April 10 Reading: II Samuel 16-18 Commentary
“And he [Joab] 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.” (II Sam. 18:14)
II Samuel 16 – More Struggles for David
While David fled from Jerusalem (II Sam. 15), several events occur. For starters, Ziba who was Mephibosheth’s servant (Saul’s lame son David had shown kindness to (II Sam. 9), brought David supplies. He brought donkeys, bread, raisins, fruit and wine saying it was for “those who are faint in the wilderness” (v. 2).
When David asked where Mephibosheth was at, Ziba said that he was back in Jerusalem. According to Ziba, Mephibosheth thought that Absalom’s rebellion might be a way for him to regain the throne of his father Saul (v. 3). Thinking he’s been betrayed, David gave all that belonged to Mephibosheth to Ziba.
Next, as they came to a place called Bahurim, a man named Shimei who was a distant relative of Saul, came out and started cursing at David (v. 5). Among other things he said, “The Lord has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!” (v. 8).
David’s nephew Abishai wants to go shut him up…by taking off his head! (v. 9). But David restrains him from doing so because he believes the Lord had sent Shimei to utter this curse. He hoped that “the Lord will look on my affliction, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing this day” (v. 12).
Absalom’s Brazen Action
Finally, Absalom’s power grab reached epic proportions. Under the advice of Ahithophel, David’s long time counselor now turned defector, Absalom pitched a tent on the roof of the palace (where all could see) and slept with David’s concubines (harem). This was probably a bridal tent, so everyone who saw it knew what was happening. To sleep with the king’s harem was seen as a staking a claim to the throne.
This action served as the fulfillment of what God said would happen to David as a consequence of his sin with Bathsheba (II Sam. 12:11-12). Furthermore, it severed the relationship completely between Absalom and David. There was no going back from this action.
The only good thing that happened to David in Chap. 16 was that his close friend Hushai was able to convince Absalom that he’d turned to the side of the new king (vv. 15-19).
II Samuel 17 – Hushai’s Words Protect David
Ahithophel also counseled Absalom to take 12,000 men and pursue David immediately while “he is weary and weak” (v. 1-2). They would strike the king and bring back all the people with him. In this way, all Israel would be united under Absalom. Absalom liked this advice but wanted to get a second opinion from Hushai (v. 5-6)
In his heart, Hushai knew Ahithophel’s advice was correct. At this point, they could easily attack David and kill him. So Hushai came up with advice that countered Ahithophel to save David (v. 7).
Hushai reasoned that David and his men were mighty warriors. Most likely, they were “enraged in their minds, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field” over what had happened (v. 8). Additionally, David was most likely not with the people but had found some “some pit” (v. 9) that would be hard to attack. This type of military engagement would dishearten the best of Absalom’s men if the fighting did not go well at the start.
Instead, Hushai convinced Absalom that he needed a bigger army saying, “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. 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” (v. 11).
Hushai’s advice pleased Absalom. What Absalom did not know was that “…the Lord had purposed to defeat the good advice of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring disaster on Absalom” (v. 14).
Hushai Warns David
It was critical that Hushai get word to David of Absalom’s plan. It appeared Hushai had bought David some time since Absalom agreed to follow his advice instead of Ahithophel’s. But Hushai could not be sure, so he went to the priests Zadok and Abiathar for help.
They enlisted the help of a woman servant (who would not arouse suspicion) to take a message to Jonathan and Ahimaaz (the sons of Zadok and Abiathar) who were staying at a well outside the city. The attempt at deception failed when a young lad saw them and went and told Absalom. Absalom sent men to search for Jonathan and Ahimaaz. However, the men could not find the two because they were hiding in a well (vv. 17-20).
Once Absalom’s men returned to Jerusalem, Jonathan and Ahimaaz got out of the well they were hiding in and took the message to David. Hushai wanted David to cross over the Jordan River that very night. He warned David that Absalom may still pursue him on the advice of Ahithophel. So David did as Hushai suggested (vv. 21-22).
When Ahithophel found out his advice was not taken, he went to his home and hung himself. He must have known that Absalom’s cause was doomed to failure and that when David returned, Ahithophel would be put to death as a traitor (v. 23).
II Samuel 18 – Absalom’s Death
Sadly, the relationship between David and Absalom – between father and son – could not be restored. After Abslaom slept with David’s concubines, there was no turning back. War was inevitable.
David divided the small company of men that had left Jerusalem with him into three companies. A third went with Joab, a third with Abishai and one third under Ittai the Gittite (v. 2). David himself wanted to go but the people balked at that idea. They said, “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” (v. 3). So David stayed behind at their urging.
However, he did leave specific instructions to Joab, Abishai and Ittai to “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (v. 5). And all the people around the king heard him give these orders.
David’s Request Ignored
The battle occurred in the woods of Ephraim (v. 6). It was a fierce conflict, with David’s men getting the upper hand. In fact, they prevailed so greatly that the “people of Israel were overthrown there before the servants of David, and a great slaughter of twenty thousand took place there that day” (v. 7). Some of those were victims of the terrain as “the woods devoured more people that day than the sword devoured” (v. 8).
While in retreat, Absalom’s mule went under a terebinth tree which must have had low hanging limbs. Somehow (maybe because of his long hair), Absalom became stuck in the tree so that “he was left hanging between heaven and earth” (v. 9). A soldier saw him there and raced to tell Joab.
When Joab found out, he asked the man why he didn’t strike Absalom down. The man replied, “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!'” (v. 12).
Joab was having none of it. He had one thing in mind. “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. And ten young men who bore Joab’s armor surrounded Absalom, and struck and killed him” (vv. 14-15).
Absalom was dead. The rebellion was over. Instead of taking the body back to Jerusalem for burial, they buried it in a large pit in the woods and piled stones on top, calling it Absalom’s Monument (vv. 16-18)
David’s Reaction to Absalom’s Death
Ahimaaz, son of Zadok the priest wanted to deliver the news to David. Joab tells him “No”. The news about the battle was good but the news about Absalom was not good. So Joab assigned the task of running the news to David to a random Cushite messenger (vv. 19-21).
Once the Cushite left, Ahimaaz asked again to run to David with the news. It doesn’t make any sense to Joab, but Ahimaaz insists. So Joab let him run also to David (vv. 22-23).
As it turned out, Ahimaaz outran the Cushite. When the watchman at the gate saw Ahimaaz running, he and David assumed someone like him would be carrying good news.
Ahimaaz is less than forthcoming when he arrived and David asked him about the battle and Absalom. Ahimaaz knew what had happened but came up with a lame excuse that he didn’t see what all the commotion was about.
When the Cushite arrive and David asked him about Absalom, the Cushite was straitforward saying, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise against you to do harm, be like that young man!” (v. 32). That was a carefully chosen and gentle way of saying “Your son is dead.”
When David heard this, he “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!'” (v. 33).
Questions to Consider:
What is keeping you from restoring a relationship with a family or friend? How could you start the healing process?
Healing a relationship begins with one step…a “Hello”, a text, a phone call, a letter…anything to open the lines of communication again. The problem is that no one is willing to take that step. And then we wonder why relationships remain strained.
If you doubt David loved his son Absalom, see II Sam. 18:33. David wept after hearing the very son who had sought his life, had died. David wished he’d died instead. It’s a sad end to their rocky father-son relationship. Is their parent-kid damage you need to heal today?
What other points would you want to know about in our II Samuel 16-18 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.