As the events of 2 Samuel 11-14 unfold readers might very easily sympathize with Absalom. He had grown up watching his father as king of Israel. He heard stories of his father’s youth, how he bravely fought Goliath, how he won many victories, how he righteously fled from Saul, and how God had given him the kingdom. After David had become king young Absalom saw more of his father’s victories, he knew of the covenant God made with him, he experienced the rest on all sides God had granted Israel through his father’s reign. But then a crisis came. The father he’d looked up to as a boy then committed adultery and tried to cover it up with murder. The stable image of dear old Dad had been blown to bits and we can only imagine how difficult it was to watch this. After these hard things Absalom then not only saw his half-brother Amnon rape his sister, but saw his father do nothing about it. So naturally he decided to do something about it himself. After murdering Amnon he knew he couldn’t stay in the nation so he fled. But in s surprising turn of events one day years later Joab shows up and says the king would allow him to return home, but when he returns he doesn’t receive the welcome he expects, no, his father stiff arms him for two years and only after burning Joab’s field does Absalom get to come before his father/king.
All of this is understandable is it not? Much is inexcusable here for sure, but we get it. All of this could very easily lead us to side with Absalom and conclude that David bears the majority of the fault for all of this mess. But, as were sympathizing for Absalom we read of his own misdirected heart at the end of chapter 14. How he was not only handsome but how he was very aware of how handsome he was, how he enjoyed his popularity among the people, and how he even had an annual event to celebrate his impressiveness. It unsettles us to see this, but still we think, ‘Maybe it’ll all still turn out ok?’ As much as we hope for his health and maturity chapter 15 begins and what we see in and from Absalom is simply indefensible. He not only slowly and successfully begins a rebellion against David, he steals the throne of David, the hearts of the people, and David, the God chosen king of Israel, has to flee.
Before us is another sad chapter within an already sad story. But let’s peer in and see what God has for us in it.
I’ve divided the text in two, we’ll begin with…
Absalom the Deceiver (v1-6)
“After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”
v1 begins with the words “After this…” leading us to believe that Absalom is no sooner restored from exile within the kingdom than he aims to take control of the kingdom. Like any common thug who wants to make a splash in town he first sees to his ride and his entourage. So he acquires a chariot with horses and fifty men. This was new for Israel. In fact, I believe this is the first time a chariot had ever been seen on the streets of Jerusalem. Saul and David never had chariots, why? Because long ago in Deut. 17, God had warned Israel against a certain kind of king. A king who would obtain “…many horses for himself.” And closer to this time it was Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:11, right before Saul became king, who warned against this same thing saying, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots.” In this way God, through Moses and Samuel, warned His people against seeking after and installing kings like this. Kings that more resembled the kings of the nations around them rather than the true King over them, the Lord. But Absalom doesn’t seem to be bothered by commands placed on God’s people, he did what seemed right to him. He didn’t learn about shows of pomp and power from his father David as a young man. Perhaps he learned it in exile watching his grandfather, Talmai, the king of Geshur. However he learned it or became enamored with that kind of pomp filled presentation, in v1 we see Absalom presenting a certain image to Israel. An image of royalty, an image of power and pageantry that would attract any worldly minded Israelite. After all David had ridden on a mule, humbly and lowly. But Absalom, (!), He comes in a chariot, with many horses, and fifty men. Surely he must be the king the people have always needed!
We know this. The show continues on still today in all spheres of life from politics down to the pew. The world never seems to lack those who desire to show their greatness with outward displays of grandeur. In the midst of all the swagger, bravado, power-dressing, and self-centered strutting that surrounds us may we not forget the words of Jesus. Mark 10:43-45, “But it shall not be so among you…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus Christ Himself and all those who follow Christ are called to a way of life that looks contrary to worldly values. Increase is the name of the game in this world, and yet in Christ’s Kingdom it’s decrease we’re called to. Decrease not just for itself but decrease intended to remove us from center stage so the spotlight will be on the One it was always intended to be on, Christ.
In v2-5 we see more of Absalom’s designs, and they weren’t just for showing off, he intended to shmoos the people. How so? Each morning we read here he would get up early and stand before the city gate so that he could intercept and speak to all those who were bringing disputes to the king. Absalom would find out where they were from, what dispute they were bringing. He’d make sure they felt heard and when the appropriate time came he’d furrow his brow in the right way showing and telling that they truly had a righteous cause. But then he’d add one small detail, ‘Unfortunately, the king didn’t seem to think it important to train and install a person to hear and judge the complaints of the people.’ But pause here, is this true? Not at all! Wasn’t it just in the previous chapter that we saw a woman from Tekoa with a concern able to come to the king? We did. Of course there might have been a waiting period, there’s only one king after all, but she was able to come and present her case nonetheless. So Absalom, it seems, isn’t exploiting a problem present in David’s administration, he’s creating a problem that’s not there, to put himself forward as the answer. After intercepting these people, hearing them, agreeing with their cause, and telling them how grieved he was that they couldn’t be heard by the king, he’d add, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” And more so, in v5 we see that most would try to bow before him (he is the king’s son after all) but he’d stop them and embrace each visitor with a kiss as if they were equals and as if he truly cared about them. As David kissed him at the end of chapter 14 in an official act of royal pardon, perhaps we see a glimpse here of Absalom already beginning to act like a king himself.
There’s a name for this kind of schmoosing, it’s called the common-man technique. This is when a politician goes out to the country, puts on a hat, finds a local farmer, loosens his tie, unbuttons his collar, rolls up his sleeves, puts a foot up on the fence post as he’s chatting with the farmer about the common concerns of the common man. It seems well and good and all except for the fact that there’s usually a crew with the political candidate making sure to get pictures of this so that they can show how ‘normal’ their candidate is. And as easy it might be for folks to see what’s happening, this works! People feel cared for and heard, even though sadly, they’re just being used. You better believe that’s what each person or group of folks felt as they approached the gate only to be interrupted by a kind and caring Absalom. They’d leave with grave hesitation about David being king and great appreciation for Absalom doing for them what David never cared to do. Why did they feel this way? Absalom never heard a case he didn’t agree with. What the result of this? v6 says it, not only did he spread a bad opinion of the current king and a good opinion of himself, he stole the hearts of Israel.
We’ve seen Absalom as the deceiver in v1-6, now see Absalom as the usurper in v7-12.
Absalom the Usurper (v7-12)
“And at the end of four years Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the LORD, in Hebron. For your servant vowed a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram, saying, ‘If the LORD will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to the LORD.’” The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron. But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, ‘Absalom is king at Hebron!’” With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem who were invited guests, and they went in their innocence and knew nothing. And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.”
You catch v7? Absalom kept up his city gate work for four years! On one hand this is understandable, he’s shown himself to be a man who can wait for the right time to carry out plans plotted long ago. He waited two years to murder Amnon, was in exile for three, and after coming home he waited two years before asking to come before the king, so this ought not surprise us. But on the other hand, four years? What was David doing this whole time? Well, he was probably taken up with his kingly duties. Either he saw and heard of Absalom’s activity and wasn’t concerned by it, or he simply had no idea. Either way, after four years of stealing the hearts of the nation Absalom has likely gained enough of a following so move his plan forward, so he comes before David in v7-8 and asks if he can go to Hebron for divine purposes. Earlier he’d asked to have a party far out of the sight of David and at that party he killed his brother. Now he’s asking to do something again far out of the sight of David. Are you suspicious? You should be. He asks to go to Hebron, why Hebron? Hebron was a fitting place for this because: first, it was an ancient sanctuary for Yahweh (Gen. 13:18), second, David was crowned king over Judah there (2:4), third, David was crowned king over all Israel there (5:1), and fourth, Absalom was born there (3:2-3).
He’s clearly lying, he’s has other intentions. But do not miss how he tricked his father. He veiled his true evil intentions in the garb of religious language. He says he desires to go and worship the LORD. Think of this from David’s perspective. David loves the Lord, he’s is known as the sweet singer of Israel, and he also knows his son has been astray for a long while now. To hear his son express a desire to go and worship would’ve been sweet music to this musicians ears. Parents, there’s a hard challenge to see here. David was far too willing to believe the best about Absalom, even though there’s been an abundance of evidence, past and present, to display his foul character. Think of this from Absalom’s perspective. He knows his father loves the Lord, loves singing to and about the Lord, and seeks more than anything to be in the Lord’s presence. Because of this, Absalom knew exactly what to tell dear old Dad to dupe him. Parents that are far too willing to believe the best about their wayward children are often, and sadly, far too easily taken advantage of by those children.All he had to do was make a show of earnest religion and he’d receive David’s wholehearted agreement with his plans. So that’s what he did and sure enough David fell for it.
This is so sad, is it not? The sadness is twofold: v7-8 were Absalom’s last words to his father. And v7-8 is the last time there is any record of Absalom speaking of the Lord, and it was all phony. It gets worse. In v9 we find David’s last words to his son Absalom, “Go in peace.” And so off he goes, ironically not in peace but to start a war against him.
From this point on in v10-12 the pace of the narrative quickens, as we see Absalom is in full control. In v10 spies are sent out throughout all of Israel with instructions about what to shout when a trumpet sounds. This is eerily familiar isn’t it? Spies being sent out before a conquering takes place? Sounds like Moses’ spies sneaking into Canaan as a prelude to conquering the promise land to me. In v11 we see that just as before in the murder of Amnon, Absalom takes along with him a host of royal folks who have no idea what’s going on. When the trumpet resounds and the spies begin causing a stir, news would’ve spread that Absalom has 200 royal men with him and it wouldn’t given the impression that he’s already got a strong backing. In v12a we see one more part of the secret plan. As Absalom’s there in Hebron offering phony sacrifices, he calls for his most secret spy to come and join him, Ahithophel. We read in v12a Ahithophel was once one of David’s counselors but clearly now he’s with Absalom, this verse makes that plain. So what happened? A look into Ahithophel’s family will tell us. Ahithophel once had a granddaughter married to one of David’s fiercest warriors, a man named Uriah. But Uriah died. Anyone remember how? Right…David killed him. Of course we also know who Uriah was married to, Bathsheba. Which makes Ahithophel Bathsheba’s grandfather. So it seems David’s sins have returned to him once again. Because of what he did Ahithophel’s anger burned against David, and he was waiting for just the right time to get back at him. Along comes Absalom and the rest of history.
And so we’re left with v12b, “And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.”
I mentioned earlier that we could very well be sympathetic to Absalom’s plight up until chapter 14 ends, but as chapter 15 begins, as we’ve seen, we can be sympathetic no more. Warnings abound in the text. David’s sins return to him again, continuing to force him to pay a price he doesn’t want to. Absalom is living a monopoly lifestyle where increase is the name of the game. And the people are quickly duped by a handsome and popular wannabe king who promises way more than he deliver.
Many times throughout Scripture we see previews of greater things to come. Christ and His perfections and His glorious redemptive work is foreshadowed all over the Old Testament. Here we see something similar to this, but in a manner we’re not as used to. You see, Absalom isn’t a preview of Christ in here, no. Absalom, in his work against David and his kingdom, is a preview of Satan and his work against Christ and His Kingdom. Does not Satan seek to do to you what Absalom is seeking to do here? He attempts to block our going to King of kings, seeking to persuade us that we shouldn’t bother with the risen and ascended Christ because, ‘He doesn’t have time to hear your concerns’, or ‘He doesn’t really care about you’, or ‘He didn’t even see fit in His Kingdom to place someone in a position to hear your concerns.’ Then the devil whispers in our ears…‘He really doesn’t want to see you anyway, He doesn’t love you…but I can offer my advice, it’s much better than the King’s, much easier to follow, it free and it won’t cost you anything, and I bet you’ll find it immediately agreeable.’ It is one of his many tricks, and we fall for it far too quickly. Now Absalom here stayed in one place; right outside the city gate. Unlike him Satan doesn’t stay put in one place, he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour God’s people. How necessary and vital is it…for us who treasure Christ…to stay in His Word, to stay in prayer, and to stay in fellowship with one another? Of course don’t take this comparison to the nth degree. There isn’t a one to one connection here, Satan isn’t the son of Christ and Christ will never lose His Kingdom like David’s about to lose his. As much as this is a warning in these things, it’s also great to see the differences here, because we praise God for them! We do have a great enemy, it’s true. But we have a greater Savior who has conquered, who has publicly defeated and shamed the evil one, who has risen from death, and who now ever holds His Church in His hands.
First, be warned in the similarities here and flee the evil one. Every minute flee to Christ for refuge.
Second, rejoice in the differences here. Rejoice in Christ our conquering King and mighty champion.
Try as he may, Satan can never steal our hearts, for they are Christ’s home. He has taken up residence and no one is strong enough to evict Him! The Devil may be a prowling lion seeking to devour God’s people, but “…wrong will be right, when Christ comes in sight, at the sound of His roar, sorrows will be no more, when he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, and when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
All praise to Him!
 John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 379.
 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary’s, Vol. 2, Joshua – Esther (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991) 405.
 Richard D. Phillips, 2 Samuel (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2018), 282.
 Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 188, footnote 2. See Woodhouse also, 381.
 Joyce G. Baldwin, Tyndale Commentary, Vol. 8, 2 Samuel (Downers, Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1988) 276.
 Davis, 188-89.
 A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 11, 2 Samuel, First Edition (Waco, Texas: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989), 196.
 Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary’s, 407.
 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 384.
 Peter J. Leithart, A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), 266–67.