The Life of David, Vol. II.
by A. W. Pink
His Son Absalom
2 Samuel 13
Tamar, David’s daughter, as we saw in our last, found an asylum in the home of Absalom, following the vile treatment which she had received from Amnon—another of David’s sons, but by a different wife. Her brother, we are told, "hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar." Nor did Absalom’s enmity abate at all with the passing of time, but merely waited an occasion which he deemed would be most suitable for taking his revenge. This only served to make more apparent his real character. There is an anger which is sinless, as is clear from "When He (Christ) had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts" (Mark 3:5). Yet there is so much of a combustible nature in the flesh of a Christian that he needs to turn into earnest prayer that exhortation, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (Eph. 4:26).
But the sun had gone down upon Absalom’s wrath: a deadly fire burned in his heart which two full years had no power to quench, his crafty soul biding its time until a way opened to let out his rage on its victim. Implacable hatred burned in Absalom toward his half-brother as though it had been kindled but yesterday; and now his subtilty devised a sure passage for it. He was most manifestly a child of the devil, and the lusts of his father he was ready to willingly execute. The guile of the "serpent" now ministered unto the fury of the "lion," for those are the two predominant characteristics in the archenemy of God and men. This is clear from the tactics he followed with our blessed Lord. First, we see his venomous guile in the Temptation, and then his fiendish cruelty at the Cross. Similarly does he work now, and thus it ever is with those whom he dominates.
"And it came to pass after two full years, that Absalom had sheepshearers in Baalhazor, which is beside Ephraim: and Absalom invited all the king’s Sons" (2 Sam. 13:23). Corresponding to the old English custom of "harvest-home," when a time of feasting and merriment followed the garnering of it, in Palestine the annual occasion of "sheep shearing" was made an event of festive celebration and of the coming together of relatives and friends. This is clear from Genesis 38:12, 13 and 1 Samuel 25:4, 36: for in the one we read, "and Judah was comforted (after the death of his daughter), and went up unto his sheepshearers in Timnath, with his friend," while in the other we are told that "Nabal did shear his sheep . . . and behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken."
During quite a lengthy interval Absalom had concealed his bitter hatred against his half-brother under an appearance of indifference, for we read that he "spake unto him neither good nor bad" (v. 22). But now Absalom deemed the time ripe for vengeance. To cover his base design he invites "all the king’s sons’ to his feast, which he had purposed should be the place of execution for his unsuspecting victim. Only the last great Day will reveal how often treacherous designs have been cloaked by apparent kindness—Judas betrayed his Master not with a blow, but a kiss!
But Absalom went to yet greater pains to hide his base intention. "And Absalom came to the king and said, Behold now, thy servant hath sheepshearers; let the king, I beseech thee, and his servants go with thy servant" (v. 24). That was downright hypocrisy, for Absalom could have had no desire that David himself should be on the ground to witness the treachery against his son. Nor was the success of his cunning plot endangered by this specious move, for he had good reason to believe that his father would decline the invitation. Such indeed was the case: "And the king said to Absalom, Nay my son, let us not all now go, lest we be chargeable unto thee." How that evidenced one of the many noble traits of David’s character: his unselfish thoughtfulness of others—his kindly consideration by refusing to put his son to unnecessary expense. "And he pressed him," yet a little later sought to turn the hearts of all Israel against him and wrest the kingdom from his hand! "Howbeit he would not go, but blessed him" (v.25), that is, pronounced a patriarchal benediction upon him.
"Then said Absalom, If not, I pray thee, let my brother Amnon go with us" (v.26). Here was the real design of Absalom in pressing the king to be present himself at the forthcoming family-union and feast: having considerately declined his son’s invitation, it would be doubly difficult to refuse his second request. Yet how this pretended deference unto David’s parental authority exhibited the perfidy of Absalom! He was determined to get Amnon into his toils, yet veiled his bloodthirstiness under a pretense of affection and filial respect. "And the king said unto him, Why should he go with thee?" (v.26). David was evidently somewhat uneasy or at least wondered what lay behind the outward show of Absalom’s friendliness toward Amnon. But "The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will" (Prov. 21:1); and so the sequel clearly demonstrated.
"But Absalom pressed him, that he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him" (v. 27). Absalom prevailed against the king’s better judgment. It may be that David yielded to his son’s urgency from the fond hope that a full reconciliation would be effected between the two brothers, but whether or not that be the case, we must look higher and behold the over-ruling hand of God accomplishing His own counsel. The Lord had declared that "the sword shall never depart from ‘thine house" and "I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house" (2 Sam. 12:10, 11), and from the execution of that judgment there was no escape. Divine providence so directed things that David, by giving his consent for Amnon to attend the feast, became an unwitting accessory to Amnon’s murder. How much heavier did this make the blow to the poor king’s heart! Yet how absolutely just were the divine dealings with him!
"Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant" (v. 28). Birds of a feather flock together: Absalom had succeeded in gathering around him unscrupulous menials who were ready to aid him in any villainy. They knew that the Lord God had commanded "thou shalt not kill," yet were they ready to damn their souls to please their wicked master. The vilest characters are rarely at a loss to find those who will aid them in the blackest of crimes. The fearful impiety of the reprobate Absalom appears in "when I say unto you, Smite Amnon, then kill him: fear not"—either God or man, be regardless of consequences. Such reckless abandon marks those who are given up by God.
But let us now observe how the righteous retribution of God appears in every detail of this incident. First, as David’s murder of Uriah was not a sudden surprisal into evil, but a thing deliberately premeditated in cold blood, so Absalom’s removal of Amnon callously planned beforehand, as verse 28 shows. Second, as the slaying of Uriah was a means to an end—that David might obtain Bathsheba; so the killing of Amnon was but a preliminary to Absalom’s design of obtaining the kingdom—by removing his older brother who was heir to the throne. Third, as David did not slay Uriah by his own hand, but made Joab an accomplice, so Absalom involved his servants in the guilt of his crime—instead of striking the fatal blow himself. Fourth, as David made Uriah "drunk" before his death (11:13), so Amnon was struck down while "his heart was merry with wine"! Who can fail to see the superintending government of God here?
"And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded" (v. 29). How little can we foresee when tragic calamity may smite a family reunion—"thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Prov. 27:1). How lightly we should hold the things of earth, for the most treasured of them are likely to be rudely snatched from us at any moment. The predicted "sword" is now drawn in David’s house, and the rest of his sons knew not how soon they might fall victims to Absalom’s bloodthirstiness. Therefore do we read, "Then all the king’s sons arose, and every man gat him upon his mule, and fled" (v. 29). What an ending to a time of festivity! How vain are the pleasures of this poor world! How slender is the thread upon which hangs the lives even of king’s sons!
"And it came to pass, while they were in the way, that tidings came to David, saying, Absalom hath slain all the king’s sons, and there is not one of them left" (v. 30). How often the bearers of evil tidings make bad matters worse by excuselessly exaggerating them! Things were now represented unto David as being much blacker than they really were. There is a warning for us here: not to credit reports of evil until they are definitely corroborated. "Then the king arose, and tare his garments, and lay on the earth; and all his servants stood by with their clothes rent" (v. 31). How ready we are to believe the worst! Poor David was now as sorely afflicted by the false news brought to him as though it had been authentic. But alas, how slow we are to believe the Good News; such is fallen man—ready to receive the most egregious lie, but rejecting the authority of Divine Truth.
"And Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David’s brother, answered and said, Let not my lord suppose that they have slain all the young men the king’s sons; for Amnon only is dead: for by the appointment of Absalom this hath been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar" (v. 32). Jonadab appears to have had knowledge from the beginning that Absalom had definitely purposed to slay his brother, yet had he refrained from informing the king—so that he might use his influence to reconcile the two men, or at least take steps to prevent murder being done. Great indeed was the guilt of Jonadab. But again we perceive Providence overruling things. God sometimes permits the evil plots of men to come to light, so that their intended victims receive timely warnings (Acts 9:23-25), while in other instances He seals the mouths of those possessing such knowledge;. and this as best subserves His own inexorable designs.
"But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur, and was there three years" (vv. 37, 38). By his foul crime the land of Israel had been defiled and his own life forfeited (Num. 35:33). He was now a debtor to that Law of which David was the guardian, for the king held his throne on the terms of reading the Law continually and obeying the same (Deut. 17: 18-20). It is true that David had not executed punishment for Amnon’s incest, but he could scarcely expect him to wink at barbarous fratricide. Nor could this abandoned wretch obtain protection in any of the "cities of refuge," for they afforded no shelter unto those who were guilty of willful murder. Only one alternative, then, was left him, and that was to flee unto his mother’s people; and there it was that he found an asylum.
From the human side of things it seems a great pity that this fugitive from justice did not continue at Geshur, the place of his heathen origin; but the sentimental heart of his father yearned after him: "And the soul of king David longed to go forth unto Absalom: for he was comforted concerning Amnon" (v. 39). Time is a great healer, and after three years most of David’s horror at Absalom’s sin and grief over Amnon’s death had worn off. "At first he could not find in his heart to do justice on him: now he can almost find in his heart to take him into his favour again. This was David’s infirmity" (Matthew Henry). One can understand David’s attitude, and his subsequent conduct, from a natural viewpoint; but from the spiritual side it betokened another sad lapse, for divine holiness requires us to "Crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Gal. 5:24): yes, dear reader, its "affections" as well as its "lusts." The claims of God must prevail over all natural inclinations to the contrary, and when they do not, we have to pay dearly, as David did.
We read nothing of Absalom pining for a return unto his father, for he was devoid of even natural affection. Fierce, proud, utterly unscrupulous, he lacked any of the finer qualities of human nature. But "David longed to go forth unto Absalom," yet it seemed that this son on whom he wasted his affections was irredeemably lost to him. Absalom was guilty of murder, and the unchanging law of God commands, "Whoso sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen. 9:6). How, then, was it possible for David to restore his erring son without defying the divine requirements of his maintaining righteous government in Israel? It is to be duly noted that there is no word recorded of David seeking unto the Lord at this time. Ominous silence! The energies of nature now dominated him, and therefore there was no seeking of wisdom from above. This it is which casts light upon the dark scenes that follow.
Chapter 14 of 2 Samuel makes known to us how it came to pass that Absalom was brought back again to Jerusalem. The prime mover was Joab, who was what would be termed in present-day language an astute politician—an unprincipled man of subtle expediency. He was the leader of Israel’s armies, and anxious to curry favor both with the king and his heir apparent. He knew that David doted upon Absalom and reasoned that any plausible device to bring him back would be acceptable to the king, and, at the same time, strengthen his own position in the royal favor. But the problem confronting him was, How might mercy rejoice against judgment? He knew too that while there might be a godly remnant who would oppose any open flouting of the Law, yet he counted on the fact that with the generality of Israel Absalom was their idol: see verse 25.
Joab therefore resorted to an artful subterfuge whereby David might be saved from disgracing the throne and yet at the same time regain his beloved son. He employed a woman to pose as a desolate widow and relate to the king a fictitious story, getting him to commit himself by passing judgment there on. She is termed a wise woman" (14:2), but her wisdom was the guile of the Serpent. Satan has no initiative, but always imitates, and in the tale told by this tool of Joab we have but a poor parody of the parable given through Nathan. The case she pictured was well calculated to appeal to the king’s susceptibilities, and bring to mind his own sorrow. With artful design she sought to show that under exceptional circumstances it would be permissible to dispense with the executing of a murderer, especially when the issue involved the destruction of the last heir to an inheritance.
The story she related was far from being an accurate portrayal of the real facts of the case relating to Absalom. First, Absalom had not slain Amnon during a fit of sudden anger, nor had he murdered him when they were alone together (14:6); instead, he was slain by deliberate malice, and that, in the presence of his brethren. Second, there was no cruel persecution being waged against Absalom by those who coveted his inheritance (v. 7): but the righteous Law of God demanded his death! Third, Absalom was not the only remaining son of David (12:24, 25), so that there was no immediate danger of the royal line becoming extinct, as the woman represented (14:7). These half-lies clearly indicated the source of this woman’s "wisdom," and had David been in communion with God at the time, he had not been imposed upon or induced to deliver such an unholy judgment.
But apart from these glaring inaccuracies, the tale told by this woman made a touching appeal to the king’s sentiments, and prevailed upon him. First, he hastily promised to protect her (v. 10), and then rashly confirmed the same by an oath (v. 11). Then she applied his concession to the case of Absalom and intimated that David was going against the interests of Israel (not displeasing God, be it noted!) in allowing his son to remain in exile (v. 13). Next she argued that since God in His sovereignty has spared David’s life (notwithstanding his murder of Uriah), it could not be wrong for him to show leniency unto Absalom (v. 13). Finally, she heaped flattery upon the king (v. 17). The sequel was that David willingly concluded his oath to this woman obliged him to recall Absalom (v. 21), and accordingly he gave orders to Joab for him to be brought back.