absalom. Absalom chose his own way, a way of destruction not only to him but to thousands around him. But what David could not do, God has done for us through His son.
Even if David has his prayers answered, to die for Absalom, it would not have benefited Absalom. But God can do what we cannot, and God sent His only son to pay for our pride, our vanity, our demagoguery.
Psalm 103:13 –
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
Our father in heaven loves us with a love beyond our understanding.
To God be the glory. Amen.