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

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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.

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