Scripture reading – 2 Samuel 18; Psalm 26
Our Scripture reading is 2 Samuel 18 and Psalm 26. Today’s devotional is focused solely on 2 Samuel 18.
2 Samuel 18 – The Defeat and Slaying of Absalom
David’s Organization and the People’s Objection (18:1-3)
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, however, objected to the king’s presence on the battlefield. They understood the king would be the principal focus of the enemy, and should he be killed, all would be for naught (18:3).
David Reviewed His Soldiers and Issued a Foolish Command (18:4-5)
David heeded the counsel of the people and took his place at the gate of the city to review those going to war on his behalf (18:4). Yet, once again, the king evidenced a prevailing character weakness 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).
As a parent, I understand David’s request that Absalom be the object of compassion. Yet, in my opinion, such a command was unwise. While he wanted to spare the life of his rebellious, insurrectionist son, his request risked disheartening the men who were willing to risk their lives to put down Absalom’s insurrection.
I believe David’s request arose from the guilt of his past sins (this is not the first time we have observed that weakness in David). His adultery with Bathsheba and his failure to address Amnon’s sin, who raped Absalom’s sister Tamar. The king’s failures had frustrated and enflamed Absalom’s rebellion. Yet, David desired his warriors might “deal gently [with Absalom] for my sake” (18:5).
The Fateful Battle in the Woods of Ephraim (18:6-8)
Two armies of Israel, 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 ended, “twenty thousand men” of Israel were slain (18:7).
Though Absalom’s soldiers greatly outnumbered David’s army, his strategy to attack from three fronts 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 swallowed up Absalom’s army.
The Humiliation and Slaying of Absalom (18:9-15)
David’s proud, undisciplined son had come to a tragic, 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 his hair, it might have been Absalom’s neck that caught hold in the fork of a limb. (Some suggest the impact may have broken his neck and paralyzed him but failed to kill him).
David’s army was 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 the king’s son suspended by a limb, he reported his finding to Joab (18:10). Joab reproved the man for his failure to slay Absalom (18:11). However, that soldier proved to be a man of principle, and obeyed the king’s command. He assured Joab that no amount of silver would give him cause to slay the king’s son (18:12). The same solider went further in his observation and revealed he knew Joab’s character, and had he killed Absalom, he would have taken sides against him (18:13).
Joab then departed and found Absalom as he had been told. Disobeying the king’s orders, he thrust three darts through Absalom’s heart (18:14). Afterward, ten of Joab’s armor-bearers finished the job by brutalizing and ultimately slaying the king’s son. (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. In his youthful zeal, Absalom had raised a pillar to memorialize his name in Israel; however, the pit and the heap of stones piled on his body was a tragic memorial to his inglorious end (18:17-18).
The News of Absalom’s Death (18:19-33)
David and a watchman waited for an update from the battlefront. One young man, Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok [Zay-dock], known for being a fast runner (18:27), volunteered to take the news of the battle’s outcome to the king (18:19). Joab, however, 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 he soon passed by Cushi. Ahimaaz was the first to arrive before David with the news that the king’s soldiers had won the day. As feared (18:20), David’s heart and thoughts turned to Absalom, and he enquired what had become of his son (18:32).
The news of Absalom’s death was spoken discreetly, as Cushi conveyed, “All that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is” (18:32). David was overwhelmed by the news of his son’s death, and retreated to the privacy of a “chamber over the gate” of the city (18:33a). There the king 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 –
I can imagine and almost hear the wails and cries of grief that poured forth from David. He was inconsolable. Though David’s army had earned a great victory, his grief and sorrow caused “the victory that day [to be] turned into mourning unto all the people” (19:2). The king not only felt the despair of his son’s death but he understood the consequence of his sins. Indeed, if he could, David would have given his life for his son, Absalom (18:33).
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 the sins of his sons marked the end of the judgeships in Israel, for the people demanded a king). Sadly, there are many contemporary instances of that same principle.
From politics to ministries, I have observed that leaders who are “weak on crime” and familial sins, are often plagued by moral failures in their lives and families. Moral and family failures are indicative of weakness. Sadly, our society is beset by emboldened “Absaloms” who have no fear of law or consequences.
The same weaknesses continue to plague ministries. Failing churches, Christian Colleges, and Christian universities are plagued with administrators and faculty who, like David, are compromised by moral failures in their personal lives and families. The result has been a lack of corporate discipline in the classrooms and lives of teachers and administrators.
When leaders abdicate their moral authority, they cater to undisciplined, immature “Absaloms” who erode and eventually destroy churches, schools, and institutions.
Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith
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