2 Samuel 18 – The Defeat and Slaying of Absalom
With his men and their families safely across the Jordan River, David, a skilled strategist, organized his soldiers, and appointed captains over companies of hundreds and thousands (18:1). The army he divided into three parts, and assigned over them three of his most formidable leaders: “David sent forth a third part of the people under the hand of Joab, and a third part under the hand of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and a third part under the hand of Ittai the Gittite” (18:2). David then declared, “I will surely go forth with you myself also” (18:2).The people objected to the king’s presence on the battlefield, for they understood he would not only be the principal target of the enemy, and should he be killed, all would be for naught (18:3).
David’s Review of His Soldiers, and a Foolish Command (18:3-5)
The king heeded the counsel of the people, and took his place at the gate of the city to review those who were going to war on his behalf (18:4).
Once again, we see a dominant weakness in David’s character when he commanded his generals, Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom” (18:5).
While desiring compassion for his son, David’s request was foolish, and disheartening to the soldiers fighting, and risking their lives to put down Absalom’s insurrection. We have observed the same weakness in previous devotions. David’s failure with Absalom, enflamed his son’s rebellion, and yet, he continued to desire his leaders would “deal gently [with Absalom] for my sake” (18:5).
Spiritual Lesson – Leaders sacrifice moral authority when they fail to address sin in their life and family.
That truth is seen throughout the Scriptures (for instance, Eli’s failure to confront his son’s sins marked the end of the judgeships in Israel, for the people demanded a king). Allow me the liberty to point out some contemporary instances of the same principle.
Political leaders and judges who are “weak on crime,” and fail to enforce the law of the land, are often plagued by moral failures that are the root cause of their weakness. Our society is plagued by “Absalom’s”, emboldened criminals who have no fear of consequences.
There is a breakdown of formal discipline in school classrooms, because there is a lack of personal disciplines in the lives of teachers and administrators. In a word, undisciplined, immature “Absalom” students are running, and ruining the educational system of our nation, and permitted to do so by educators who have no fortitude.
The Fateful Battle in the Woods of Ephraim (18:6-8)
Two armies, one loyal to David, and the other that supported Absalom’s insurrection, faced one another in the forest of Ephraim (18:6). The battle was short lived, as the king’s experienced forces overwhelmed the poorly led followers of Absalom. Before that day was ended, “twenty thousand men” of Israel were slain (18:7). Though the army of David was greatly outnumbered by Absalom’s soldiers, David’s strategy to attack from three fronts had scattered the battle “over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured” (18:8). The rugged terrain of the forest with its ravines had swallowed up Absalom’s soldiers.
The Humiliation and Slaying of Absalom (18:9-15)
The proud son of David, had come to a tragic, and ignoble end. Fleeing the king’s men, Absalom became entangled in “the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away” (18:9). Many have suggested that he hung by his thick locks of hair; however, the Scriptures record it was his head that was “caught hold of the oak” (18:9). Rather than Absalom’s hair, it might have been his neck that caught hold in the fork of a limb (Though some may suppose the impact may have broken his neck, and paralyzed him, yet it did not kill him).
Now, all the soldiers of David were aware he had commanded that Absalom was to be dealt with “gently for [his]sake” (18:5). When a soldier of David’s troop found him suspended by the limb, he reported his finding to Joab (18:10). Joab slightly reproved the man for his failure to slay Absalom (18:11), but that servant proved to be a man of principle, who would not disobey his king. He assured Joab that no amount of silver would give him cause to slay the king’s son (18:12). The young man went further in his observation, and revealed he knew Joab’s character, and had he slain Absalom, he would have taken sides against him (18:13).
Joab departed and found Absalom as he had been told. Disobeying the king’s orders, Joab thrust three darts through Absalom’s heart (18:14). Afterward, ten of Joab’s armor bearers finished the job by brutalizing and ultimately slaying Absalom. (18:15).
The End of the Rebellion (18:16-18)
Absalom’s death marked the end of the insurrection, and Joab “blew the trumpet,” signaling for David’s soldiers to withdraw, and allow those who had followed Absalom to return to their tents (18:16-17). Absalom’s body was removed from the tree, and cast into a pit, over which great stones were piled. He had in his youthful zeal, raised up a pillar to memorialize his name in Israel; however, it was the pit and the heap of stones over his body that would serve as his inglorious memorial (18:17-18).
The News of Absalom’s Death (18:19-33)
David and a watchman had waited for an update from the battlefront. One young man, Ahimaaz the son of Zadok, known for being a fast runner (18:27), volunteered to take the news of the outcome of the battle to the king (18:19). Instead, Joab chose Cushi, a non-Hebrew man, to be his messenger, perhaps because he would deliver the news of Absalom’s death without the patriotic zeal displayed by Ahimaaz (18:21). Undeterred, Ahimaaz pressed Joab to allow him to take the news to the king (18:22-23), and soon caught up with Cushi, and was the first to arrive before David with the news that his soldiers had won the day.
As feared (18:20), David’s heart and thoughts went to Absalom, and he enquired what had become of his son (18:32). Though spoken discreetly, the news of Absalom’s death, being as “all that rise against thee to do thee hurt” (18:32) overwhelmed the king with such sorrow that he physically trembled (18:33a). Retreating to the privacy of a bedchamber, he wept saying, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33)
Closing thoughts – We can imagine, and almost hear the wails and cries of grief that poured out from the king. The king’s bereavement and sorrow so impacted the nation, that “the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people” (19:2). The king not only felt the sorrow of his son’s death, but the deep remorse of a man who understood all that had befallen his family were the consequence of his sins. Indeed, if he could, the king would have given his life for Absalom’s.
Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith