Hushai and Ahithophel gave Absolom conflicting advice. The resultant delay gave David enough time to flee further away and muster more troops. Absolom’s dismissal of Ahithopel’s advice, caused Ahithopel to kill himself – which seems strange to me. Even if he felt Absolom’s cause was lost because David would defeat him why give up without a fight (so to speak).
David was informed of everything in Absolom’s court via two brave young men – Jonathan and Ahimaaz – who heard the news via Zadok and Abiathar. They narrowly escaped being caught and were hidden in a well in Bahurim whilst Absolom’s troops searched for them.
David had his old friend and commander, Joab, leading his troops. Absolom has Amasa, a man married to Joab’s cousin, leading his troops. They encamped at Gilead. David received supplies from Mahanaim, Shobi, Makir and Barzillai who saw that his people needed bedding and food after their time in the desert.
I wonder how Absolom coped with living and preparing for war. He had always being provided for – even when he was not in David’s court, he was in a royal palace or his own home that I am sure did not miss any luxuries. Perhaps he realised that Ahithopel had been right after all – sending a small elite squadron of men to kill David would have saved Absolom going to war? But Hushai had been correct too – David’s men had proved themselves, time and again, as seasoned warriors. They would never have given David up without a fight – I would not have bet ten times the planned twelve thousand men against David and his faithful men.
But did Absolom ever consider the damage of civil war – the commanders were cousins! There must have been many many relatives on either side waiting for battle.
Apart from the fact that David’s sin with Bathesheba created the consequence that within David’s family David would be humiliated by someone sleeping with his women, I cannot understand what Absolom hoped to achieve by sleeping with the ten concubines David had left to look after the palace. Yes, David had prayed that Ahithophel’s advice would be foolish, but Absolom had to be stupid to believe what he said:
“Lie with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench in your father’s nostrils and the hands of everyone with you will be strengthened.” (verse 21)
What part of this advice makes any sense at all? The only way I can see this behaviour as strengthening Absolom’s support is that his supporters would have known there was no way back. This could have had the result that they would have fought even harder. But Absolom had used careful clever planning and loads of incentives to get himself this far, why did he listen to such stupid advice?
When I thought about it, I started to think that I hoped no one ever prayed that I would get foolish advice like David had done – then I realised I did not need foolish advice to do stupid things. My innate humanness makes me prone to really dumb decisions, I guess Abosolom had the same problem.
Therefore I need to pray that God opens my heart and soul and mind to His guidance, and stops me listening to stupid advice from my own head or other people.
There are a few aspects of this chapter that strike me:
- the obvious one of how devious, yet clever, Absolom’s plan was;
- then in verse 14 I am surprised how quickly David fled – he knew his son and the fact that he left so quickly tells me that he expected no mercy from Absolom and he wanted to protect Jerusalem and his people from the consequences of Absolom fighting David for the city;
- the number of men who backed David out of friendship and loyalty – Absolom may have quickly won the hearts of certain people but David had consistent loyalty throughout his life and at this time it included Ittai from Gath (verse 21), Zadok the priest (24) and Hushai (verse 37);
- how David related to God throughout this chapter.
Perhaps David’s previous life on the run meant that both he and his supporters knew how to cope so this was an easy choice to make over fighting for Jerusalem. But also David’s words in verse 23 show how he was, once again, trusting God with whether he returned to the city or not. David also prayed to God that Ahithophel’s advice to Absolom would be turned to foolishness (verse 31). It seems to me that David followed the advice that I have heard given many times: if one is in a sinking boat then one should both pray for help and work as hard as one can to get to shore.
David made sure the city of Jerusalem, the Ark and the chief priest were all safe. He had left the city with a large fighting force – this time he was not a lone man on the run. He also made plans with his various friends both the help him by staying and to communicate with him about the situation. At the same time he placed as much distance between himself and his son, and prayed. David does not seem to be anxious, I guess he is used to this life more than living as monarch. Nevertheless, his calmness is impressive and I think reflects his trust that God is ultimately in control.
Joab was still around, supporting the king. He knew David well (and David conversely knew Joab well). David mourned the loss of Absolom, who had been gone for 3 years. Joab decided to use a trick from God and Nathan’s bag, but he uses a wise woman from Tekoa to tell a story which shows David the truth. The woman follows his instructions and when David gives a verdict on her (fake) situation, she points out that David is punishing Israel by keeping Absolom in exile.
The Message version of these verses are:
“We all die sometime. Water spilled on the ground can’t be gathered up again. But God does not take away life. He works out ways to get the exile back.” (verse 14)
These are lovely words. David then saw that it was Joab’s plan but he was gentle with Joab, accepting his old friend’s advice. But although Abosolom returned home, David still would not see him. After two years, Absolom sets fire to Joab’s barley field to get Joab to bring him to David. David then relented and Absolom was allowed in his presence again.
David’s behaviour showed that he did not forgive Absolom. Absolom was correct in saying he was still in exile as far as David was concerned. David did not really take Joab and the wise woman’s advice to heart, because he did not have mercy on Absolom. He knew how God had mercy on him after his behaviour, yet he could not extend his own mercy to Absolom.
The wise woman and Joab’s words about the damage to Israel foretold the consequences of David’s rejection of Absolom. I wonder, could David have slowed the cycle of murder and betrayal that had begun with Amnon if he had forgiven Absolom and welcomed him home after a suitable period of exile?
Reading this chapter with the judgement of God on David fresh in my mind, I can see how the consequences of David’s behaviour are starting to create strife in his family. One could say that perhaps it could be seen that David’s behaviour in killing Uriah and keeping Bathsheba sets in motion the continuation of such bad behaviour in his sons.
David’s first born Amnon, tricked Tamar, his half-sister (Absolom’s sister) into being alone with him and raped her. His friend and cousin, Jonadab, helped him plan it all. Amnon then rejected Tamar, who went to live with Absolom. Absolom was furious but asked Tamar to keep it secret. David heard about it and did not punish Amnon. Ultimately Absolom had his servants kill Amnon at a family celebration he held. David wanted revenge on Absolom so Absolom fled for 3 years to stay with Talmai, son of Ammihud, king of Geshur.
Did David have any self recrimination about all this destruction? He knew God’s word. He must have known that God gave clear commandments about behaviour in order to maintain society, and this behaviour started within the family. This chapter is key in marking the start of a line of deaths and betrayals in the house of David. Even David, who knew God so well, was not immune to the flaw within us. This does give us a get-out clause that it is pointless trying to overcome sin – but rather it highlights just how merciful Jesus’ life and death were. Without Jesus, we had God’s mercy but no way-out. With Jesus we can depend on Him and the Holy Spirit and make progress growing into the people God made us to be. David is a reminder that on our own we are truly lost.
Not surprisingly, God was furious with David and told him so via Nathan. As a result of David’s behaviour, God said that David’s family would be plagued by killing and murder, He also said that someone would take David’s wives and sleep with them in public. Finally David was told that the child born to Bathsheba as a result of their adultery would die.
There is no sign that David rejected God’s judgement. He knew he had sinned and the consequences of it. He did however pray and fast for his child’s life. However once the child had died, he accepted it and comforted Bathsheba. His servants were bewildered by his behaviour. When they asked him about it, he explained that while the child lived he prayed and fasted for God to have mercy, but once the child was dead it was over and he had to accept the finality of God’s decision.
Whilst I am sad that David of all people could fall, I can learn from his responses to God’s judgement. He did not fight God or say it is unfair. He knew it was more than fair. He did not let the worry of the consequences eat his mind and drive him crazy. He accepted that God’s word was final and returned to being a man who listened to God. He went on to write more Psalms and pour out his heart to God.
The part of the story which really shows God’s infinite mercy was that David and Bathsheba’s next child was blessed with God’s special favour. God wanted Solomon to be called Jedidah which means God’s Beloved. Wow.
One evening when David had decided to stay home rather than go and fight as the author of 2 Samuel thought he should have, David saw Bathsheba bathing on a nearby roof.
This sighting causes him to commit adultery and murder. He orders Joab to send Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to the worst part of the battle and let him be killed.
How did this happen to David? A man after God’s heart? How did he slide down this slope of sin?
I guess we can suggest that he was being lazy rather than fighting and maybe being king had gone to his head a little. But this is David? He did not let being anointed by Samuel go to his head. He was consistently God’s man.
It serves as a stark warning that if David could fall into such temptation how careful should we be. Our human nature is cracked with sin like a broken mirror, and even though God forgives us through Jesus, we can so easily slip as David did. I cannot imagine that David was meditating daily on God’s word when this happened. Perhaps his laziness with regard to fighting reflected an inner laziness?