2 Samuel 16:15-18:18 – A King’s Son

Discussion Question

Would you describe yourself as a friend of Jesus? How do you recognise a friend?

Background (Context)

David’s house is in turmoil. Everything went pear-shaped after David’s sin with Uriah’s wife. David has fled from his own palace because his son, Absalom, has risen up to take the kingdom from David.

Ahithophel was introduced in 2 Samuel 15:12 as David’s counselor but he was summoned by Absalom and became his adviser instead. You can see in 16:23 how highly the advice of Ahithophel was in the land. Being on Absalom’s side was a real trouble to David. So, he prayed that the LORD would confuse the council of Ahithophel ( 15:34).

Hushai the Arkite was phase one of the answer to that prayer. He was the king’s confidant (1 Chronicles 27:33). He met David as he was fleeing Jerusalem and David instructed him to go and join Absalom’s side in order to frustrate Ahithophel’s advice. He was also instructed to send word to David who would wait at the fords in the wilderness.

David had concubines who he had left behind in Jerusalem. The calamity that has come upon the house of David, forcing him out of Jerusalem, began with the moment he set eyes on a beautiful woman on the roof of her house – he slept with her and had her husband killed. When David was confronted with this by Nathan the prophet, he was told, “Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.” (12:12)

Absalom’s political campaign has gathered many of the people of Israel to his side in conflict with David. We pick up the story as David has fled and Absalom arrives in Jerusalem to occupy his father’s throne.

Read 2 Samuel 16:15-18:18

Copy and paste text here. 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Sleeping with the enemy (16:15-23)
  • The LORD confuses the advice of Ahithophel (17:1-14)
  • Spies work for David (17:15-23)
  • David’s new army mustered at Mahanaim (17:24-18:4)
  • How Absalom died (18:4-18:18)

Sleeping with the enemy (16:15-23)

“Absalom said to Hushai, ‘So this is the love you show your friend?’” Good question Absalom. It sets a theme for the passage before us. What is it to be a friend? Hushai needed to pursuade Absalom that he was now a friend to Absalom. But we know that this is fake.

“Hushai said to Absalom…I will serve you.” Verses 18-19 sound like a blunt lie from Hushai. It is indeed a trick but it is probably a clever one. He avoids using Absalom’s or David’s name but refers to father, son, these people and men of Israel. He especially begins with ‘the one chosen by the LORD’. His intention is to serve the chosen one of God who is the same man (David) the people of Israel all chose back in Chapter 5. He ends his pitch to Absalom with two rhetorical questions: Whom should I serve? And Should I not serve the son? He doesn’t answer them and Absalom can do what he likes with those questions. His final statement sounds very much like a dedication to serve Absalom but if we remember 15:34, he is directly serving David. Hushai is a friend to David and loyal to him.

“Sleep with your father’s concubines…in the sight of all Israel.” Ahithophel gave this advice to Absalom and he does it. In a way that was made known to all Israel. Recall how a similar thing happened in Chapter 4 between the son of Saul (Ish-Bosheth) and his key advisor, Abner? It seems like going one step further than taking a man’s house is to take the man’s concubines. And with that advice, Ahithophel has severely damaged the relationship between David and Absalom. It’s like a massive middle finger to his dad’s authority and place. The deed also echoes two parts of David’s story. It was on the roof that David saw Bathsheba and then sinned with her. And as a result, the LORD declared that David’s wives would be taken away and slept with in broad daylight. There is a difference between wives and concubines but the declaration from Nathan in Chapter 12 and this episode seem too connected to disqualify that difference.

“Now in those days the advice Ahithephel gave was like that of one who inquires of God.” This section ends, or transitions with this high praise of Ahithephel. Both David and Absalom regarded him so highly. We have seen various advisors in the king’s house give really wicked and shrewd advice to the king’s sons. Ahithephel, without any previous mention of him, has entered the story for the purpose of critiquing the wisdom of men versus the wisdom of God. The problem for David is that he needs the wisdom of Ahithephel to be turned into folly.

The LORD confuses the advice of Ahithophel (17:1-14)

“…attack [David] while he is weary and weak…” This was the advice from Ahithophel and what is smart about his advice is the timing. David is weary and weak. While Absalom and all the people strolled into Jerusalem full of breath, David had escaped and needed refreshing (16:14). Ahithophel’s advice is a good one (for Absalom).

“…Let all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba – as numerous as the sand on the seashore – be gathered to you…then we will attack him…” Hushai is given a chance to give counter advice and he takes it. He convinces Absalom with knowledge of David that is factual but not the full truth. David is a mighty warrior and all of Israel know this. Before Absalom was even a twinkle in his father’s eye David had great experience as a warrior. What Hushai does not tell Absalom is that he knows where David is waiting. And he is camped with his army, not hiding in a cave. Then Hushai gives advice that sounds awesome but is really buying David time. Rather than act swiftly and quickly and get the job done while David is weary, Hushai says, do this right. Get all of Israel together and let’s just bulldoze David down. We don’t want stealth and risk. We want to throw all our resources into this and do it once and do it right.

“For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.” Not much to comment on here but to draw attention to this verse. God’s sovereignty and the plans of men are on view here. God gets his way without even turning up. Absalom heard two plans and chose the more foolish one. Praise God.

Spies work for David (17:15-23)

Let’s just quickly do names…

Hushai – the king’s confidant now acting as spy to frustrate Absalom’s adviser.

Zadok and Abiathar – priests.

Jonathan and Ahimaaz – sons of those two priests (2 Sam 15:27, 36).

En Rogel and Bahurim seem of low significance at a quick glance but give movement to the story. The Jordan is of course a major landmark which is like a gateway to the promised land.

“Now send a message at once and tell David…” The friends of David will network now to save David’s neck. The king was to wait at the fords in the wilderness for a message from the priests (2 Samuel 15:27-29). Hushai advises the priests who then send a female servant to the priest’s sons waiting in En Rogel. They hid in a well at Bahurim to escape Absalom’s men. When they felt safe, they found David and delivered the message. They risked life to get the message to David, their king.

“By daybreak, no one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.” The escape was not just for David but for all of the king’s followers. They didn’t delay in case the plan of Ahithophel was set in motion. Hushai had saved David from a quick and sudden attack. The plans were thwarted and he was allowed to retreat so that David, not just Absalom, could muster an army. David’s advantage was growing.

“…Ahithophel…hanged himself…” He had advised Absalom to sleep with David’s concubines in phase one of his plan but phase two was not followed by Absalom. His plans had been frustrated and not followed. He saw no way out but to end his own life. Such a hopeless end. His eggs had been placed in one basket and it depended on his plans being followed. His hopes were in his own wisdom and that had failed him. Praise God that our hopes do not rest on our own wisdom and strength. The story has informed us, the readers, that he was up against the wisdom of the LORD who had determined to frustrate his plans. It’s an uneven competition. He was not wise enough to realise this.

David’s new army mustered at Mahanaim (17:24-18:4)

“David went to Mahanaim…” Remember that this was where Saul’s son set his base when competing with David for king of Israel. The town name means ‘two camps.’ We see again a divided kingdom and wait to see which will last.

“For they said, ‘The people have become exhausted and hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.’” We might remember the words of Ziba in 2Sam 16:2. We suspect that Ziba had a hidden agenda and was deceitful to David. We see more hospitality given to David but without any hint of deceit. Mixed with the subtle but real theme of friendship in this passage, I wonder if we are seeing true hospitality here. The exiled king is still received and cared for.

“Even if half of us die, they won’t care; but you are worth ten thousand of us.” We finish this section now with an overwhelming allegiance to David. He may not know a fraction of who these people are but there are thousands of people who know who David is and consider him their friend. It is not a friendship like two mates chatting over coffee, but it is a loyalty of the many who name David as their beloved king. They are prepared to give to him, welcome him in, leave their homes and palace for him and die for him.

How Absalom died (18:4-18:18)

“The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.’” These words sound more like the words of a father for his son than of a king for a rebel. There is grace and mercy, compassion and patience, and longing in David’s instructions. Pitty? The three generals were given these plain instructions and the troops all heard the instructions.

“The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.” Ephraim would become the popular name for the alternate and rebellious kingdom of Israel when it splits after Solomon. The battle on this day went everywhere and the land itself seemed to do more damage that the weapons. An odd thing but sets us up for what happened next.

“He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.” The image is ironic. Note that his hair is not mentioned here. Later commentators would suspect that his glorious hair was part of his demise in the end. The text doesn’t tell us that at all. But ok. It works. He is floating between heaven and earth – with his majestic…mule…riding away from him. Is this a reflection of his foney kingdom? Left behind by a donkey – like a donkey. His end is not beautiful. It gets worse.

“I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.” Can you imagine it? “Excuse me general…ah Joab, sir?” – “Yes, what is it?” – “I just saw Absalom…hanging in an oak tree.” – “Are you sure?” – “Yes, it definitely looks like an oak tree. I could be wrong.”

“Joab…took three javelins in his hand and plunged the into Absalom’s heart…” We all know what David had wanted. The troops knew. This was clearly against the wishes and order of the king. But those were the words of a father. The very father who had failed to discipline his sons (Amnon and Absalom). Who failed to retrieve Absalom and deal with his methods swiftly and helpfully. Joab saw an opportunity to make a decision on behalf of the king. Sometimes, as they say, it’s better to say sorry than to ask for permission. Joab had dealt like this before (2 Samuel 3:30) and David had commented on how hard Joab was compared to his gentleness (2 Samuel 3:39).

“…it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.” We are told that Absalom had no sons which must mean that those mentioned in 14:27 had died young – makes sense since they were never named. Absalom’s body is discarded like a sinner or enemy of Israel and all that remains of him is a monument. The lasting memory of Absalom for most people is that of him hanging in an oak tree. Not an heir of David’s kingdom. Not a son of David who inherited the kingdom of David’s house. But a muleless rebel.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

We have observed a growing friendship and loyalty surrounding David while Absalom died alone in the woods. He was easily tricked by Hushai because all he heard was what he wanted to hear. He also responded to the tactic of winning by creating a huge army. Once he died, there was no more battle and all that was left was a monument that he had made for himself. His body was discarded. No tribute by his followers. Absalom had built a shallow kingdom for himself. It looked good on the outside but had no substance. David, in contrast, had thousands willing to lay down their life for him. Absalom tried to make a name for himself but it had no substance. David was the king of a living body, proactive and for him. Not just shallow friends but friends in deed.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The great effort of making nothing for ourselves. Much effort can be spent in life to build – what? Jesus tells us to choose where our treasure is. Money (power, economic position, social status, things, location, etc) or the Kingdom of God. One is eternal and has your name written in the book of Life. The other is temporary and will not last. It is an empty shell. Absalom betrayed God’s king in order to make a name for himself. God’s king, Jesus, has already made a name for us by emptying himself at the cross. Once again, let’s be thankful for the effort that Jesus made to give us a life full of substance.

Topic B: What a friend we have in Jesus. Now, this is a bit of a backward application. The passage has described all of the friends of the king, rather than the king being friends of his kingdom. So, if I am to say that Jesus is my friend, what kind of friend am I? What kind of friend are you? Being loyal to the true king always. Not putting anybody above his friendship. Sharing and being hospitable with brothers and sisters in Christ. Love as he has first loved us. Talk about him with others like you know him, love him and think others would be better off if they were friends with him too! 

Topic C: Are you struggling with this part of scripture? We are a long way into 2 Samuel. Many times, in our study we have noticed that the story of David is the story of the foreshadowing of God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus said that all of the Old Testament is about Him (John 5:39). “God’s Big Picture Plus+” is a course (following a book written by Vaughan Roberts with extra material added) we run at Campbelltown Anglican Churches and we are due to run the course again soon. Look out for it being advertised. Every Christian ought to get a grip on the whole message of the bible in all of it’s parts put together as one Big Picture.

2 Samuel 15:1-16:14 The King betrayed

Discussion Question

As we observe the powers of this world gain strength (politically, commercially, wealth etc), how does it affect your commitment to Jesus?

Background (Context)

David taught us much about the kingdom of God which looks for faith rather than beauty. It looks for faithfulness rather than force. Then David’s sin with Bathsheba happened in Chapter 11 and we’ve watched the wonder of David’s partnership with God digress to a limping image of inaction.

Chapter 15 is different. Absalom becomes a background character after his initial acts of political spin and we will watch David portray something of the kingdom of God again.

Mephibosheth appears again in the story along with Ziba, his carer. The former was a grandson of Saul who was lame in both feet but was blessed by David, eating at his table.

We have learned back in Chapter 3 that Hebron was an important spiritual place for Israel. Another piece of background info is the description of Absalom in Chapter 14 as a beautiful man without blemish, with amazing hair and that the people loved him. He had ordered the death of his older brother, Amnon. Now, it seems, Absalom is the next in line to be king. At the end of Chapter 14, we read of Absalom and David being reconciled.

Read 2 Samuel 15-16:14

Read 2 Samuel 15 online here

Read 2 Samuel 16:1-14 online here

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Absalom’s political campaign (1-12)
  • The King walks the streets of Jerusalem (13-37)
  • The King’s hope (16:1-14)

Absalom’s political campaign (1-12)

“If only I were appointed judge in the land!” Absalom is a politician. A man who orchestrates devotion from the people. His play is to win the backing of Israel so that they will love him more than David. He builds his own entourage. He greets people at the gate and spins the truth to sound like the king has no time for his people. Except that we only read a chapter ago that David listened to a woman from a southern town in great detail. Lastly, Absalom recalls back to the days of the judges when there was action to resolve issues – neglecting the fact that the people of Israel wanted to end the days of the judges and move forward to having a king like the other nations. Absalom was playing a political game to weaken his father’s kingdom and make people feel like they needed him.

“…so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.” Not only did he undermine his father’s kingdom and offer much to the people of Israel (more than he could really deliver) – but he showed much charisma. None of this ‘bow down and worship’ nonsense! No need to show honour and submission before this ‘man of the people’. Forget what you have known about the old days and welcome in a new age of Absalom!

“…Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD.” His third move is to hint to the king that he is a reformed man of God. The story he gives the king about an oath does not seem credible. Nothing so far hints that this is a real story and the chapter will unfold to show that this is a big scheme to evoke spontaneous allegiance to Absalom as king. But we can imagine that the king’s heart is softened by this gesture of authentic worship. He gives the appearance of godliness.

“The king said to him, ‘Go in peace.’” That will be the last thing that David says to his son. Absalom wishes no peace on his father’s house. Absalom will force David to escape the palace and become a fugitive again like the days of King Saul.

“…as soon as you hear the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” This town, as we saw back in Chapter 2, was a spiritually significant one to Israel. Abraham had lived there and received promises from God there. David was sent there to be anointed king over Judah. It is the perfect location from Absalom to orchestrate a coup. Make no mistake. Everything is being choreographed by Absalom. The people are being manipulated to forget that they anointed David as their king and that David had won many battles for the people. The people of God will be mislead by the clever actions of Absalom.

“While Absalom was offering sacrifices…the conspiracy gained strength…” How can one give honour to God and at the same time spin lies throughout the land. Absalom cannot be trusted. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings…Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.” James 3:9-10. Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of religion that offers something to God but comes out of a man with hatred in his heart (Matthew 15:1-19 esp, Verse 8-9).

The King walks the streets of Jerusalem (13-37)

“We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin us and put the city to the sword.” David’s escape was not about saving his own skin but for the protection of the city and his people.

“The king set out, with his entire household following him…” Watch and listen for the imagery of this story now. David has been betrayed and is leaving the city and his faithful ones of his household will all follow him. The story has created an enemy of the kingdom – someone who everyone is easily trusting – but a small few who are named as the household of David. They will walk with him out of the city. Let’s keep listening for more clues about who this will remind us of (hint: it’s Jesus).

“…he left ten concubines to take care of the palace.” The fact that he had concubines is not good but it is not new information to us (see Chapter 5). Leaving them behind will end badly for them in Chapter 16) But it seems that David had ideas that he would return to the city again and he left them there. How they took care of the palace is unclear – but the palace was not left totally empty.

“…they halted at the edge of the city. All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and the Pelethites; and al the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king.” King David was God’s King. The Messiah. The ancestors of Abraham were being manipulated to follow a false and lying betrayer while the entourage of the Messiah consisted of people from surrounding nations as well as some of the King’s own. They are the true Israel.

“Ittai [the Gittite] replied to the king, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.’” This is the true statement of a believer. We do not follow who looks to be winning but we follow the true king.

Verse 23: “The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the wilderness.” Before you read my words, go and re-read Verse 23 and see what you can see…. The king, the Messiah, the chosen one of God has been betrayed by a smooth talking conspirator and he is walking away from Jerusalem, the city of God. This is a sad, sad day. The Kidron Valley lies between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. The reputation of this valley will increase in the Old Testament with the place that you throw unholy things (1 Ki 2:37; 2 Ki 23:12; 2 Ch 15:16; 29:16; 30:14; Jer 31:40). The only reference to it in the New Testament is in John 18:1. Jesus will one day walk the same road that David walked on this day. He too will be the rejected Messiah. Jesus will take on the place of the unholy and represent the sinners as he goes to the Mount of Olives. The final piece of sorrow is in the King leading the faithful back into the wilderness. They were leaving the promised land that God had blessed them with and headed back to the place of testing. No home. No Jerusalem. But they had the King.

“If I find favour in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back…” David is once again putting his faith in the LORD to deliver him, as we loved seeing him do in the past. He is no longer the inactive and passive, stand back and do nothing, kind of king. He is now the Messiah who lays down his life in the hope that God will raise him up again! Yes, I am reading the resurrection out of this. The point of the ark staying in Jerusalem instead of staying with the king is about David’s submission to God. David will be restored as King as God intends him when David is returned to Jerusalem – brought back to God’s presence. It is not God who is being expelled from the city, but David is willing to go and will wait for God’s reply. Meanwhile, he walks through the valley.

“But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot.” We see a king as vulnerable as a king can be. Weeping. Barefoot. Head lowered and hidden. At the point that Jesus went to the cross, we see his weakness too. Weeping and weak but allowing his betrayers to get what they want and putting his faith in God.

“…David prayed…” He prayed on the Mount of Olives. The prayer concern was not for the death of his son but for his council to be foolishness. He wanted the schemes of the evil one to be confused. The answer to the prayer occurred, in part, before he reached the end of his ‘prayer-walk’. He met Hushai who would become the confusing council in the house of Absalom. God’s prayers often do get answered quickly. And when they are answered, they are often as practical as that. Our partnership with God in prayer is exactly that: partnership. We pray for our concerns and that our concerns would match God’s concerns and that our actions will go hand in hand with God’s responses. We talk to God. We trust God. We walk with God. We do not simply take things into our own hands, nor do we pray and then leave it solely with Him. Our walk with God is a partnership, with him always in the lead.

“So Hushai, David’s confidant, arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.” The end of Chapter 15 highlights how narrowly David escaped the city before Absalom arrived. David had reached the summit of the Mount of Olives and, by the time Hushai descended back to Jerusalem, Absalom was arriving. David would be out of site of the city and on his way, but just in time. This is the reverse image of Jesus entering Jerusalem in Luke as he got to the summit and saw Jerusalem in his view – then he wept.

The King’s hope (16:1-14)

The king’s hope is that God will find favour in the LORD’s eyes and be brought back to see his dwelling place again (15:25). This hope is shown in the next two episodes with Ziba (1-4) and with Shimei (5-14).

“The king asked Ziba, ‘Why have you brought these?’” Ziba was the steward of Saul who was then given charge over Saul’s property on behalf of Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth (Shebby). What we read in Verses 1-4 is a contrived story that makes Ziba look amazing and Shebby look bad. It maps a bit with Absalom’s lies to get the country behind him instead of David. Both Ziba and David seem to believe that the kingdom still belongs to David. What Ziba wants is for the deeds to his master Saul’s property. The support for this is found later when we hear from Shebby that Ziba had tricked him (2 Samuel 19:24-30).

“As he cursed, Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul…” Shimei does not stop cursing David. We must understand that he starts and then does not let up. His accusation against David is about bloodshed and so, this man has concluded that because of the many deaths David has made in battle (see the second half of 1 Samuel) that God has caught up on this. He is unlikely referring to Uriah since he mentions all the blood shed in Saul’s household. So, here is a man who has seen the king exiled and believes it is right in the eyes of the LORD. We may say that this man cannot fathom God’s will also including times of suffering and misfortune for His greater good. Shimei will ask for forgiveness in Chapter 19 when David is restored by God.

“Then Abishai…said to the king, ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?’” Abishai’s method of dealing with this (verbal and physical attacks) is to slay the man down. David took off the head of Goliath for mocking the people of God and therefore God. Why not the same approach with this ‘dead dog’ (that language ought to remind us of Goliath). But David’s response is to maintain that God will do what is right with David. Abishai will have some dejavu in Chapter 19.

“If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’” David does have reason to feel that God has taken the kingdom away from him and needs this time of exile. Not only did he have Uriah put to death (a deed that God has forgiven and dealt with) but he watched as his eldest sons commited adultery and then murder. How is even David to know if this man is not a prophet, speaking the very message of God? He then explains himself well in Verses 11-12. Note particulary David’s hope that God will restore his covenant blessing – a promise that David’s throne would go on forever.

“The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.” The walk to the destination, the fords in the wilderness (15:28), was made more exhausting by fact that Shimei son of Gera was throwing stones and dirt out over the head of David and all around him. Those who followed David had to endure what David endured. If he is cursed, then they would be too. No student is better than their teacher or servant better than their master. When they finally arrived, David refreshed himself. He had arrived and was only to wait now. Will David’s hope to be restored by God come to fruition. The kingdom is in God’s hands.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The chosen one of Israel has been rejected by the descendants of Abraham who have been mislead by a want-to-be king. Although Absalom has the appearance of godliness, he wishes to fool everyone to submitting to him and giving him the kingdom that does not yet belong to him. David’s exile is one that foreshadows the exile of the Messiah to the cross. He walks the same path through the valley and the motive is both the same and also enlightening – the Messiah commits his hands into God’s will for the outcome. He goes out for the benefit of his followers. But his followers all share in the same suffering. David is back.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Moving forward while leaving it to God. David prayed and then acted on solving his own prayer. David also hear the warnings about Absalom and retreated in wisdom, all the while trusting in God for the outcome. His walk with God is exactly that: a walk. He does not walk alone and he does not sit still in faith. He uses both his leg muscles and his faith muscles. I’ll pass on here four things I saw recently as healthy coping practices of the godly. 1) work together with God as partner. 2) Do what you can and put the rest in God’s hand. 3) Look to God for strength, support and guidance. 4) Ask others for prayer. These four interweave and overlap in practice but I see David demonstrating all of these as he walked through the valley, praying and making wise decisions as he went – all the while knowing that God has got this.

Topic B: Beware of those who appear to have God’s interests at heart. Absalom and Ziba both gave the appearance of generosity and kindness and a heart for God, while always they were just working out an inheritance for themselves that was not theirs to have (at least not yet). Read 2 Timothy 3:1-9. How do you compare this description with Absalom? How can we watch for people like this and how should we respond? 

Topic C: Praise God for Jesus’ darkest hour. We must not forget what this passage ultimately points us to: the suffering servant who did not treat his divinity as something to be godless with. He humbled himself to the place of a convicted human and suffered death on the cross for our sake. He gave over his future into the Father’s hands. The link between Jesus’ walk and David’s walk is made clear in John 18:1-14 and there is a similar echo in the words of Jesus who told Peter to put his sword away. He did not go to the cross to save himself but to save us. He is the King that we need and our walk with Him, through the toughest of times, is worth it knowing that He is the King that God pulled out of the grave (Romans 8:11; Galatians 1:1).

2 Samuel 14 – A King’s Plans

Discussion Question

Have you ever been banished from somewhere?

Background (Context)

Previously, we read of David’s sons: the wickedness of Amnon and the revenge from Absalom. One son committed sexual immorality and lust while the other, the eldest, committed murder. Instead of David’s children being wiser than he, they revealed their own kind of wickedness. We also watched as David stood at a distance and failed to get involved. He failed to intervene, or disciple, or discipline, or rebuke. As Chapter 13 closed, we heard of Absalom putting distance between himself and the kingdom as David wept for the loss of his son Amnon. Absalom was banished from the kingdom without the king even ordering it. We continue to see the story unfold as our beloved king is slow to reconcile.

Read 2 Samuel 14

Read 2 Samuel 14 online here

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Joab’s scheme to return Absalom to the kingdom (1-24)
  • Absalom’s scheme to return to the kingdom (25-33)

Joab’s scheme to return Absalom to the kingdom (1-24)

“Joab son of Zeruiah…” Remember him from earlier chapters? He was David’s nephew (1 Chronicles 2:16) but the chief of the army (2 Samuel 8:16). He seems to be keen for the kingdom of David even if he’s not keen on the kingdom of God. In this chapter we’ll watch as he acts on what he thinks would be best for the kingdom of David.

“…knew that the king’s heart longed for Absalom.” This is a tricky verse to digest. See, if David longed for Absalom then why does Joab need to go to such lengths to ‘trick’ David into bringing Absalom back and then, when Absalom returns, the king forbids him to see the king face to face. If David longed for Absalom then it would only take a nudge from Joab to go out and get him. This is a translation issue and 2 Samuel 14:1 should read something like, the king’s heart was against Absalom or the king’s heart was upon Absalom (meaning that he thought on him a lot and could just as easily be a negative thought). The reason for the english translations to go the way they do is because of the confusing 2 Samuel 13:39. That verse is a lot trickier (so says John Woodhouse and Dale Ralph Davis in their commentaries. The relationship between Davie and Absalom makes more sense when we see that David did not long to see him but was very mindful of him.

“So Joab sent someone to Tekoa and had a wise woman brought from there.” It is reasonable to imagine that Joab saw the absence of Absalom as a problem for the future of the kingdom. He was the next heir to the throne and so being absent created a weakness in succession. Plus, as we’ll see later in the chapter, Absalom was much liked by the people and so if Absalom remains an outcast (which was really self inflicted) then the kingdom of David has a serious crack in it that needs fixing. So Joab takes charge to trick the king into a decision. He invites a woman from a town about 16km south of Jerusalem. His plan could not be accomplished by anybody but by somebody who could think on their feet, follow the plan and know how to close the deal.

“He said to her, “Pretend…go to the king and speak these words…”” We can recall when Nathan wanted to convict David of sin and needed him to repent. He came to the king with the word of the LORD in his mouth. This woman will go to the king with the ‘words of Joab in her mouth.’ Nathan’s story was quite brief and effective while the plan of Joab’s had three phases involving a dress up performance by the woman. It seems to me like a tip to us that Joab is not doing something that is wise and worthy but something cunning and wise in Joab’s eyes but not perhaps the king’s or God’s. 

“She said, “I am a widow; my husband is dead…two sons…one struck the other and killed him.” Like Nathan’s story about the man who had a precious sheep which paralleled secretly the story of David and Uriah’s wife, this story has been manufactured to parallel the death of Amnon by the hand of his brother. The woman is reciting to the king and to the reader the words that were given to her by Joab. We may also recall the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 which resulted in God protecting the murdering brother. That kind of mercy and protection is what the woman will try to get from the king.

“They would put out the only burning coal I have left…” The story hinges on mercy being extended on compassionate grounds. If the woman loses her guilty son then the family name will come to an end.

“The king said…Go home, and I will issue an order in your behalf.” The story has not pulled the king in emotionally and we might hear the king here simpy asking the woman to go and leave it with him. Perhaps he’ll then get someone in charge to go and make it known that this woman and her son should be left alone. End of story. The king can get on with his day and this stranger can leave his room now. But the woman, in her cunningness, wants the king to give her his decision…

“Let my lord the king pardon me and my family, and let the king and his throne be without guilt.” The woman is pushing to get the king’s response right there and then. Remember that it is fake news and she just wants to corner the king into showing mercy in this situation. She may be suggesting that there will be no repercussions coming back to the king with regard to this or she may be suggesting that if he answers now, then he will not be tempted to forget her and not fulfill his word to issue an order.

“As surely as the LORD lives…not one hair of your son’s head will fall to the ground.” The woman has three attempts to get the king to come to a final declaration that the murdering son will be kept safe from all repercussions. He first said something like ‘leave it with me’ (V8). Then he said to the effect of, ‘if you run into problems, let me know about it’ (V10). But finally he declares by an oath to God that the son is safe from punishment. See Numbers 35:12 and 21 on what the ‘avenger of blood’ refers to.

“Let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.” I reckon it’s touch and go whether the king’s patience is getting tested by now. The woman was no doubt introduced to the king by Joab and so the king is being gracious with the meeting. Perhaps the king has come to enjoy this interaction.

“Why then have you devised a thing like this…” Not quite the same power as Nathan saying ‘You are the man!’ But the vibe is the same. The king has not brought back his banished son. Absalom was banished by his own means but the fact remains that David has not sought his return.

“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die.” Cool illustration of death. There is a perminance to death like water spilled on the ground. I recall the proverb that a bent metal cannot be straightened (Eccles 1:15; 7:13). Some things can only travel in one direction. Death is a one way street. 

“But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.” God could have resorted to the death penalty for all who have fallen short of his glory but he has devised ways for people to return to him. The sacrificial system communicates to the people that with God there is forgiveness. Even Cain was given protection in the world to not face death before his days were numbered. God’s nature is always to have mercy. This woman speaks a truth that is perhaps beyond her own understanding. Verse 14 is highlighted in my bible. We can talk forever about who is right and wrong but it is great to learn the lesson that God seeks restoration. We have no greater vision of this than the cross of Christ. It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us. Christ came into the world to save sinners.

“…for my lord the king is like an angel of God in discerning good and evil…” For some reason, the woman returns to her story that she is really there to get pardon for her son but used the occasion to push David to restore Absalom also. But she pushes on the king’s ambition to be full of wisdom and discerning between right and wrong, good and evil. This, by the way, is the challenge to all mankind. In the garden we were tested to choose between good and evil. Stupidly we took the fruit thinking that it would teach us the difference between good and evil but it really just gave us the experience of what happens when we choose evil. See also Phil 1:9-11.

“Isn’t the hand of Joab with you in all this?” David has seen through this fiscade now and wants the woman to come out of her disguise so they can talk about the true issue: Absalom.

“…Joab did this to change the present situation.” We get insight into Joab a little here. He is not content with the situation of David’s oldest son living as an outcast to the kingdom. In all of the drama with Amnon and Absalom, we would have loved David to step in and teach Amnon a better way, to send Amnon away for his sin, and so on. The delay in acting has created this situation.

“The king said to Joab…” We see that Joab has been present this whole time. It explains how she was brought to the king’s ear, why he entertained her so long and I can imagine that David looked at Joab when he asked the woman ‘is the hand of Joab in this?’ The woman in the story now disappears and is not mentioned again.

“Joab fell with his face to the ground…the king has granted his servant’s request.” Joab has got what he wanted out of this story – at least he thinks he has. Joab has manipulated David and, instead of being wise coucel and rebuke like Nathan to the king, it was foolish methods and lies in order to coerce the king into doing what seemed wise in Joab’s eyes.

“…he must go to his own house; he must not see my face.” He is allowed back to Jerusalem but he is forbidden from seeing the king’s face. The son of the king remains in a banished state. Joab has not actually got what he wanted. And, we see that David is not actually keen to see Absalom or that he heart longed for him. David is not happy that Absalom killed his brother. There are not good guys and bad guys in the bible. Only those who turn their face to righteousness, failing but trying, and those who do not. People are not two-dimensional. We are all complex and the people in the bible are no different. David and Absalom’s relationship will go through more before the end. But for now, David wants his son to return but not fully. 

Absalom’s scheme to return to the kingdom (25-33)

“In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom.” There is a change in scene and mood at Verse 25 so that we have a new episode or sequel to the events of Verses 1-24. We are reminded, though, of what the world and Israel look out for – outward beauty, strength, might and accomplishment. The people once loved Saul because he truly looked the part of a mighty king. But God chose David because he looks at the heart of a person. While Absalom is exiled from seeing the king, his reputation is of one that people like to look at!

“…his hair…was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” This is about 2.6kg. The exact weight is probably not the emphasis but the vanity of the man. This description of Absalom’s hair will be more significant in chapter 18 but brings irony to 2 Sam 14:11!

“…His daughter’s name was Tamar…” Informs us of how much Absalom loved his sister who’s reputation had been taken from her.

“Then he said to his servants…” While Absalom was banished from the king’s presence, he did not live in a dungeon. He had servants. Absalom could not see the king and his attempts to see the king’s chief officer were denied. So he forces Joab to come to him by setting fire to Joab’s field. It seems that Joab has been proactive in this chapter to get his way but was blindsided by David sending Absalom to an isolated part of the kingdom and by Absalom setting fire to his field.

“…Why have I come from Geshur?…I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.” It seems that Absalom finds himself in a bit of limbo. He’s not free of the king to live wherever he wants (like Geshur) but he is not found guilty of a crime. He demands this nowhere-man kinda life to end. Be set free or be condemned. Joab had failed to get Absalom to the king, but Absalom has demanded an ultimatum and it appears that it has put David in the position of making a decision about his son: will he put him to death or will he release him?

“…Absalom…cam in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king.” Absalom’s only grief with the king has been that Amnon’s crime was not dealt with. Absalom is now ready to receive what the king would have for him. Will the king do as he had said to the ‘fake’ woman? Will any hair on this man’s head fall to the ground over this matter?

“And the king kissed Absalom.” The response of the father to the prodigal son comes to mind: Luke 15:20. But David has not been standing on the verandah waiting for the son to come home. Through Chapters 13 and 14 we have seen that David is not in the driver’s seat. But the resolution has finally been that the matter is over. Absalom is back in the kingdom.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

David’s attention has been on the loss of his son, Amnon. His failure to deal with Amnon’s sin has continued over to his failure to deal with the vengeance of Absalom. So, a man of the sword, Joab, acts like the voice of God to direct David by trickery. Absalom, likewise, reverts to trickery in order to get a hearing from Joab and David. The key to understanding this passage is to hear the words of the woman in Verse 14. God’s ways are to seek restoration of relationship. God’s desire is for the sinner to come home and he devises ways so that this can happen. The prodigal son makes a good New Testament improvement on this story. And the restoration of sinners open to us through Christ is where we see God devising the only way for us to be right with him before it is too late – like water spilled on the ground.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: God has devised a plan so that a person does not remain banished. The cross of Christ means that God has made provision for the forgiveness of sins. John 1:12 (a favourite verse of Leanne’s) teaches us that all who receive Christ and believe in his name, they are given the right to become children of God. Absalom had become an alienated son of the king – unpermitted to see the king’s face again. But, by human means and clumsy trickery, David kissed his son and received him home. Not so with God! We are made sons of the living God by his eternal plan to deliver us from evil. God is not distantly waiting for us to live out our days and then see what happens after that. Hebrews 1:3 says that after he had provided purification for sins, then he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Topic B: We must die. The illustration of water being poured out on the ground that cannot be picked up again – that is a vivid picture of finality. Death is (in the common sense of the word without speaking of clinical deaths) a one way trip. Verse 14 reminds us to work out what needs to be done before that event occurs for us. Psalm 2 says, kiss [the] son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction (Ps 2:12). Ecclesiastes instructs us not to avoid thinking of death, “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecc 7:2). And, in passing, Habakuk reminds us that the grave is greedy and death is never satisfied (Habakuk 2:5). We may all have eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3:11) but death awaits all of us and we must be ready for what comes next.Topic C: We will not be sent to purgatory. Absalom was neither cast out nor drawn near. 2 Samuel 14 pictures this as unsatisfactory. The unethical theology of purgatory looks a little like this. Not good enough for the kingdom but not condemned to hell either. The bible does not teach of any such circumstances. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that we all must face death and then, after that, face judgment. Revelation 20 declares that on judgment day anybody whose name is not written in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire (meaning hell). “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7). Many people in this life ignore the warning to make peace with God through Christ and leave their eternity up to chance. There is only one way to be right with God and that is to repent and love the LORD now. After death, it is too late.