For this week, please read 2 Samuel 15:1-17:14. This week is part two of three of the story of Absalom’s Rebellion.
In episode 9 (which takes place over a period of eleven years), we saw the causes of Absalom’s Rebellion and how Absalom laid the foundation for his Rebellion. His rebellion begins with the rape of sister Tamar by his half-brother and David’s first-born son Amnon. It was David that sent Tamar to care for Amnon and who later refuses to punish Amnon for his act. For two years, Amnon escapes punishment until Absalom has him killed at the sheep-shearing festival. After the murder, Absalom flees to his maternal grandfather’s city-state of Geshur where he spends the next three years. Joab has David allow Absalom back into Jerusalem, but for the next two years, David refuses to even speak with his son. Absalom finally obtains an audience with the king, but there is no reconciliation with his father. For the next four years, Absalom sets up court at the gate of Jerusalem, meeting everyone who comes into the city seeking justice. Absalom is the heir-apparent but being estranged from David, his father and his king, puts his succession in doubt.
In this week’s episode, Absalom flawlessly executes phase one of his rebellion. The first phase of the rebellion goes well, but Absalom is misled by one of David’s advisors as to phase two. This week we meet two new characters:
Ahithophel – Ahithophel is David’s most trusted counselor. David considers him an oracle of the Lord. He is the father of Eliam (2 Sam. 23:34) who is the father of Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:3). Ahithophel will support Absalom in his rebellion.
Hushai – Hushai is the “king’s friend” which is more of a political office that statement of affinity. Hushai will pretend to support Absalom in his rebellion. In the 1960s, the CIA published a Secret report on Hushai calling him the “most dangerous and least publicized of all agents, the ‘agent of influence.’” The report was declassified in the 1990s and is HERE.
Commencement of the Rebellion: (Ch. 15:7-12)
For four years, Absalom holds court at the gates of Jerusalem meeting Israelites from all corners of the kingdom. Absalom tells the “king” (not his “father” or “David”) that he must go to Hebron to worship the Lord to fulfill a vow he made while in exile in Geshur. The king tells him to “Go in Peace.” There is no filial affinity. David’s failure to reconcile makes Absalom’s decision to rebel easy.
On his pilgrimage to Hebron, Absalom plays his hand. He sends secret messengers throughout Israel telling them that the rebellion will soon commence. There is no evidence that either David or anyone loyal to him knows what is about to happen.
Absalom reaches the Judean city and David’s former capital of Hebron. It is here that David was crowned king of Judah while Ishbosheth was still king in Israel. In Hebron, Absalom sends for David’s most trusted advisor Ahithophel. And the Bible tells us that “the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.” Like David many years ago, Absalom is anointed as the new king of Judah from where he will launch his rebellion.
Root of the Rebellion:
The roots of the rebellion consist of old wounds and new neglects. As we will see, there are still those who nurse a grudge against David for the death of Saul. Remember, when Saul died in the Battle of the Jezreel Valley against the Philistines, David was a Philistine vassal and never came to Saul’s aid.
Then there was the public scandal of David, Bathsheba, and Uriah. Killing a man to steal his wife whom you have raped is not a good look for a leader. (Ahithophel defects to Absalom because Bathsheba was his granddaughter.) The scandal of David’s household of Tamar, Amnon, and Absalom would also be well known. And there may have been other scandals as well which lowered the people and the village elder’s view of their king.
Also, David is constantly involved in war. Constant war requires conscription, death, and taxes. As we know from our own experiences, support for wars wanes after years of fighting. When Israel first demanded a king, Samuel warned them about the financial and social consequences of having a centralized state. 1 Samuel 8. Now, the people are seeing that warning coming to fruition.
In addition to David’s affirmative acts, there are acts of neglect. Absalom was able to ingratiate himself to common Israelites because David neglected justice for them. Hebron itself was David’s former capital city. Apparently, its elders too felt neglected and pushed aside so that they were willing to rebel against a fellow Judean. Neglect kills love. The beloved king is no more.
Evacuation of Jerusalem:
David is wholly unprepared for the rebellion. Absalom has managed to keep his pending insurrection quiet. David does not have a great standing army that he can send to confront Absalom. Rather David only has his home guard with him. Once Absalom is declared in Judah he begins to march on Jerusalem. David makes the decision to flee Jerusalem, not only because his position in Jerusalem is lightly defended, but also because he wants to truly protect his city. Should he stay and the city be sieged and captured, it may be destroyed, as would be the custom. However, by fleeing Jerusalem, the city is no longer part of the fight and most likely will be spared by Absalom.
David escapes with his household. His personal guards – Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites – also escape with him. These men are most likely Philistine mercenaries who are in David’s employ. (Kings often used foreign mercenaries are their personal guards who would be unlikely, such as here, to be affected by local politics.) David inquires of their leader, Ittai the Gittite, why he would follow him since he was not an Israelite and was simply being paid for his services. Ittai answers with an oath of loyalty that “wherever the king is, there shall his servant be.” Although David’s charm may have worn off in Israel, his charisma is still strong with those closest to him.
In addition to his household guards, the priests, Abiathar and Zadok, also seek to escape with David with the Ark of Covenant. The Ark, of course, has been used by Israel in battles through the centuries to insure God’s presence and victory in war. Unlike the Philistines, David tells the priest to return with the Ark to Jerusalem. The Ark becomes a test – if God is true to David, then David will return to the Ark; but if David has lost God’s favor, then the Ark should not be in his possession anyway. Where once the Ark entered Jerusalem in triumph, it now returns to Jerusalem in defeat. The return of the priests also provides David with loyal spies in the city.
David leaves Jerusalem in mourning. He is barefoot. His head is covered. He is in tears. He takes off, out of the City, across the Kidron valley, and up to the Mount of Olives. This is the same route Jesus takes on the day that he too was betrayed. (John 18:1, Mark 14:26). Traditional tells us that David wrote Psalm 3 when he fled Jerusalem before Absalom. Where David once marched proudly into Jerusalem in triumph he now leaves in despair.
David leaves behind ten concubines in Jerusalem to care for the house.
Hushai: (Ch. 15:32-37)
On his way to the Mount of Olives, David is informed that his most trusted advisor, Ahithophel, is a lead conspirator in Absalom’s rebellion. David loses not only his advisor, but Absalom gains the counsel of the man who has successfully advised David through the years. Having a conspirator this close to the throne had helped keep the conspiracy hidden.
Absalom has a superior number of troops and the general support of the populous. David’s plan of escape and return depend upon Absalom making a mistake. Although Absalom is young and relatively inexperienced, the addition of Ahithophel to his court of advisors reduces Absalom’s opportunity to err.
To counteract the advice of Ahithophel, David sends another advisor, Hushai, back to Jerusalem. Hushai’s directions are to gain the trust of Absalom and to mislead him with bad advice. He is also to encourage Absalom to seek the counsel of the two priests, Abiathar and Zadok. These priests will then use their network to report back to David.
Ziba: (Ch. 16:1-4)
We met Ziba a few weeks ago. She was a servant in Saul’s household and now cares for Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth. Ziba meets David just over the summit of the Mount of Olives with two donkeys saddled with supplies for his escape. Once more, those closest to David are still loyal to him. Significantly, Mephibosheth did not escape with David but remains in Jerusalem expecting that Israel will now recognize him as king. David’s kindness to Mephibosheth does not buy his forgiveness nor his loyalty. David gives all of Mephibosheth’s holdings to Ziba.
Shimei: (Ch. 16:5-14)
As David flees, a man from the house of Saul, whose name is Shimei sees David. As David and his household walk along the road, Shimei appears on the hillside flinging stones and curses at the king. In David’s flight, Shimei sees the punishment of God coming down on David for his perfidiousness towards Saul. His curses and missiles are incessant. We can hear this man’s voice raining obscenities, profanities, invectives, and denunciation down on David. Abishai, Joab’s brother and David’s cousin, seeks permission to take some men and to kill Shimei. But (like Jesus later) David refuses to strike back against his tormentor. Many years ago, Nathan showed David his sinful nature and David has seen this sinful nature result in Absalom’s rebellion. David takes Shimei’s blows as coming from God and therefore spares Shimei’s life as he once spared Nathan’s. On the more pragmatic side, David does not need to create any more enemies which Shimei’s death would do.
David has now reached the Jordan River and rests.
Taking of Jerusalem: (Ch. 16:15-23)
Absalom takes his father’s city without a fight. As Absalom approaches, the gates to the city are opened signifying her submission to Absalom. Just as David once entered Jerusalem in triumph, so now does Absalom. The kingdom is his. Absalom asks Ahithophel for his next step. Ahithophel tells Absalom to take David’s ten concubines that he left behind to the roof and have sex with them. He tells the young usurper that “This will show that you are now the king and there is no possibility of reconciliation between you and David.” (Remember this is how Abner asserted his authority over Ishbosheth in 2 Sam. 3:6).
Absalom takes Ahithopel’s advice and rapes David’s ten concubines publicly. This fulfills Nathan’s prophecy that just as David took Bathsheba in private so would the rebel in his house take his wives in public (12:11). David has been ritually humiliated. Israel rallies to Absalom.
Hushai’s Advice: (17:1-14)
The best analysis of Hushai’s role comes from the Central Intelligence Agency. Please read the CIA’s analysis of Hushai. They call him the most dangerous of all agents, the agent of influence. Most spies (like Abiathar and Zadok) simply pass along information to the other side. Spies like Hushai, however, seek to actively influence policy to the detriment of their country. This is Hushai’s role.
Picture Absalom taking up residence in David’s palace. He sits on David’s throne and wears David’s crown. He gathers around him his advisors, and specifically Ahithophel and Hushai. Absalom believes himself to be in the same great counsel that David used to be in. Absalom, however, does not realize that Hushai is working against his success.
Absalom’s questions Hushai’s loyalty. Hushai responds “Whom the Lord has chosen, and this people and every man of Israel, his I will be and with him.” (16:18). This statement, of course, can be interpreted in more than once way since the antecedent to the pronoun “him” is left unstated. Absalom mistakenly believes that he is chosen by God, and therefore, Hushai’s statement is not untrue.
Ahithophel approaches Absalom and says to give him twelve thousand men so that he may immediately pursue David while he is still weak and disorganized. Ahithophel says that if David is killed, then Absalom will be king with no opposition. David’s small number of troops will simply disperse. Ahithophel knows that the time to strike is now. Most of David’s men are Philistine mercenaries. They are disorganized. They have no base of operation. Most importantly, they are despondent. In any attack now, Absalom/Ahithophel will hold the numeric and psychological advantage. This is sound advice.
To save his king, Hushai must turn Absalom from this sound advice. He immediately exploits Absalom’s fear and his vanity. First, Hushai reminds Absalom of David’s military prowess. Absalom grew up hearing the great military deeds of his father from slaying Goliath to later defeating every other nation that borders Israel. Absalom also knows how David bested Saul and Saul’s army through the years while on the run. Hushai tells Absalom that David cannot simply be taken by a small force but only by overwhelming numbers. If Absalom attacks and fails, then people will begin to doubt whether he should be king or not.
Hushai now exploits Absalom’s vanity. In order not to fear, Absalom must raise and must lead a great Israelite army gathered from all over Israel from the most northern tribe of Dan to the most southern Judean city of Beersheba. Hushai tells Absalom he should raise an army greater and more impressive than Israel has ever known either under Saul or David. Therefore, when Absalom meets David it will be a complete slaughter.
Absolam rejects Abiathar sound advise, and accepts Hushai counsel. He fears David and failure, and he is attracted to the idea of leading the largest army in Israelite history. Most importantly for David, Hushai’s advice allows time to gather himself and make preparations.
Death of Abiathar: (Ch.17:23)
When Abiathar learns that his advice is not followed, he goes home and hangs himself. Only two people in Scripture commit suicide by hanging – Abiathar and Judas (Matt. 27:5).
In next week’s episode we will see the result of Absalom following the advice of Hushai and not Abiathar. David will narrowly escape Absalom’s forces and eventually prevail against them culminating in Absalom’s unusual death.
LORD, how many adversaries I have! *
how many there are who rise up against me!
How many there are who say of me, *
“There is no help for him in his God.”
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me; *
you are my glory, the one who lifts up my head.
I call aloud upon the LORD, *
and he answers me from his holy hill;
I lie down and go to sleep; *
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
I do not fear the multitudes of people *
who set themselves against me all around.
Rise up, O LORD; set me free, O my God; *
surely, you will strike all my enemies across the face,
you will break the teeth of the wicked.
Deliverance belongs to the LORD. *
Your blessing be upon your people!
Psalm 3 (A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.)